By Steve Hubrecht 

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An Invermere woman was named Rotary Club of Invermere Citizen of the Year for her tireless efforts to help Columbia Valley residents, especially seniors, keep physically and socially active.

Jennette St Jean won the award for the seniors fitness classes she teaches as a volunteer with Valley Fitness Centre as well as her volunteer work with the Invermere chapter of Special Olympics B.C., and with the Invermere chapter of Cycling Without Age. Her fitness classes, which are held at the Columbia Valley Centre, are immensely popular and focus on helping students age actively, keeping them healthy, and getting them to connect with other community members.

“I was totally surprised because there are so many other very deserving people in Invermere,” St Jean told the Pioneer, speaking about her reaction to learning she’d won Citizen of the Year. “There’s so many wonderful people who devote their time to all sorts of causes, and I’m just one small piece of that.”

St Jean spent her career working as a special education teacher in Fort Saint John in northeastern B.C., before she and her husband retired to the Columbia Valley a decade ago. 

But “retiring” is perhaps not the right word, as St Jean was determined to remain as busy as ever, and immediately began searching for ways to volunteer her time.

“I thought, what will I do with my life now? I wasn’t ready to put my feet up,” said St Jean. She approached Valley Fitness Centre with the idea of a seniors’ fitness class and began teaching at the local senior’s hall soon after.

“I started with just six people, and well, it’s grown from there,” said St Jean. “Word of mouth got out and it spread.”

The class now has more than 40 participants, and it’s not just for seniors — the ‘students’ range in age from 50 to 90.

“We walk, we lift weights, we do some cardio. Everyone does what they can, and I do my best to tailor the class to everyone’s needs. We have some people who have hip replacements or knee replacements, no problem,” she said. “We work on bone density and balance. We put some music on and have fun. It becomes a social thing, especially in winter, when there’s sometimes not much for seniors to do outside.”

St Jean enjoys the classes as much as her students.

“I’ve met some very wonderful people through the classes. I give to them, but they give to me too. I’ve learned so much and heard some amazing stories from some of these seniors. It fills my heart,” she said.

St Jean feels every community should have a seniors’ fitness class.

“They (seniors) have done a lot for the community, we should do something for them,” she said.