By Steve Hubrecht

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Edgewater resident Norm Julien has been quietly lending a helping hand whenever, wherever and however it’s needed around his community for decades. Those efforts have not gone unnoticed, however, and last week Julien was officially recognized as Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Area G volunteer of the year.

Like a great many other valley residents, Julien originally came from eastern Canada (Hamilton) before he moved out west in 1978.

“I went to Calgary to make a fortune in the oil business,” he told the Pioneer.

But fate had other plans.

Julien had a friend in the Columbia Valley. He came for a visit and was instantly hooked by the mountains, the river and lake, as well as the hiking and skiing and other outdoor pursuits.

“I found a job here, I had a place to stay with my friend, and well, I just never left,” he explained.

That first job was working with residents of Pynelogs, which at the time was a home for adults with mental development disabilities.   

“It was a really great bunch of people. It was really a lot of fun,” remembered Julien.

He later began working for the local school district (now called Rocky Mountain School District No. 6). “They were looking for bus drivers and maintenance workers. I had my licence (to drive buses),” he said.

And so he began driving kids on big yellow buses and doing maintenance work at the schools in Canal Flats (there were two schools there then).

Julien stayed with the school district for nearly four decades, but kept things fresh by changing roles every five years or so. He said the change-ups sometimes felt like he was getting a whole new career.

He ended up as a school district operations supervisor, ensuring buildings and grounds were in tip-top shape, before finally retiring in 2017.

Julien lived in Invermere initially, but a few decades ago he moved to Edgewater where he still lives with his wife. There’s been plenty to keep him busy in retirement. There’s family of course (two of his wife’s three kids still live in the valley, as do the grandkids), but also Julien has been a part of a great many volunteer endeavours in Edgewater.

A big fan of promoting literacy, Julien volunteered each week at Edgewater Elementary School for many years as part of the school’s ‘One to One’ reading program.

“The idea is just to get them interested in reading. It was always fun,” said Julien. “I knew the principal and teacher were looking for volunteers for it, and once I retired, I finally had the time.”

His background with the school district also came in handy when he volunteered with the Steamboat Mountain Music Festival. The festival was held on the school grounds for years, and Julien put his knowledge of those grounds to good effect, helping to organize set-up for the festival.

Julien has also been deeply involved with many of the Edgewater Recreation Society’s projects over the years, including the new baseball backstop at Wittman field, and the rebuild of Frank’s Rink, Edgewater’s famous covered outdoor rink. He spent many hours coordinating support partners, recruiting volunteers, plowing through the mountains of paperwork and permits the project involved, and even working as the finishing carpenter. Now that the rebuild is done, Julien is a member of the volunteer rink committee, which helps make and maintain the ice there.

“I always liked playing outdoor sports, so I wanted to give back and help others enjoy them too,” said Julien.

In the summer Frank’s Rink plays host to the Steamboat Mountain Pickleball Club, and no surprise Julien is a volunteer with that group as well, having painted the lines for the pickleball courts and helping set up and store the nets.

“Pickleball is a fun sport. It gets you out and moving and you get to meet all sorts of people you might not otherwise meet,” he said.

Julien is self-effacing about his volunteerism and about his volunteer of the year award.

“I was definitely surprised. I couldn’t believe it. There are so many people who step forward to help out, and I was just one of the many who do. In some ways I feel I don’t deserve it (the award), because I was just one part of a large team,” he told the Pioneer. “Edgewater is such a great community in that way. It’s a really great bunch of people living here, and everyone pitches in to help out.”

Area G Director Roberta Schnider presented the award to Julien during a celebration at the Edgewater Community Hall on Thursday, Nov. 2.

“Norm has long been a patient and hardworking volunteer who quietly steps in to fill a gap wherever needed. He has played a role in building, maintaining, or supporting so many of the recreational amenities that Edgewater enjoys and has had a profound impact on his community,” said Schnider.