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Posted: January 31, 2017

Karin Penner honoured as Citizen of the Year

By Ian Cobb/e-KNOW

Last year’s Citizen of the Year Frank Vandenbroak presents Karin Penner with her honour Jan. 27.

Cranbrook’s Citizen of the Year Karin Penner was honoured during a special dinner ceremony at the Heritage Inn and Conference Centre Jan. 27.

As with previous recipients of this honour, the reasons are many as to why she was chosen for the award, with more than 50 years of service to her community.

“Fifty-one years ago Karin became involved in the Sweetheart of Sam Steele Program and this half century of volunteerism has influenced the lives of hundreds of young women. Women who have gone on to be passionate about their communities, who have taken the lessons learned during a pivotal time of their youth and used those skills to better themselves and those around them,” said event co-emcee Loree Duczek. “She has inspired countless lives through this program and has given the participants tools that they will use for their entire lives.

Evening co-emcee Jason Wheeldon, a former Citizen of the Year, was his usual colourful self Friday evening.

It is almost impossible for me to fathom the service she has given to this community through this one program alone. She has given over 10,000 hours of service to the youth in our community teaching them critical life lessons that include things like time management, self-confidence, financing/budgeting that we often seek out and pay thousands of dollars for as adults in our professional lives. But beyond the life skills, she has also spent well over 10,000 hours of service with these youth teaching them to love Cranbrook, showing them the reward of volunteering, and providing them with opportunities to give back to our community,” Duczek said.

“What makes this all the more extraordinary is that she has dedicated herself to these young ladies simply because she sees the positive impact it has on our youth and their commitment to our community. I have had the privilege of working with Karin every year since 1989 – and I can tell you that her eyes light up every time she talks about a former Sweetheart,” she noted.

The evening’s other co-emcee Jason Wheeldon outlined the enormous impact Karin had on the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce, locally and provincially.

“Karin worked as a liaison to Cranbrook city council for many years. She has been honoured – provincially by the BC Chamber – both when the Cranbrook Chamber was named Chamber of the Year and when she personally was named a BC Chamber Fellow. There is no question her passion for community fit perfectly with her job at the chamber. One of the unique and truly memorable things to come out of the chamber was the ‘Chums of the Chamber,’” he said.

Former Citizen of the Year and evening co-emcee Loree Duczek, with Karin and Jane Kennelly-Coates (see her speech below).

Karin was instrumental in bringing the 1986 BC Summer Games to Cranbrook and the 1993 BC Seniors Games to Cranbrook and making them a huge success, Duczek said.

“The 1986 Summer Games was a large endeavour to say the least. Cranbrook was the smallest centre, at that time, to host the Games. We welcomed 3,740 athletes and officials. We also entertained many dignitaries, and VIPs. Our population increased by 20% for one week. As one of her nominators said, “Here is where Karin shone!” As Director of Protocol, (AKA Polly Protocol) she was in charge of hostesses, banquets, and VIPs. She knew the drill and delivered a flawless performance. Largely through Karin’s acumen it led a Cabinet Minister to remark ‘these were the best games ever’,” she related.

“The Senior Games of 1993 saw us hosting 1,800 athletes, officials and dignitaries. Who else to pick for the position of Protocol Director, than Karin Penner? This proved to be a more challenging position than the previous Games produced. But she put programs together, organized individuals and groups and gave an outstanding performance again. I’m told she even was willing to fit in as snooker consultant, or peacemaker.”

Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt presents Karin a gift on behalf of the city.

Not one to let retirement slow her, Karin has spent the past two Christmases raising major money for the Cranbrook Food Bank and Salvation Army in the chamber’s Turkey Drive.

Wheeldon described her approach to that fundraising as “one $20 turkey at a time.”

She also now volunteers at Key City Theatre.

Duczek shared: “Another nominator said Karin Penner has changed lives. She has loved our city and loved its residents. Karin has led the way in placing Cranbrook on the map for tourism and business in British Columbia. She has advocated for its business owners and she has set the lives of hundreds of women on fire as she cheered from the sidelines. I couldn’t agree more. To me, the Citizen of the Year Award honours those people within our community who create an example for others to follow; it showcases what is possible; and, honours those who strive selflessly toward goals that benefit others, rather than themselves. They are the champions of our city. They represent our best. And, Karin Penner is most definitely the best of the best. She is truly a champion of Cranbrook and its people.”

Accepting the honour from last year’s Citizen of the Year, Frank VandenBroek, Penner said, “I am incredibly grateful to have my name added to a group of individuals who, through their dedication and contributions have made a difference for all of us in Cranbrook. For many years, I had the pleasure to work behind the scenes to plan your event. Being on the other side is a humbling experience.”

Noting “volunteers are Cranbrook’s greatest asset,” Penner said, “I’m here this evening to offer my sincerest gratitude to the many people known as support systems and mentors without whom, my journey would not have been possible.

“Truly, my life has been blessed by support systems, which includes my family. When Reuben was diagnosed with ALS, people would say, ‘oh Karin you are so strong.’ NO, my support system was so strong. As the disease progressed, so did the support system.

Sharon Coventry and Anna Mae Gartside had the packed house at the Heritage Inn in tears with their skit.

“A new set of mentors entered our lives. Those of you who knew Reuben know that he’s probably sitting up there with a group of Penners and Larsens, drinking coffee and smiling from ear to ear,” she said.

“The mentors in my life – many of you are here. You taught me when I wasn’t even looking. You encouraged me to stretch, see things differently or see things when I hadn’t seen anything at all. You challenged me when you saw opportunity that would help me.

Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services’ member and long-time chamber event emcee and entertainer D’Arcy Kennedy presents Karin with a fire fighter’s helmet.

It has been my pleasure to serve this community. If my volunteering somehow made peoples’ lives a little better or enjoyable, then I feel like it has been a success.

You all have given me the chance to live my passions and I thank you all sincerely from the bottom of my heart,” Penner concluded.




1973 – Veronica Main

1974 – Edna Gilmour

1975 – Rick Spooner

1976 – Joyce Metcalfe

1977 – Grace McNeil

1978 – Robert Sheffield

1979 – Alex Demchuk

1980 – Yvonne Skrepnechuk

1981 – Laura Proctor

1982 – Murray Wheaton

1983 – Mike Moore

1984 – Hank Mayberry

1985 – Sam Barrett

1986 – George Poulos

1987 – Bud & Maxine Caldwell

1988 – Don Rogers

1989 – Stephen & Marlene Hudock

1990 – Rick Jensen

1991 – David Stephanuk

1992 – Bud Abbott

1993 – Dusan Tadey

1994 – Garry Anderson

1995 – Marvin “Skip” Fennessy

1996 – Gordon, Josephine, Dorothy & Nancy Van Ochten

1997 – Cheryl McNab

1998 – Wilf Molnar

1999 – Mike & Cathy Patterson

2000 – Gordon Murphy

2001 – Pamela Spiers

2002 – Paul Kershaw

2003 – Loree Duczek

2004 – Allan & Dorial Davis

2005 – Nella Rounsville

2006 – Frank Sandor

2007 – Gary Lancaster

2008 – Dr. Arnold Lowden

2009 – Rod Osiowy

2010 – Art Gruenig

2011 – Chris Ayling

2012 – Jason Wheeldon

2013 – Ken Bridge

2014 – Derek Kortschaga

2015 – Frank VandenBroek

Past Citizens of the Year: Back row:  2000 – Gordon Murphy; 1995 – Marvin “Skip” Fennessy; 2012 – Jason Wheeldon; 2016 – Karin Penner; 2013 – Ken Bridge; 2006 – Frank Sandor; 2015 – Frank VandenBroek; 1994 – Garry Anderson.  Front row left to right: 2001 – Pam Spiers;  2005 – Nella Rounsville; 2003 – Loree Duczek; 1990– Rick Jensen.  Ian Cobb/e-KNOW images

Lead image: Citizen of the Year Karin Penner, middle, with reigning Sweetheart Jelena Jensen & Princess Brianna McWhirter. Carrie Schafer/e-KNOW photo

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