Flash back to a few years ago and the first time I met Dick Voneugen. He was tending to one of his pet projects the Outdoor Ice Oval. It was a cold winter day. He had his wool toque on his head and a big smile on his face. All during the rather lengthy photo session (I wanted to get the whole winter scene in the picture) Dick was patient and even laughing.
He understood the importance of media exposure even if it meant exposure to the elements for longer than he might have liked. I thought at the time, he was a very good sport. New to Prince George, I didn’t know how right I was.
The next time I interviewed him, Dick was crowing and puffed out with pride about the medals our local seniors had hauled back from the Senior’s Games. He wanted each and every one of them recognized for their outstanding achievements in their own field.
Forget about him, he said.
Last summer, I stood next to him at the statue of Terry Fox in Community Park while he sadly pointed out extensive damage from vandals to the bronzed work of art. He was angry but channelled that into rolling up his sleeves and seeing what could be done.
Next time we talked, he was busy rallying media troops around the province and rousing his committee and community into action. One thing that can be said about Dick, now 75, is he gets the job done.
Maybe that gets instilled in all little boys who grow up in Holland with Hans Brinker the Little Dutch Boy as their national hero. I don’t know. But I was not one bit surprised when he was named Citizen of the Year on Friday among a group of also very deserving nominees.
Mr. Voneugen is right up therewhen it comes to stepping up to the plate for community work.
He’s also modest.
Tracking him down Monday for comment meant catching him on the run. Literally. Good thing he has a message machine because the volunteer extraordinaire was out there in the community he loves. The newly named Citizen of the Year is well known for his ventures into running, skiing, skating, hiking and biking and his passion for all of this has led to new facilities, funding and events (he organized the first Terry Fox Run in 1981).
In the coming weeks, Dick will no doubt get fanfare and great press and much to his chagrin will become cause celeb and the guy on everyone’s dance card. But unlike some unsung heroes, he’s not just flavour of the month. He’s the real deal. The truth is Prince George needs more people like him. He’s set a fine example for youth today as well as seniors.
Time for us to and take notes on how he plays the game. As I was writing that last sentence, Mr. Voneugen called.
He just had a moment.
“We just got fencing material delivered over at the ice oval, so I was busy because we need to start installing it today.
“Right now, I’m on my way to a meeting at the Mayor’s office to talk about the Terry Fox replacement statue. You remember that. Then I’m off to Quesnel for the Seniors Games AGM. How do I feel [about the award]?
Overwhelmed, he said.
So are we.