Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections … but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in. —Author Unknown
It was somehow fitting the interview with Chemaniac Wes Everitt took place late in the evening.
He was busy earlier the same day selling meat draw tickets to help support the local Legion.
Yet that was just a small part of the day for the seemingly tireless 71-year-old, who was recently recognized with the President’s Award at the Chamber of Commerce Golden Brush Awards.
“I was blown away by that,” said Everitt.
“I felt humbled and pretty honoured because my wife had won it posthumously two years before (when the honour was known as the Lifetime Achievement Award).”
It was a reward well-earned by the retired Canadian veteran who has spent his retirement years trying to make Chemainus the kind of community anyone would want to call home.
Everitt’s volunteerism includes: time as a probationary sponsor who, under the direction of a probation officer, worked with young offenders; helping run a drug and alcohol awareness program at Wilkinson Road prison; driving for the CNIB in Victoria, and pitching in at Ladysmith’s Resource Centre.
When Everitt and his wife, Hilary, moved to Chemainus they quickly became involved wherever they could.
They joined the Chemainus Valley Cultural Arts Society and were, in fact, board members.
“We were involved with that for many years and later on, I became president,” Wes recalled.
Sadly, Hilary — a foster mom, artist, actress, musician, organizer genealogist, reporter, history buff, animal lover, author and grandmother — died in 2011.
But that didn’t stop her husband from donating untold hours to various organizations, such as Chemainus’ Royal Canadian Legion Branch 191. That’s where he serves as first vice-president, as well as the sergeant-at-arms, the chair of both the honours and awards committee and of the bursary committee, as well as serving as branch representative.
He’s also a member of the Chemainus Little Town Christmas, and the Rotary Club.
“Hilary kind of inspired me to get pretty involved in this community,” said Everitt, who is battling a lung condition
In an ironic twist, it was the Chemaniac’s sense of obligation that’s responsible for his failing health.
“I joined the service when I just barely turned 17,” Everitt recalled.
“I was in the Queen’s Own Rifles, which later on became 3rd Battalion (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry),” he said. “I loved being in the army. It was a tough life, but it was a good life.”
It was while a soldier in Suffield, Alta., during the 1960s when Everitt, along with thousands of other soldiers, was exposed to experimental — and it turned out, toxic — gases.
“It was one of the army’s dirty little secrets, but it destroyed my lungs,” said Everitt.
The well-documented chemical tests took place at the Defence Research Establishment in Suffield, Alta., and at the Chemical Warfare Laboratory in Ottawa. About 35,00 volunteers were involved. After years of denial, the feds finally took some responsibility in the mid 2000s and offered a payment of $24,000 for each vet involved “in recognition of their service to Canada.”
The effects were and are long lasting and created severe, untreatable breathing problems, for which Everitt must use oxygen at home and other places.
Despite that, the über-volunteer said he doesn’t see himself slowing down anytime soon.
“I’m hoping to keep on for a couple more years,” he said.
“I’m not very healthy, but (volunteering) gives me a reason to get up in the morning — there’s a lot to be done and it seems fewer people to do them.”
—with a file from Peter Rusland