It all started when Bill Simpson went to the wrong meeting.
“Went to a meeting. Paid my dues. Thought I was joining the Golden Age Society.”
Instead, he found to his surprise that he had just joined the Golden Age Society..
It was the first step of a journey that recently earned him the Yukon Commissioner’s award for Public Service.
“I barely knew there was such an award. There’s too much being made of this. It should be a joint award with my wife. It’s not a one-person award,” he says.
Prior to that “wrong” meeting, Simpson’s biggest commitments had been to the Elks Lodge (52 years a member, building parks and organizing community events) and to his wife Diana (50th anniversary last December 23).
Simpson wasn’t always a Yukoner. He started his trip northward from Dawson Creek in 1953. Thirty-one years later, he finally arrived.
Along the way he and Diana raised a family in Fort Nelson and he worked for the Canadian Army, the Department of Public Works and Lobe Contracting, straightening out the southern sections of the Alaska Highway.
When Lobe closed down in the early 1990s, Bill worked for a couple of other road construction contractors before retiring in 1994.
The Yukon he retired to was a vastly different place than it is today.
“In the 1970s and ’80s, this was a young person’s place. Even in the 1990s, people left when they retired. Now retired people aren’t leaving.”
He and Diana decided to stay rather than follow other retirees south.
“It was the lakes. The Yukon has so many beautiful lakes. The lakes up here and the fishing were what I loved, so we stayed.”
Bill’s attendance at the wrong meeting (although he did eventually become a member of the Golden Age) led to his involvement with the Yukon Senior Games in 1999. Those games resulted in the formation of the Elderactive Recreation Association in 2000.
“In 1998, a group went to the Canada Senior Games in Medicine Hat (Alberta) and they came back with a bunch of medals and the Spirit of the Games Award. They decided they should promote it and it worked itself into the Elderactive.”
The organization’s mandate is to get seniors (55 years and older) active and involved mentally, physically and spiritually. The social aspect of the sports is just as important as the physical part.
“The more active you are, the more involved you are, the better it is for you,” Simpson says. “Move and move all the time. It helps how you feel about yourself. It also helps the health system.”
After successfully bidding to host the 2004 Canada Senior Games, the new association began to falter. The games were in danger of collapsing.
Elected to the Elderactive board in 2004, Simpson and his fellow directors took control of the planning. Supported by an army of volunteers, they not only pulled off the games, but also set a standard of excellence that other hosting communities in Canada still strive to achieve.
Under Simpson’s presidency since 2005, Elderactive reached out to smaller Yukon communities, providing equipment and instruction in games such as shuffleboard and carpet bowling.
As Yukon representative on the board of directors for Canada 55+ Games Association, he also got permission for Atlin seniors to be included with the Yukon because of their isolation from other B.C. communities.
It wasn’t always easy sailing. Some communities got into the spirit of elder activity; others resisted. Some organizations that started off healthy began to decline when medical issues forced volunteers to drop out or to leave the community.
When Elderactive moved into new office space in the Sport Yukon building, the Simpsons were able to reconvert their home office back into a bedroom for their grandchildren and great grandchildren when they visit.
After two terms as president, Simpson will serve as past president until 2013. After that, however, he intends to remain involved.
“Not at the level I used to be. Not in trying to control everything – of which I have been justifiably accused,” he smiles.
“But until you have new people comfortable and knowledgeable with what is happening, you need to be involved or it all falls by the wayside.”