BY MIKE WILSON
Special to the Listowel Banner
ATWOOD – One of North Perth’s most beloved residents was honoured with the Norm Stirling Volunteer of the Year Award at the annual volunteer appreciation dinner and banquet on Nov. 16.
Rev. Ralph Dwarika was this year’s recipient of the Norm Stirling Citizen of the Year Award, an award that Dwarika said made him “really humble and honoured” when he received the news Saturday night.
Dwarika was nominated by his good friend Rev. George Russell of Zion United Church in Listowel.
“I am at a loss for words,” said Dwarika in accepting the award. “I am in really good company in being given this award.”
Dwarika was born in Trinidad and moved to Canada in 1969 at the age of 23. He received his bachelor of education degree, but due to the lack of teaching jobs in Canada at the time, he returned to Trinidad. He later returned to Canada and attained his divinity degree. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1986, he became the minister at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Listowel, and later added St. Paul’s in Gowanstown to his workload. He is also the padre at the Listowel Legion, volunteers his time with North Perth Community Hospice, and is currently the chair of the North Perth Ministerial Council.
Mayor Julie Behrns said Dwarika “is also known as the chaplain of the golf course” in reference to his love of golf.
He is also known for his great sense of humour.
“Had I known I was receiving this award tonight, I would have asked my congregation for the weekend off,” Dwarika quipped, receiving great laughter from the over 150 people in attendance.
Mayor Behrns told a story of just how much Dwarika is loved by the people of North Perth.
“I was taking a walk with him one day in downtown Listowel, and every time we turned around someone would come up to him and say hello,” Behrns said. “He may have performed a ceremony for them, or been a part of his congregation, or just someone saying hello. People appreciate what he has done for them and for our town.”
The Norm Stirling Citizen of the Year Award is named after the late Norm Stirling, a resident and forestry foreman with Ontario Hydro who put great effort into saving farmland during the proposal of the hydro line corridor. He was injured in the Listowel Arena collapse in 1959, and in 1966 was awarded the President’s Medal by the National Safety Council for saving a man’s life who was overcome by carbon monoxide.
“Listowel has been special to us (his wife Jane and his kids),” Dwarika said, adding that he has no plans on leaving any time soon. “A predecessor of mine served this great community for 52 years. I have been here for 27 years now. I will be here a while!”
Volunteer firefighters honoured
North Perth also honoured the six volunteer firefighters who have either resigned or retired from the North Perth Fire Department.
Steve Martin resigned from the department after 10 years of service as he became a full-time firefighter in another municipality.
“I am extremely proud that since I have come here, two of our volunteers have gone on to become full-time,” said Fire Chief Ed Smith.
Scott Smith received his Exemplary Service Medal for 20 years of service to the department, and also retired from the department this year. Others who retired are Ken Beirnes after 23 years of service, Al Weyers after 28 years of service, and Ron Robertson after 38 years of service.
Wayne Young also received his 45-year service award, and in an emotional speech Chief Smith announced that Young is retiring.
“It’s extremely rare that any firefighter receives a 45-year service award,” said Smith. “This is a great honour for me to award this to Wayne.”
Smith also said that having a veteran firefighter like Young around when he first became chief was invaluable to him.
“It’s not often that someone much younger can come into a job and tell a veteran like Wayne to change the way he’s done things and not get told no,” said Smith. “Wayne just said yes and did what I asked, and that meant the world to me, to get that support. You are definitely going to be missed on this department, Wayne.”