Larry Kwong brought the house down at the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame induction luncheon Wednesday.
The Vernon native, 88, who became the first Chinese Canadian to play in the NHL, had already received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd at the Schubert Centre for his induction.
Then, as he fumbled with his speech and reached into his jacket for his large magnifying glass to read the speech, he floored the crowd with his opening line:
“God, getting old is the s—s,” said Kwong, accompanied to Wednesday’s induction luncheon by his daughter and two granddaughters.
Kwong helped the Vernon Hydrophones win provincial midget and juvenile hockey championships in the mid-1930s (the other surviving member of the Hydrophones, Don Saunders, flew up from Vancouver for the luncheon). He later signed with the New York Rangers’ farm team, the New York Rovers.
In 1948, he was called up by the Rangers for a game in Montreal against the Canadiens, and only played one minute in the third period.
He was introduced Wednesday by student Gavin Donald, who has pushed for nearly three years to have Kwong inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
“I thought my sports career was ancient history,” said Kwong. “Being here today is special. I am blessed to be remembered by my hometown, and happy to be here for this special occasion. It’s an honour to be inducted with these fellow athletes and builders.”
Kwong was one of seven athletes inducted Wednesday, along with one builder and two teams.
Each inductee was introduced with either a photo slide show or video presentation, created by Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame committee member Chad Soon, and each received a special commemorative award created by Vernon’s Blair Peden.
Vern Dye and his son, Wayne Dye, were inducted posthumously into the builder and athlete categories, respectively.
Vern founded the B.C. Hockey League and the Vernon junior franchise, while Wayne was drafted in two professional sports (baseball and hockey). He is also the all-time leading scorer in Vernon junior hockey history, and was named Vernon’s athlete of the century in 2000.
“On behalf of the Dye family we accept these inductions,” said Wendy Gilroy, Vern’s daughter and Wayne’s sister. “Both our father, Vern, and brother, Wayne, would be proud and honoured to receive this induction today.”
Rhythmic gymnast Camille Martens, many times a Canadian champion, a Commonwealth Games gold medalist and who represented Canada at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, was humbled to be included among the 2011 athlete inductees.
“This is partly my award and partly everybody here’s award because there was a phenomenal amount of support that went into making my dreams a reality,” said Martens, who owns her own rhythmic gymnastics club in Vernon.
Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame co-founder Chris Nelson flew up from Victoria for the luncheon to induct Vernon skier Rob Boyd, who was unable to attend.
Boyd, who learned to ski at his family’s ski hill, Tillicum Valley, and who, today, lives in Whistler where he coaches young skiers, went on to national and international fame as a member of the Crazy Canucks downhill squad, highlighted by his World Cup win on his home course at Whistler Mountain in 1989.
“It takes a village to raise a child and my extended family at Tillicum helped me,” said Boyd in a speech read by Nelson. “I have this village of Vernon to thank for an upbringing that brought me well on my way to obtaining such lofty goals which never would have happened without such support.”
Boyd’s parents, Sandy and Molly, were in attendance and accepted their son’s induction award.
Vernon Kokanee Swim Club alumni Gary and Steven Vander Meulen shared Boyd’s sentiments as they also couldn’t attend. Gary lives and coaches in Scotland while Steven is busy coaching in Victoria.
The two brothers, the only brothers to represent Canada in swimming at the Olympics (Seoul, 1988), were represented by their parents, Gus and Joan, and sister Karen.
“I am indebted to my family and the extended family that the Vernon Kokanee Swim Club became as I grew up,” said Gary in his acceptance speech, read by his mom.
The Vernon Lakers hockey clubs of 1989-90 and 1990-91, back-to-back Centennial Cup Canadian champions, were inducted in the team category, and were represented by coaches Eddie Johnstone and Keith Chase, players Murray Caton, Duane Dennis and Jason Elders, trainer Vic Chenier, and Janet Hackman, daughter of the Lakers’ then-owner, Mel Lis.
“Mel was the backbone of those squads,” said Chase. “He knew when the players were being released from other leagues, knew all of the scouts. He had an unbelievable passion for the game.”
Enderby baseball star Kevin Reimer was also inducted. He spent six seasons in the Major Leagues with the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers.
Reimer was unable to attend Wednesday’s ceremony.
The inductees will have a permanent home in the Hall’s display cases, located at the Wesbild Centre.