Fifteen years ago, when he married a Canadian and landed in Armstrong, John Hoile was a stranger in a stranger land.
But, “warts and all,” said Hoile, 72, he was welcomed in the community and he threw himself into volunteer work.
His efforts with the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club, the Brown Bag Lunch Program, Interior Provincial Exhibition and Armstrong Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce’s Harvest Pumpkin Festival, earned Hoile the title of 2015 Citizen of the Year.
He was celebrated with a ceremony Wednesday at the Armstrong Spallumcheen Museum and Art Gallery.
“To be named Citizen of the Year, it’s better than the icing on the cake out there,” smiled Hoile in reference to a large celebratory cake in his honour that was served at the ceremony.
“My jaw just dropped when they told me. Citizen of the Year is something that happens to other people.”
Originally from Deal, in Kent, England, where he spent 25 years working for a ferry company as a steward on the Dover to Callais, France crossing, Hoile’s first volunteer gig was with the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club. He had noticed a sign in their window asking for a volunteer receptionist.
“I thought, ‘I can do that,’” said Hoile. “That was just before Christmas and it was Christmas Hamper time. What started as doing something just to pass time became something I just had to do. It was special to be part of the hamper program.”
Hoile, who celebrated the 10th anniversary of becoming a Canadian citizen the week he was named Citizen of the Year, still volunteers with the club “whenever he is needed.”
Former Citizens of the Year were on hand for the ceremony Wednesday, along with political dignitaries Mayor Chris Pieper, Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes and Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo.
“John is a true worker bee that we all cherish in our volunteer world,” said Pieper. “He jumped in to be part of our community. He’s the guy that does all the work behind the scenes.”
Said Kyllo: “It’s folks like you, John, that put in the effort behind the scenes without any desire or need for personal recognition. You do it because you love the community. Today is about celebrating John and the contributions he’s made to local community.”
Mayes called Armstrong “a better community because of Hoile.”
Hoile was presented with a bouquet of flowers from Donna Steeves of the Armstrong Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce.
He will be formally introduced to the community at Armstrong’s Canada Day celebrations Wednesday at Memorial Park, and he’ll also be the marshall for the annual IPE parade Sept. 5.