Here they come
Walking down the street
They get plenty of waves from
Everyone they meet
Hey hey they’re the Sperlings
And people love them walking around
They’re never too busy
To turn anybody down…
Apologies for the take-off on The Monkees’ popular theme song, but it does seem an appropriate way to introduce you to a pair of enthusiastic Vernon walkers.
Maurice (pronounced Morris) and Emily Sperling hit the road from their Middleton Mountain home every morning between 6:45 a.m. and 7 a.m., save for Sundays – a day of rest – and walk along Sarsons Road, back to Middleton Way, and then home again, putting smiles on the many faces of the residents of the Vernon/Coldstream neighbourhood they pass.
The trek normally takes an hour and 20 minutes if they don’t stop.
That almost never happens.
“Sometimes we’re gone for about three hours, especially in the summertime, because we stop and say hi to people we meet along the way, or a dog will come up to us because they know us and wants a belly rub,” smiles Emily, 72. “It’s just a joy.”
The Sperlings have been doing this jaunt around their neighbourhood for 17 years, since they moved to Vernon from their home in Cluculz Lake, halfway between Prince George and Vanderhoof along Highway 16.
Dressed in matching red Canada hoodies, which they got on a bus trip to Vernon’s sister city of Modesto, Cal., along with 53 other people, the Sperlings are spending their first winter in the North Okanagan after COVID cancelled their annual trip to their winter home in Yuma, AZ.
Rather than stay inside, the couple don toques and gloves and head out. They wave at kids standing on a sun deck or in a yard, or they’ll stop and chat with people also out for a walk, sometimes with their pets.
Their enthusiasm and zest for life have left a big impression with Middleton Mountain folk.
A Facebook post – the Sperlings do not have the social media app – on March 2 spotlighted the duo.
“Just wanted to say, driving the kids every morning to school, we drive down Middleton Way and turn right on Husband. Every morning on Middleton Way we drive by a couple walking and they are wearing their red Canada hoodies. They always have the biggest smiles on their faces and wave to us. I find myself looking forward to this every morning now and must say they bring a huge smile to our faces.”
That post generated three pages of responses.
“I LOVE these two. They absolutely make my morning, and my kids are quick to point them out so we can wave and get smiles.”
“They legit are part of our morning commute.”
“I see and talk with them when I walk my dog in the morning. I call them ‘Team Canada.’ A great couple.”
“I told my husband I aspire to be them in our retirement. We just have to find matching hoodies now.”
“We originally met them at the bus stop here on Middleton. They have literally watched our kids grow up.”
“My kids adopted them as honourary grandparents years ago…”
The feelings are very much appreciated and reciprocated, said Maurice, 79, a self-described people person whose hobby is talking.
“The amount of joy we get from the waves back and the smiles, that’s mutual,” he said. “The children on the bus stop, the dogs and cats coming up to get petted. We try to make friends when we’re out on the road.”
The Sperlings’ story starts in Prince George, where Maurice was a meat cutter with Canada Safeway, and Emily moved to the northern capital as a banker with CIBC. Emily would go into the Safeway with her sister, and Maurice was cutting meat and chatted them up.
Flash forward 10 years, and Emily is attending a Legion dance with her sister and two friends. As they near the top of the stairs in the lineup, she glances back and notices a rather dashing gentleman near the back of the line. She knows his face from…somewhere, but can’t place it.
Inside, the dashing gentleman comes to the women’s table and asks Emily to dance. Before she said yes, she yelled, because the music was loud, “you’re the meat cutter from Safeway.” They went for pizza after the dance and have been together since.
Emily is Maurice’s third wife. Both his earlier wives died, one of cancer and another from an aneurysm. Maurice is Emily’s second husband. They have no kids together but Maurice had six from his first two marriages.
Emily comes by her love of walking naturally. She grew up in Cloverdale and used to walk everywhere. After 13 years with CIBC, she wanted a job outdoors and became a letter carrier with Canada Post, a job she held until her retirement.
Maurice, originally from Chilliwack, likes to do construction work on the side, and he, too, comes by a love for walking naturally.
Maurice’s sister is legendary Vernon walker and Bella Vista Road trash collector Helen Sidney, the longtime Grade 1 teacher in Armstrong, who also waves to everybody she sees on her daily walks. Helen, 98, is 19 years older than her brother. She is the oldest of eight Sperling kids, he is the youngest.
The Sperlings will celebrate 33 years of marriage June 14, a Monday, which means they’ll be out early for a walk and putting smiles on peoples’ faces.
“And that’s what it does for us, too,” smiled Maurice.
“When the kids yell hi to Maurice and me, it’s so uplifting,” added Emily.