A man who helped found and shape two of Vernon’s historic sporting organizations has died.
Keith Brewis, who founded the Vernon Kokanee Swim Club in 1967, and played a major role in shaping what would become the Sovereign Lake Nordic Club (cross-country skiing), died of natural causes Monday, Jan. 4. He was 88.
“He was the kind of guy everybody liked,” said Peter Hrdlitschka, 65, now retired as president of Ledcor Group, a Vancouver-based construction firm. Hrdlitschka was one of the first Kokanee members. “It was tough for him to be a coach and a manager but the kids and parents liked him. He was really quite a likeable guy.”
Brewis encouraged Hrdlitschka and fellow Kokanee Brad Shirley to pursue their swimming dreams by moving to Vancouver and joining the legendary Vancouver Dolphins club. Hrdlitschka qualified for the 1973 World Aquatic Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. He won a bronze medal for Canada as part of a relay team.
“I had a chance to sit with Keith and reminisce during the 50-year reunion (Kokanee Club, 2017),” said Hrdlitschka. “We had a great chat.”
Away from the pool, Brewis worked for BC Hydro and was a husband to Joan and father to Bob, Bev and Jeff.
He had a passion for cross-country skiing and, according to a three-page tribute to Brewis in Sovereign Lake Nordic Club – A History of Cross-Country Skiing in the North Okanagan and at Silver Star Provincial Park 1930s to 2015 (pages 50-52), took the first step in the then North Okanagan Cross-Country Ski Club’s development by talking to the Silver Star Ski Club to gauge the interest in promoting a nordic branch.
Encouraged by Joan and by friend Heinz Stussi, who introduced cross-country skiing to Brewis, he returned in the fall of 1974 and was told the ski club wasn’t interested in a cross-country branch, but gave Brewis $300 to start a club on his own.
Close to 20 enthusiastic people turned out in the fall of 1974 for the foundational meeting that led to the creation of the North Okanagan Cross-Country Ski Club.
Brewis was elected the club’s first president in 1977, and the club used the Stussi Farm on the Vernon side of Falkland as their main ski area for more than five years.
The club moved to its current home at Sovereign Lake in 1982.
“During the early formative years Keith worked tirelessly in coordinating the many branches of club activities,” wrote the club in its historical piece. “All the way from trail clearing to social events so that it became a cohesive group and a very successful club.”
Brewis was elected to the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame, located in Kal Tire Place in Vernon, in 2012 as a builder for starting the Kokanee Swim Club. During his acceptance speech, Brewis called the induction one of the greatest days of his life but said he couldn’t have done any of it without a lot of help.
“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family because swimming is a suppertime sport, that’s when practices were,” said Brewis. “I couldn’t have done it without Gerry Goudge of the (Vernon ) recreation centre; without the parents who brought the kids to the pool. And I couldn’t have done it without all of the assistant coaches.”
Brewis, a former Vernon Good Citizen of the Year, was predeceased by his wife, Joan, in 2018. He is survived by his three children and grandchildren.