Hawkes going strong after six decades of volunteerism

Nathan Liewicki
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Ken Hawkes, the volunteer co-ordinator for the Family First Radiothon, has volunteered his time for a variety of things since he was five years old. Without volunteers the Radiothon would, as Hawkes stated, not exist.

Volunteer co-ordinator described as 'heart and soul' of radiothon

Ken Hawkes began volunteering when he was five years old.

“My father took me across the street and introduced me to an 85-year-old lady, and informed her that I would be over any time it snowed to shovel her snow,” said Hawkes. “And in the summer, I would be over to mow her lawn.”

If it became too challenging for him to complete on his own, Hawkes’ father or brother would assist him. However, they too had their own volunteering tasks to complete in the northeast Winnipeg community of Morse Place.

“I come from a family that believed strongly that if you weren’t a volunteer in the community, you weren’t a part of the community,” he said.

It is easy to say volunteering has always been in Hawkes’ blood, but it truly has. Skip ahead 60 years after he was introduced to that elderly lady and Hawkes has continued to volunteer his time to a host of groups, organizations and committees.

Although he currently sits on a pair of city advisory committees — environment and transportation — there is one volunteer team he is especially proud to be part of.

Described by Kelly McElree, executive direction of the Moose Jaw Health Foundation (MJHF), as the “heart and soul” of the annual Family First Radiothon, Hawkes serves as the volunteer co-ordinator for the May 1-2 event.

“Or whatever else they need me to do,” he said.

Hawkes was a MJHF board member from 2007-12 before stepping aside for one year. He again finds himself on the board, volunteering countless hours of his time to all aspects of the radiothon — just like he has done since day one.

“The radiothon is a classic example of our community pulling together to make things happen — to make necessary things happen,” Hawkes told the Times-Herald.

Like Hawkes, an integral element of the community that helps make things happen is volunteers.

Brenda Brodie, president of the Moose Jaw Union Hospital Auxiliary, has volunteered at the radiothon since its inception in 2007. She said the radiothon provides a first-hand opportunity to witness — first-hand — the size of the hearts of Moose Javians.

“When you think of the amount of money that the Radiothon has been able to raise, it just warms your heart to see how generous the people of Moose Jaw are,” said Brodie.

The auxiliary itself has donated more money to the radiothon than any company. According to Brodie, since 1990, the organization has donated more than $1.05 million to support various needs of the hospital.

Asked to explain why the auxiliary has given an abundance of financial support to the hospital and the radiothon over the years, Brodie said, “The ladies are passionate about it because they want to have the best hospital with the best facilities and the best equipment that we can have for patients in the hospital.”

Although Hawkes referred to the auxiliary as the radiothon’s most dedicated group of volunteers, there are a host of other organizations that volunteer their time and make donations during the two-day event.

“One of the groups that has provided a really big push — and they want the same time every year — is BMO,” said Hawkes.

The BMO volunteers will again be answering phones from 7-8 a.m. on the opening day of the radiothon.

Like BMO, the overwhelming majority of radiothon volunteers have been doing so for years. As a result, Hawkes noted there is currently a waiting list to volunteer.

You read that correctly. There is a waiting list to volunteer.

Hawkes briefly summarized the gist of the conversations he has with groups asking if they want to answer phones at the radiothon as follows:

“The first thing I say is, ‘Are you going to be doing it? Can you come out for another year?’ Usually what I hear is, ‘Can you stop me?’”

That could be why the volunteer waiting list exists.

Hawkes noted that even though he is the MJHF’s volunteer co-ordinator for the radiothon, it does not feel like taxing work. Then again, he’s been a constant volunteering force for the last six decades.

It’s something he’s very proud of. Therefore, he wears a pin, which represents a military medal he has, signifying his commitment to volunteering.

“It’s called the Order of Military Merit and there’s been one other given out to (someone) from Moose Jaw,” said Hawkes. “When I got mine I was the first person under the rank of warrant officer to get it. I was a young Master corporal at the time, so it was really an honour.”

Hawkes received the medal, which is the highest peacetime, non-life saving medal the Canadian military awards to military personnel, in 1989. It serves as a daily reminder of the volunteer work he continues to do to this day.

Over the course of his military career, Hawkes was stationed in the Friendly City on three separate occasions.

“The funny thing is on my first posting to Moose Jaw, from 1971-77, I decided then that I was going to retire here,” he said. “When I came back in 1984-89, I said, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’”

Looking back, it appears as though he made a great decision.

Now 65, and forced to cut back his volunteer schedule following a stroke in 2000 and two heart attacks suffered within the span of one week in 2008, Hawkes still remembers how his relationship with the MJHF began.

“I was sitting around at home one day and I got a phone call asking if I was interested in joining the board of the Health Foundation,” he said. “I jumped at the chance because it was a chance for me to do a little paying back.”

Hawkes has not looked back.

In future years he expects to remain a volunteer in the community, and as such, an integral part of the community.

Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks

Organizations: Health Foundation, BMO, Times-Herald Moose Jaw Union Hospital Auxiliary

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Winnipeg, Morse Place Friendly

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