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“Connected to others, making a difference”

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

MORRIS JOHANSON AND HIS wife Mary are much-loved and familiar faces in Bowness. Caring and giving neighbours both, for Morris the “neighbourhood” is the whole community. There isn’t much going on in Bowness he hasn’t had a finger in, with Mary quietly supporting his activities.

Morris moved to Bowness 61 years ago, with Mary joining him in 1952 as his wife. They grew up on neighbouring farms and their families’ histories are woven into ­Alberta’s past (Morris’s grandfather rode shotgun on covered wagons from South Dakota!). They take great pride in their four children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Morris retired from his job with the City of Calgary in 1996. Since then he’s been busier than ever.

Morris is currently chair of the Bowmont Youth Justice Committee and sits on the boards of BASS (Bowmont All Season Services for Seniors) and the Bowness Seniors Club. He is the Greenskeeper for the Norwest Lawn Bowling Club and a member of the Bowness Historical Society and the BCA Planning and Development Committee. When he has time, he also volunteers for Bowmont Seniors Assistance (a Calgary Family Services project). Morris’s volunteer involvement has been recognized by nomination for or receipt of several awards, including the Lions Pride in Community in 2006, Alberta Stars of the Millenium in 2003, the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005 and, most recently, the Heart of Calgary last year.

The best part is, no matter how busy he is Morris always has time to share a chat and a laugh. His enjoyment of life is contagious, his community spirit inspiring.

Bowest’ner: How did you become so involved in volunteering?

Morris Johanson: I don’t ever remember my dad saying no when someone needed help. I was trained to be a good neighbour. At age 12, I remember looking after a neighbour’s farm while they were away, and I always worked and helped out at home. When we were kids, the neighbourhood raised the children. We were all part of making our community liveable and friendly. We didn’t call it “volunteering”; it was just the way things were. Our life was full of long hours and very hard work. Being connected to others, making a difference, making life better for others is what was satisfying then and still is satisfying now.

BW: What is the most rewarding experience for you?

Morris: All my volunteer activities matter to me, of course, but the one I seem to talk about most is the Youth Justice Committee. It feels as if we’re really making a difference in young people’s lives.

We have a strong team of eight outstanding volunteers who have the interests of young people at heart, and I feel blessed to be involved with them. We are sanctioned by the Alberta Solicitor General to work with young offenders. We meet with these young people, usually with their parents present. The first interview helps us understand the youth as an individual. That helps us be inventive in ways to give them a second chance, by giving out consequences that make sense for the youth and for the community. Then they come back with proof they have followed through on their consequences.

Our success rate is about 85 per cent. We hope the day comes when these young people will walk in our shoes. Some of them have stayed in touch with us over the years and it’s so satisfying to hear how well they are doing. I think I learn as much from these young people as they learn from us. Sometimes I’ve been in tears after hearing how difficult their lives have been.

Another group I’ve been involved with for a long time is Bowmont All Season Services for Seniors. We organize affordable yard maintenance, snow removal and small home repairs for low-income and disabled seniors. It helps them stay independent and comfortable in their own homes.

If anyone is interested, we’re looking for people to serve on our board of directors.

I’ve been involved with the Bowness Seniors Club for a long time, too, and am proud to have been given a lifetime ­membership.

BW: When will you stop and take it easy?

Morris: I’ve had eight heart attacks, one stroke and two open-heart surgeries. I figure there’s a purpose in my not being six feet under [big grin]. I have to do the best I can to fulfill that plan and I’m not finished yet. Over the years I’ve learned that success is not being rich, it’s having the satisfaction of knowing you’re making a difference.

—Interview by Niki Smyth, photo by Scott Penny

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