Getting To Know Us – People Profiles
Kees Ruurs – Board Chair
Kees may not be a common name in Canada, but many people in Salt Spring Island know Kees Ruurs, whose first name is quite common in The Netherlands, where he was born. (By the way, it’s pronounced Case, like suitcase without the suit, he tells people.)
In 2015 Kees became Chair of the Salt Spring Island Foundation Board of Directors. He is passionate about the Foundation’s mission of connecting residents’ giving with the island’s needs. And he is passionate about the natural world, which is connected to his many years of work in the field of park management.
How did he get interested in park management? At age eight or nine he was inspired by the TV show “Flipper”–the dad on the show was a wildlife conservation officer. Right away he knew what he wanted to do in life. But there were no relevant study programs in The Netherlands, so he turned to the United States. He earned a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco Stage College in the 1970s, when he lived near the Haight-Ashbury district in the years of “flower power.”
After obtaining a master’s degree in park management in Eugene, Oregon, Kees and his wife–renowned children’s book author Margriet–moved to Alberta, where started out as a park ranger. In 1986 he became Director of Territorial Parks in the Yukon. After that he managed regional parks in the Okanagan (12 years), back again in Alberta (1 year), and Oregon (5 Years). In that last assignment he looked after 62 “beautiful state parks.”
Kees really enjoyed being outdoors more than behind a desk. Of course, this involved much more than just keeping park trails in good shape. He worked to protect people from the environment and to protect the environment from people. Handling avalanche control. Catching black bears. Rescuing people from mountains by helicopter. Mounting search and rescue operations. Dealing with drunk tourists! “It was a very interesting career,” noted Kees. “Definitely.”
Then in 2008 he was offered a job on Salt Spring–Parks and Recreation Manager. “It took my wife and me about two minutes to accept,” noted Kees in a 2015 interview for the Exchange. “The summers are warm, but usually not too hot, the winters are mild, and the people are fantastic, very outgoing, creative, fun, and sometimes controversial, which makes for interesting discussions.” He added that “Canada is one of the best countries in the world to live in. We have a lot of social services while at the same time, people have the right attitude to adapt and apply themselves.”
Kees and Margriet settled into Salt Spring life and opened Between the Covers, a booklovers’ B&B near Ganges. After two or three years Kees was recruited by Carol Biely to join the Salt Spring Island Foundation’s Board of Directors.
In 2013 Kees retired from the formal work world and was able to give even more time and effort to various volunteer jobs. Volunteering is nothing new for him. He started when he was 13 or 14, starting with a Hobby Club in The Netherlands–the first time he served as Chairman of a Board. In addition to his responsibilities at the Foundation, he is a member of the Board of the Salt Spring Conservancy.
Kees wanted people to know that the Foundation is totally independent and apolitical. “We take our duty of distributing donations very seriously.” He liked the principle of the Foundation a lot: community-minded people helping to provide funding that the Foundation then passes on the organizations in need of funding.
Not surprisingly, Kees still loves to be in the great outdoors and is a long-distance hiker. He has hiked the Camino de Santiago in Spain several times. Every year he tries to travel to an off-the-beaten path trail. In 2018 he will be hiking the 185-kilometre Elfstedenpad in The Netherlands. Closer to home, his favourite trail is Channel Ridge. So if you run into there on a beautiful Salt Spring day, remember it ‘s Kees–like suitcase without the suit.
Bob Rush – Grants Advisory Committee
“Stay close to your donors.” That was the advice Bob Rush got when he attended a BC community foundations workshop in 1994. It turned out to be wise advice indeed. When Bob became chair of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 1991, the assets stood at $29,000. When he stepped down as chair in 2005, the figure was close to $2 million. That’s a lot of years of staying close to donors and putting your personal touch on the Foundation’s work.
Bob’s involvement in all things Salt Spring started long before he joined the Foundation’s Advisory Group in 1988. He was born 87 years ago at the old Lady Minto Hospital. His family moved to Vancouver in 1943, but for the next 48 years he returned to the family’s cabin for annual vacations and as many weekends as he could. “So I feel that I never really left the island,” he points out.
After earning an engineering degree from UBC, Bob did administrative work for a number of firms, including the Tahsis Company. When the company built a pulp mill at Gold River, Bob was the project engineer for the construction of the accompanying townsite—taking it from a forest clearing to a town with houses, a shopping centre, a community centre, utilities, and more. In the mid-1970s he became the city engineer and planner for Langley, the chief building official in Coquitlam, and finally a manager in the permits and licences department in the city of Vancouver.
Bob’s planning and administrative experience came in handy when he and his wife, Jinny, retired and moved back to Salt Spring in 1991. And so did his deep roots in the community. Three years after joining the Foundation’s Advisory Group he was thrust into the chair’s position. “The Foundation dominated my life thereafter for nearly 15 years,” Bob reports. “It took priority over virtually everything else.”
He was helped by a strong board. At one point four of the seven board trustees were at least third-generation Salt Springers, bringing a wealth of local knowledge and contacts to the table. They used this history and commitment to spread the word about John Lees’ original bequest of $10,000 in 1984 and to help grow the endowment fund.
Bob applied a personal touch to the Foundation’s work, in an effort to stay close to donors. Every donation receipt included a “yellow sticky” with a handwritten thank-you note from Bob, and every annual report sent to a donor had a personal note from a trustee paper-clipped to the cover.
Bob even used his 65th birthday to advertise the Foundation’s good work, adding to the mailing list the 140 friends invited to his birthday party. “I figured that if I knew them well enough for that, they wouldn’t mind getting annual reports from me with a personal note attached.”
This time-consuming attention to detail had the desired result. The Foundation became firmly established as a permanent community endowment fund for the island, based on donations and bequests.
Bob continues to campaign for the Foundation. “We need to spread the word, to let people know about the grants awarded. And each year grantees prepare a short report on the impact of their grant, which can be used to let people know what the Foundation is doing.”
When asked about the problems facing islanders today, Bob says he prefers to think of them as challenges. Three stand out: low-cost housing for young people so they can live and work here, housing and assisted living for seniors, and the availability of rental accommodation. The constraints that currently make it difficult to address these challenges include the Agricultural Land Reserve and water supply on the island.
Bob remains a member of the Grants Advisory Committee. He looks forward to reviewing grant proposals for innovative and effective programs addressing affordable housing and other challenges. Asked about his hopes for the Foundation in the years ahead, he has a simple answer: “Continuing to grow the endowment fund.”
Photo credit: Billie Woods Photography
Ellie Langford Parks – Director, Vital Signs Committee
When social justice educator Ellie Langford Parks arrived on Salt Spring in 1994 as a tourist, she found more than just natural beauty. She was immediately impressed by the inclusion and community life she found for people with varying lifestyles and beliefs. So impressed, in fact, that she is still here. “I saw many people living alternative lifestyles – single moms, gay and queer people, people with disabilities. I was none of those things, but I wanted to be part of a community where you could be whoever you were.”
In a recent interview at the Foundation’s office, she talked about the strengths of Salt Spring that keep her here, including a passionate populace with the time and energy to invest in the community. “This is a highly educated, fairly wealthy community with an older demographic, with people who have the time and passion to get involved in community work. People are more engaged in community life than other places I’ve lived.” Ellie noted that 50% of the income reaching the island comes from investments and pensions, creating a stable economy. Retirees bring not only their wealth, but also their human capital, assets that can be applied to some of the major problems on the island, such as lack of support for mental health issues and a lack of affordable housing.
Ellie has known about and admired the Salt Spring Island Foundation for a long time. She has worked for years with different Boards and previously ran professional development programs for non-profits. She is “very impressed with this Foundation, which has a high-caliber Board that is run well.”
About 18 months ago Ellie joined the Foundation’s Vital Signs Committee, and in 2018 she joined the Board of Directors. Moving forward, she and the Vital Signs Committee plan to involve people in discussions of the island’s assets, one of which is a strong send of belonging and community spirit. The work of a community foundation is to encourage people to bring forward their solutions about anything affecting their quality of life.
The whole concept of volunteering is changing, Ellie noted. A better term for what people do today is “active citizen,” someone “engaged with their community.” Discover what you are passionate about, she urged , and then find others also passionate to join up with. This can involve a range of activities from stamping envelopes to becoming a Board member. Ellie joined a number of community organizations when she moved here, and the people she met in these groups became her friend base. This is a way to use your skills and build your skills – a way to create community and broaden your own sense of connectedness.
Thinking about the future of citizen activism on Salt Spring, Ellie noted that the next generation is not stepping up to do the work in existing community organizations in the same way. Financial realities and time crunches are limiting involvement, so organizations need to adapt to the current realities. She encourages everyone to get involved in community life in whatever way they can.
Ellie’s message to Salt Springers is that the Foundation celebrates the great community we live in by giving grants, which acts to redistribute income within our own borders. You can celebrate it too by making a donation and-or by getting involved in community life.