A Red Deerian will be receiving the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteering, bestowed by the Governor General.
Sam Van Gunst, 82, said when he got word from Ottawa in February, he thought the call was some sort of scam.
“I didn’t believe it was the Governor General’s office,” said the senior, who has opted not to travel to Ottawa for the ceremony that would have taken place within two years.
Instead, his medal will be sent to the Lieutenant-Governor for a ceremony in Alberta.
The Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers recognizes the remarkable volunteer achievements of Canadians from across the country in a range of fields.
“That’s quite an honour,” he noted.
Van Gunst spent about 40 years helping newcomers and working with the local Legion during its annual poppy campaign and Remembrance Day activities. He also served as an honour guard at veterans’ funerals and visited residents at seniors’ care facilities.
He only recently retired from his volunteer duties.
Van Gunst said visiting seniors was his favourite volunteer activity. He recalled that before the Dr. Richard Parsons Auxiliary Hospital was shut down, one resident always made sure to sit beside him during the Thursday night sing-a-longs.
“She’d be sitting right in front of the elevator, waiting for me to get off. She’d give me a big hug. She’d ask me, ‘Are you going to sing tonight.’”
“When we came out of there, I’d say I feel good about this. I’ve helped somebody.”
He went on to become a regular volunteer at Red Deer Nursing Home, where he helped feed elderly residents.
“I was there until the last day, when they closed the doors,” Van Gunst said.
He also visited veterans and residents at other larger seniors facilities, but eventually, all the walking became too much.
In 2012, Van Gunst received the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation, which is awarded to those who perform service to the veteran community and/or individuals who represent commendable role models for their fellow veterans.
In 1955, at age 18, Van Gunst joined the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry as part of the Canadian Armed Forces and was a peacekeeper in Germany for three years.
His family came to Canada from the Netherlands in 1949, after Canadian soldiers liberated the country at the end of the Second World War.