In the late 1980s, Wendell Unger mailed in his signature and $5 pledge to support the creation of University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) from his home in Burns Lake out of a desire to stem the flow of young people from Northern B.C.
“I watched most of my classmates and older siblings leave the region,” says Wendell. “Some people were touring communities promoting the idea of UNBC. When I saw that option, and read some articles on it, I thought it could help out the North.”
“It’s like there was a one-way magnet pulling people out of the region. UNBC gave an option to do something in the North and stay in touch with home. Since then, more people have chosen to work in the North. It’s been a great thing for the region.”
Two of Wendell’s children, Christopher and Jocelyn, went on to achieve their undergraduate degrees at UNBC. The youngest sibling, Samantha, started at UNBC this fall. Christopher, Jocelyn and Samantha both earned UNBC scholars awards and full tuition waivers for finishing at the top of their respective high school classes.
Jocelyn went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree, and in May she graduated from the Northern Medical Program. Christopher completed his undergraduate degree at UNBC and is a current NMP student.
Wendell says it was exciting and fulfilling to have his children graduate from an institution he helped create. It also gave him a chance to see the campus as it has evolved over the decades.
“I loved the use of the wood and the scenes of the North,” says Wendell, who worked in the construction industry for 10 years. “That really stands out. I’d stare at those roof structures enthralled. They’re pretty neat.”
Wendell says it was rewarding having two of his children close to home for university. The Christian faith is a big part of his family and it was important to have them back for Christmas and Easter church services. Both Christopher and Jocelyn play music and they perform at services and family events.
Jocelyn has been making Christmas pudding on Remembrance Day with her mother and little sister since she was four. It’s a tradition Jocelyn says she couldn’t have continued if she’d gone away for university. The family would also play music at the Lakes District Fall Fair and at Christmas for the residents of the Pines.
“I think the first year of university is a pretty big transition time for most students,” says Jocelyn. “Classmates would tell me about students going to university in Vancouver right out of high school and crying, being homesick. I think that was a huge plus being able to come home on the weekends, visit family and having family come up once or twice a month. It definitely helps in wellbeing and keeping a positive attitude through university.”
Jocelyn is now completing her residency, and on her way to becoming a licensed physician. She just recently learned that her father signed the petition to create the university from which she graduated.
Jocelyn says she’s grateful to people like her father who put their names behind the movement that led to a university in the North.
“It was really neat finding out that he supported the whole process from the beginning,” she says. “It was such a pleasant surprise, and definitely inspiring.”
There are many other stories like the Unger’s out there and UNBC wants to hear them. Visit unbc.ca/25 to share your story about UNBC and to find out about all the 25 anniversary events.