John passed away on September 9, 2014 having just recently celebrated his 85th birthday on July 26, 2014.
He is survived and will be deeply missed by his loving family including: 4 children Des (Nuala), Mick (Jane), Kris (Ron) and Brad; 8 grandchildren Erin (Trevor), Jennifer, Doug (Haleh), Christy (Gerry), Mike (Gwen), David (Alison), Justin (Val), Michelle (Jason); 13 great grandchildren Connor, Dylan, Leila, Rowan, Amelia, Hannah, Michael, Griffin, Harrison, John, Isabel, Emily and Jane; his brother Don Gelz and family and so many friends and extended family in the Vancouver and Burns Lake area.
John was born on July 26, 1929 to Alfred and Mildred Gelz in Cowansville, Quebec. The family included an older sister Daphne and younger brother Don. They lived in Cowansville, Quebec and Orillia, Ontario until John was 16. John’s early life was challenging as he lost his mother when he was only 5 and his father suffered a heart attack shortly thereafter while managing a war related factory. Fortunately, he spent many summers with his beloved Grandparents John and Mary Jones on the farm in Cowansville…these were always among his fondest memories in his life. His Dad recovered, remarried and the family moved to BC after the war. John’s time in eastern Canada, and particularly in Quebec, engendered him with strongly held views about an inclusive and diverse Canada. His Quebec heritage was important to him.
The family moved to the Dunbar area in Vancouver and John went to Lord Byng high school. His passion was sport and he participated actively in both football and rugby. He played rugby for Vindex and managed a few broken noses and other injuries in the process. John always enjoyed the more rugged aspects of these sports and the camaraderie associated with team sports.
John worked a few different jobs after high school but very soon thereafter became a lineman with CN. During one of his earlier jobs at a cannery he met Ronnice Rich and they were married on September 26, 1951 at Collingwood United in Vancouver. They celebrated almost 62 years of marriage until Ronnice died suddenly at 81 last June 21, 2013. John and Roni’s family grew quickly and after roughly 5 years there were 4 children; Des, Mick Kris and Brad. On the work front John took his electrical apprenticeship as a lineman with Peterson’s Electric and spent many years working line construction…demanding much time away from home and his young family. In 1962, when BC Hydro was formed, John took a Lineman position and he and Roni moved the family to Burns Lake, BC starting a new chapter (really an adventure) in their lives.
John’s interests involved family, friends, work, sports, music, “the lake”, woodworking, politics and the community. He truly loved Burns Lake and was a “contributor” from the very beginning. In the early years he was an auxiliary RCMP, active in Kinsmen and worked numerous volunteer hours helping build the first artificial ice hockey arena in the mid 60’s. He coached hockey. He built and helped build more than one cottage at Francois Lake. In 1967 he joined the Masonic Lodge, a 47-year involvement that recently culminated in a rare 3-generation ceremony with son Mick and grandson David. He was active on Village Council for 14 years, numerous years on Regional District, Chairman of the Burns Lake Hospital Board, Chairman of the Museum Society, active in the United Church and generally involved and interested in anything that would enhance the community. In the 1970’s he became a Line Supervisor for Hydro, proud of the team he worked with and dedicated to efficient rural service. John retired from Hydro in 1987 at age 58 and, true to form, in retirement, set ski trail at the Omineca Ski Club for many years, in addition to pursuing his woodworking interests. On March 3, 1993 he won the Governor General’s Award for Community Service and was the first Burns Lake Citizen of the Year in 1972.
Throughout all the years his close friendships with so many in Burns Lake was a central theme to John and Roni’s lives. They loved to “party”, enjoyed dances, festivals, and community events. Their home and cottage at the lake was usually always busy with visitors from near and afar. John had an abiding passion for music and his appreciation ran from classical to country….with folk and contemporary somewhere in there.
With more time in his later years, his love of family seemed to take precedence over everything. He was able to spend more time with his grandchildren and really took an interest in maintaining contact with each of them as they moved into adulthood. He loved to discuss issues with them and of course he was not hesitant about expressing his opinion on any subject, as most who knew him would attest. John held deep convictions on many topics and discussion with him was not for the faint hearted or the soft-spoken. He had strong beliefs and a demanding standard on many subjects…..effort, commitment, quality, love of country….among some of the topics and, the family, in particular, learned from his values. At the same time he was particularly proud of the independent thinking and spirit of each of the grandkids. As great grandchildren came along, John and Roni extended their same love of family to each of them…..keenly interested in witnessing the vitality of youth once again and taking joy in the enthusiasm they witnessed. His only frustration towards the end was not remembering all the names and connections instantaneously….but he worked at it.
When Roni passed last year it was devastating to John but he was most thankful for all the support he received from family and the community. With failing health, the past year was difficult for him but he stayed positive and connected as best he could and persevered to the end. John will be missed by his community, as he made a significant contribution over more than 50 years. He will be even more deeply missed by his family and close friends, who are blessed with a lifetime of heartfelt memories.
There will be a Celebration for John at the Immaculata at 1:30 PM on October 12, 2014.
In lieu of flowers donations to the local Cancer Society would be appreciated.