Maggie Benzing has left her mark on the South Cariboo.
Since taking over as program director at the Interlakes Community Center (ICC) in 2017, Benzing has overseen a multitude of changes. This includes a new concession at the rodeo grounds, a cedar playground, and even two new pickleball courts, which are close to being finished.
ICC is also responsible for providing home-cooked meals to seniors. Hall volunteers took over the program from the Bridge Lake School Society in 2014 and the demand keeps increasing – from 500 to 600 meals a year in 2014 to more than 5,000 this year.
“We have a really nice commercial kitchen. A lot of restaurants would envy us for it I think,” she said. “We get so much positive feedback from the people buying our meals. Just emails or phone calls saying ‘thank you for your efforts.’”
Born and raised near Frankfurt, Germany, Benzing and her husband Thomas Eberling emigrated to the Interlakes area in 2009. The couple, who ran the Seawood Bed and Breakfast for 12 years, had planned to stay in the South Cariboo for 15 years - it’s now 14 - before retiring to a place near the ocean.
They had hoped that would be Vancouver Island but they can’t afford it. Instead, they will head home to Europe May 31 to retire on the island of Corfu, off Greece’s northwest coast.
For Benzing, the years have been great. While working at the B&B, she was a member of the tourist association and worked at the Interlakes Farmers Market. For the past six years, she has spent much of her time at the community centre and hall.
She noted it is hard to meet people in the Interlakes as it is such a remote area. The community hall serves a purpose as a central meeting place. “For me, it’s all about socializing especially after we sold our bed and breakfast. I would go nuts just staying at home and not seeing people all the time.”
Originally hired as the ICC program coordinator, Benzing has taken on several other roles over the years, including bookkeeping, payroll and charity reports. She also applies for grants, organizes programs and oversees the financial part of the Interlakes rodeo, the centre’s biggest fundraiser.
There was an understanding when she took on the job that she would also contribute unpaid hours. Events such as the rodeo and dinner and dances on the weekends are volunteer hours.
“I’m working I would say 20 hours a week so that would be a little bit much for volunteering all the way,” she said.
She has many good memories of her time at the hall but building the playground stands out. When they were planning it, she said people argued there were not enough children in the area to justify its construction. The cost was $40,000 and as she did not get a grant it was built with donations, fundraising and volunteer hours.
“Now we have it three years and even with the weather like now there are still kids playing outside so it’s really rewarding to see that it’s really well accepted.”
She is quick to credit everyone for helping. In 2022, the organization racked up 4,500 volunteer hours with 1,200 hours of that belonging to the frozen meal program.
“First of all, none of our community halls, none of our non-profit organizations would work without volunteers,” she said.
One of her last projects will be the installation of solar panels in the building with clean energy funding they received from the Cariboo Regional District and the province.
“That might be the last big thing I’m doing here but then we are in really good shape,” she said, adding they are trying hard to be green at the hall. They do a lot of recycling and switched over the lighting to LED.
“I was hoping to get a heat pump but I think I am running out of time.”
She has one final task before she goes - and it could be a daunting one. “I’m just really hoping that I find a really great replacement for myself.”