They were up against a stellar lineup of competitors, but Alan Watrich and Mal Wood are the South Cariboo Citizens of the Year for 2019 and 2020 respectively.
The two men beat out eight others for the coveted awards, handed out Saturday by Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson during the South Cariboo Chamber of Commerce’s Duck Race and community event in Centennial Park.
“I’m overjoyed. I’m actually surprised, it floored me really,” Watrich said. “When I look back (volunteering) is just something you do in the community. When you think back on all the hours you’ve put in (being recognized) feels really good.”
Watrich was nominated for his long-time contributions to the Watch Lake-North Green Lake Volunteer Fire Department, where he has spent the past 40 years helping to build it up. When he first started they had two tiny fire halls and only one unit compared with two proper fire halls, eight units and various other assets today worth around $1.6-million.
“Even when we did our training we had a truck donated from Squamish and the fellow from the Justice Institute was waiting by the lake to give us training. Then here we come around a corner – nine of us pushing the fire truck because it quit,” Watrich laughed. “That’s what we had.”
The independent fire department has relied on years of fundraising and donations of both time and money. Watrich started their bottle and cans program, now in its sixth year, which has raised $35,000 to buy the firefighters t-shirts and hats.
Watrich is no longer an active firefighter but keeps busy around the department as a director doing maintenance on the trucks. He’s also become more involved with the 100 Mile House Food Bank Society in recent years, which he said is always in need of help and support.
“It’s how you present yourself to people when you fundraise. People will open up their hearts to you and I’ve had some awesome donations over the years,” Watrich said, recalling one time when an engineer donated his time to build one of their fire halls.
Wood, a relative newcomer to the South Cariboo but one who has been deeply involved in the community for the past six years, was also surprised to be named Citizen of the Year. As a director at the 108 Heritage Site, Wood built its new mock jail last year and is now working on building a tool room to house all the old farm equipment from the late 1800s. During the 2021 wildfire season, Wood worked as a safety officer for Emergency Support Services.
“I’m the sort of person who gets involved in whatever is going on,” Wood said. “I’m very honoured to be the Citizen of the Year but there are so many other deserving people. It’s not just about me. ESS and the 108 Heritage site are teams – we all do it together.”
Other awards nominees included Jesse (Jay) Lester, Carol England, Kimberly Vance-Lundsbye, Nadaya McNeil, Don A. Jones, Elsie Urquhart, Bernice Enns and Tammie Black.