Meet 2012’s Citizen of the Year: Karen Tomlinson

Marnie Simon (2011), Russell Mack (2010), Ed Thompson (2009),  Arlene McClean (2008), the Pemberton Childcare Society (2007), Lisa Ames (2006) – the most recent recipients of Pemberton’s Citizen of the Year awards are proof that Pemberton is a dynamic little town, made more so by the dedication of some serious movers and shakers.

In January, the Chamber of Commerce announced its 12th Citizen of the Year recipient, Karen Tomlinson.

The PSS teacher has been described by colleagues as a “fly under the radar” type person – she was recognised in 2010 in the first Winds of Change Wellness Recognition Awards  for Promoting Healthy Lifestyle Choices in Pemberton – after being nominated by a student for the time she makes herself available to students at lunch and afterschool for help.

And while exceptional teachers deserve to be celebrated…

(as Tomlinson’s friend and former PSS colleague, Angela Stott-Gadd, says:

teachers should not be getting a bad rap even though I know they do.  I was on the chair lift for my private group lesson to remind myself how to snowboard and Steve, my 20 year old instructor, and I were chatting.  All of a sudden – BAM.  This guy is telling me that one of the biggest role models in his life is his grade 10 Science teacher.  He gave me all sorts of reasons why.  Many teachers go beyond any expectation of any other job.  Sleeping in snow caves, staying in semi trashy motels for basketball tournaments, going to funerals for parents of children they teach, spending hours writing speeches for graduation ceremonies and making fools of themselves at assemblies to name but a few.  Oh, and then they are charged with teaching kids a curriculum.  In the end, though, I believe it goes back to what I think is at the heart of what Karen is about – high expectations.  And solid relationships.

…  it is for her work with the Pemberton paddling community that Karen Tomlinson was awarded the Citizen of the Year award. Our paddlers are arguably Pemberton’s proudest export and grandest claim to fame. But every great accomplishment has a team of dedicated supporters helping smooth the way, and Ms Tomlinson is one of those facilitators.

What motivates your dedication to the Pemberton Canoe Assocation?

My motivation comes from the successes that I have seen with this program.  I have seen what this program has done for the kids in this valley, the pride they have, the motivation they have, the opportunities to travel and represent their town, and their country, and I want the next group of kids to be able to have those experiences.

What’s your role with the Pemberton Canoe Association?

I am the secretary for the PCA.  I organize all the registration for membership to the PCA, CanoeKayak BC, Dragon Boat Canada, and CORA (Candian Outrigger Assoc).  I register teams for events, communicate information between everyone, and all sorts of other little jobs.

How long have you been involved with it? 

I think I started working with the dragon boat team in 2000.  Back then the Laoyam Eagles was a school team, and they were looking for a new sponsor teacher, so Anna Sinclair and I agreed to do it together.  We also had Tamsin Miller, a parent who was very instrumental in getting the paddling program started, taking on the manager position.  So there were three of us sharing the work back then. The job has definitely gotten a lot busier for me now.  I’m pretty tired at the end of dragon boat season, but it works out nicely with the end of the school year, so I pretty much don’t move off the couch for my first week off in the summer!

Who else, locally, inspires you? (I’ve often found that my inspiration stems from the chance to collaborate with great people – are there folk who keep you going, that you’d want to call out?)

Hugh Fisher – He has put in countless hours on the water with these kids (while I stand on the beach watching!).  He has this great interaction with the kids, the way he teaches them paddling techniques, the way he talks to them and motivates them.

Marnie Simon – I’ve gotten to know Marnie through the paddling community, but even before that I would see her name in the paper for all of the many committees she has been on, and fundraising she has spearheaded.  I hope to continue to be going strong like her.

Isn’t a full time job as a science teacher enough “community service” to get you off the hook of any additional volunteering/effort? Couldn’t you just sit back on your laurels and drink gin and tonics in your free time? (Which is what I would need to do, if I spent all day with teenagers.)

I like working with the kids in the paddling program because it allows me to interact with the kids in a different, more informal, manner. I absolutely enjoy watching them race and am so proud of their achievements.

On that note, did you get the kids into the Guinness Book of Records? Would you take on a challenge like that again? (This time, will you blow something up?!?!)

We just found out a few weeks ago that Guinness went through all the data sent in from all the locations across Canada, and we are officially in the book (under the title science.bc.ca team).  I would definitely do it again.  Even though the activities were quite simple, the kids liked knowing that there were all these groups doing the activity at the same time, and that they could be making history.  And as much as the kids would LOVE to blow something up, it’s too dangerous to do with a whole school of kids!

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How many kids in the Valley have been impacted by the Canoe Association’s efforts over the year?

That’s a good question.  I’ve always thought about going back through all the team photos for each year and count it up.  The program has been running from 1996, so hundreds of kids have paddled.  In the past couple of years, with the start of the Grade 6/7 dragon boat program, we have had about 100 kids paddling in a season.  And then the summer day camp program (which has run for two summers) has also seen a lot of younger kids paddling now too.

What do you see as being some of the benefits to them, for getting involved?

It’s getting them involved in another sport, which is always good for the fitness levels.  Paddling is great because it is something you can do as a team sport both competitively and recreationally, but also as an individual sport.  Someone who knows how to paddle can go out by themselves. It’s also an activity that they can continue with into adulthood; we seen a lot of our former high school paddlers join the Bald Eagles, our adult dragon boat team. The other benefit I have seen is that it has given some kids the opportunity to travel, which has been a life-changing experience for these kids.

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I’ve been following you on twitter – especially during the paddling events, it’s so awesome to get that “live” coverage (particularly as the Dragonboat organisers aren’t posting live results.)  Tell me a bit about your forays into social media? What do you enjoy about it? What makes you nervous? (And what does your twitter handle mean? Who is Mole?)

I started with a Facebook account for the Laoyam Eagles because I was getting frustrated with the kids not knowing what was going on because they never checked their email.

And then I finally bit the bullet and opened a personal Facebook account because my university friends kept bugging me to get one.  Twitter came later (I would say Angela Stott got me onto that).  I like Twitter because it makes people in this community, and also the paddling community, aware of what we are doing with our paddling program in Pemberton.  People also have said (like you) that they like to know the results when they can’t be at the event – Hugh couldn’t make it down to BC Summer Games last year, and he told me he was checking in all the time to see how the kids were doing!

Using social media to pass on information to the kids and parents has both made the job easier and harder.  We don’t need to have as many meetings, and it also guarantees that important information makes it home to parents.  I use a blog in my classroom to post notes and assignments, which allows students who are away to stay on top of their work.  The downside is that I spend more time on the computer now. People have access to me all the time, and I get sucked in to checking messages late at night, early in the morning, and on weekends.

Personally, I like social media for keeping in touch with friends that I don’t get to see very often, or not at all.  I am very cautious with my privacy settings and as a teacher, I am very cognizant about what I say and post.  I am very nervous about young people and what they say and do with their social media.  We had a presentation at the school in January on internet safety from a RCMP officer and it was a great eye-opening presentation for our kids.  Every kid needs to hear this information.  I know they learned a lot about cyber-bullying, cyber-stalkers, and also how what they post now can affect them later in life with job, school, and life opportunities.

My personal Twitter handle (@houseofmole) came about because I couldn’t get one using any variation of my name.  A mole is a unit of measurement in Chemistry, but I really don’t remember where the “house of” part came from – I must have seen that somewhere!

What brought you to Pemberton?

I moved here in 1998 to take my teaching job at Pemberton Secondary.  I had been teaching for 3 years in Ft. St. James and was looking to move further south and closer to home (Revelstoke).  The principal who interviewed me showcased Pemberton and the school.  He toured me all over the valley, and showed me my lab at the school, which is beautiful!  He sold me on coming to live here.

What do you like about it? 

I grew up in a small town and I love that you know everyone and everyone knows you. The sense of community is great.  I like the quietness, the ease of getting around to everything in town.

What are some of the challenges?

Sometimes, it’s challenging because you know everyone and everyone know you!  There aren’t a lot of big challenges,  just the typical higher costs, not being able to find everything you want, having to travel further to do some things, etc.

As a secondary school teacher, you get to see wave after wave of kids grow up and graduate from here. What do you think are the best things this community offers local kids? 

Many of these kids have strong friendships because they have been with the same group of kids from Kindergarten and I see these friendships continue on into adulthood. They have a strong connection to their friends and their community.  I just went to my first Pemberton area wedding (actually in Birken) and it was for some former students of mine.  There were at least 30 guests at the wedding who I had taught at PSS; they have all stayed close throughout the years.

Dr Fisher told me that one of the reasons he was motivated to start youth paddling here was to give local kids an opportunity to travel beyond Pemberton, and open their eyes to the wider world and experiences out there. What’s your take on travelling? Where do you like to go? What’s the most recent trip you took?

I think it is so important for people to travel –whether for school, work, or for leisure.   It opens their eyes to all the other cultures, locations and people that exist in the world.  For the kids that went to the World Outrigger Sprint Championships this past summer in Calgary, even though it wasn’t a far trip for them, they met people from Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Rapa Nui.  It was a huge cultural experience for them, and now they are keen to travel more! We have seen that happen with every group of kids that we have travelled with.  It is so wonderful to see them have these experiences.

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I love to travel.  My parents packed us up every Spring Break and we travelled all over the western United States (they went on all their big trips without us!).  I did the three month backpacking trip through Europe during my university days, so there are many places I would like to go back to from that trip and do more thoroughly.  My most recent big trip was two summers ago when I went to Italy.  My first trip to Hawaii is coming up this spring break.  My bucket list is New York and the Eastern States, Australia, and New Zealand.

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  1. […] a more in-depth interview with Karen Tomlinson, check out this profile on Choose Pemberton. So, here’s to you, Ms Tomlinson. For all that you […]

  2. […] Tomlinson, 2012 Citizen of the Year and Pemberton Secondary School teacher, took up our challenge to explore Vitality for the Vitality […]



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