Surely no one individual has contributed more to the fibre of life in St. Thomas over the past six decades than Ken Verrell.
A compilation of his accomplishments and volunteer work forwarded to me Friday nearly fills two pages and I’m sure others could easily be added to the list.
Kenny died Wednesday afternoon at the age of 89 and where do you begin to document the life of a man who so tirelessly toiled to make this city a better place to live.
We could note he was a founding member of Golden K Kiwanis in 1987; an original founding member of the St. Thomas Curling Club on Parkside Drive; a Past Grand steward of Masonic Lodge 546, St. Thomas; vice-chairman of Crime Stoppers in St. Thomas-Elgin; founding member of the Elgin County Railway Museum; long-time volunteer with Christmas Care; an original director of Pinafore Park Memory Garden Foundation; and president and founding member of the Elgin Photographic Heritage Society, to note just a few highlights.
You might have been familiar with Kenny through visits to St. Thomas by Thomas the Tank Engine or rubbed elbows with him at the Seniors’ Picnic in Pinafore Park.
Did you know he was president and instructor at the St. Thomas Tennis Club from 1949-1961? That one is a little more obscure. We could go on and on . . . Ken Verrell was such a community booster. But let’s have others reminisce.
“The Seniors’ Picnic was one of his babies,” former MPP Steve Peters stressed. “Collecting the artifacts for the railway museum. In the early days Ken was the point person. His work with the Elgin Photographic Heritage Society and overseeing the preservation of 100,000 negatives, Ken was diligent at that. In many ways, Ken was good, wise counsel. Ken had his ear to the ground and he knew what was going on in the community. I always appreciated counsel and advice from Ken.”
Close friend and former alderman Gord Campbell observed, “Ken was involved in so many things. He was the instigator of many like the Seniors’ Picnic. There are so many things he started. I don’t know in a few words how you could describe all of them.”
Kenny packed enough potatoes to feed half the country through his efforts with Christmas Care. “He made phone calls and made connections for us,” recalled organizer Andreana Collins. “He connected people and made sure we got everything we needed, every year. He was without fail. He was the leader who got us organized every year. He was definitely a leader in this community and for Christmas Care he was such a strong factor for us.”
In 2011, he was the recipient of a very special award in being made an honorary member of the St. Thomas Police Service.
“He was an outstanding ambassador for the city,” praised former police chief Bill Lynch. “He always had a real affection for the police service and our members. And one of the nicest things I was ever able to be part of as chief was making him an honorary member. I’ll never forget the look on his face. He was so humbled and happy with it. And there’s only two people ever made honorary members and I was fortunate to be involved in both. One was (former mayor) Don Stokes and Ken was the other.”
Long-time alderman and former mayor Cliff Barwick stressed Ken’s death is a very big loss for the community.
“If there ever was a person that could say he was involved in the community and the community involved in him, it was Kenny Verrell. It was one of the reasons I chose him to be the recipient of the mayor’s award one of the years I was mayor. The man had a life of continuing contribution. What can you say but he filled the role of a citizen and his cup runs over. Talk about a person who gave back.”
“He was a gentleman and a class act,” recalled former alderman and St. Thomas Seniors Centre manager Dave Warden. In fact the centre was Kenny’s home away from home where he regaled many a lunch-time crowd with his wit and wisdom.
“Ken was one of the ones who pushed for the seniors’ centre,” Warden pointed out. “If you go back to 1995 he pushed for it and was on the board. You couldn’t ask for a better definition of a person who was community oriented. He was a class act and a true gentleman.”
It was Ken who, some years back, quietly announced at his office in Tim Hortons across from the former Elmdale Public School that a third candidate had entered the mayoral race. That snippet of information spread faster than a wildfire . . . I know because this corner got numerous calls begging for more info.
When we confronted him a few days later in his office, that impish smile told the tale. We had all been taken by the rumor. To the end, Ken never tired of hearing that tale.
But now, Kenny has been reunited with the love of his life, Ann. As for us, we will savor and reap the benefits of his legacy.
Ken Verrell’s life will be celebrated 11 a.m. Monday at First United Church. Visitation is from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Williams Funeral Home.
City Scope appears Saturday in the St. Thomas Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to email@example.com.