The remarkable Herb Sullivan died early Tuesday morning and with his departure Kelowna has truly lost an icon.
When it comes to passing the litmus test in life—Herb is as fine a man as it gets.
I’ve said it before and I will undoubtedly say it countless more times, but Herb Sullivan saved my life. That claim is not mine alone.
In fact, I’d suggest several folks could make that claim. Quite simply, Herb Sullivan changed lives—and always for the better.
I was just a waif of about 11 when I first wandered into the dingy rundown Kelowna Boys Club facility on Lawrence Avenue back in the 1960s —and met the man who would become my hero.
He took me under his protective wing immediately. Over the next 40-plus years, Herb Sullivan taught me many valuable lessons including hope, perseverance, patience, self control and inner toughness.
His first lesson, however, was how to physically defend myself.
Even at a young age, I had too much of an opinion and not enough sense to occasionally back down.
I attracted bullies like flies to honey and was constantly sporting a split lip or bleeding nose.
Herb decided enough was enough and hauled me into the makeshift boxing ring for some basic lessons.
“You’re just a little bit of a guy Charlie, so you have to learn to be that much tougher than others or you’re going to get murdered. You better learn to run faster or duck quicker,” he lectured to me one day as I sat on my rump wondering how the big kid towering over me had planted me there so firmly.
“The trick is, Charlie, to tuck in tight, keep your chin down, and soldier on,” he’d pontificate.
Over the years the bullies continued to come along. They still do in fact, however, thanks to Herb, the physical and emotional wounds are far fewer.
It was Herb who steered me into hockey as both a player and a referee. He also taught me to be tolerant, compassionate and a good friend to others. For that I owe him the world.
For Herb, the ability to share and care was almost instinctive.
He learned it very early in life, as part of the survival skills honed as the middle child of 15 siblings.
Herb was born in Regina in 1923 and grew up, like many prairie kids, with school, church, and sports dominating his youth. He was an outstanding baseball and hockey player
Upon discharge from war service in 1947, Herb went to work in the Kimberley mines and while there starred as a Senior B hockey player.
The team wound up in a playoff round against Vernon and when he travelling through Kelowna to get to Vernon, Herb fell in love with the city.
“When the series was over we were taking a bus back to the McCullough train station. I said, ‘Stop the bus, I like it here,’ and I got off,” Herb recalled tome a year ago.
Herb joined the Packers hockey club for the 1948-49 seasons and Kelowna was officially home from then on.
He and Marnie were married in 1951 and soon after began a family of three children, twins Mary and John and later Patricia.
In 1958, Herb took on the job of director for the brand new Kelowna Boys Club. Since there were no probation officers in those days, the police simply sent all ‘problem’ youth to the boys’ club for “straightening out.”
Herb also spent countless hours volunteering at the Sunnyvale Workshop as he took many of the intellectually challenged on camping trips, and organized their baseball leagues and swimming events.
In 30 years of running the boys’ club facility, Herb never turned one kid away.
“Not once. I never judged a child based on his worse moment. There were always three chances,” Herb explained.
Finally in 1988, at age 65, Herb left the organization. The facility had moved to the building near the armouries and Herb figured it was a good time to take a bit of time for himself and his family.
“I am so lucky because he’s the best Dad and Grandpa in the world,” daughter Mary (Doug) Bullock remembers fondly.
“As a kid I had the best of both worlds—there was always 30 kids at our house for lunch, or in the back yard, and he was always a really, really fine man.”
As well, Herb was president of the Community Concert Series for several years, a volunteer at the food bank and at the Veteran’s Military Museum, where he helped lots of veterans to acquire hearing aids and other forms of assistance.
“He was always behind the scenes working quietly for anyone and everyone. He’s an amazing man who’s never looked back, never complained about how things could or should have been,” Mary beams.
That’s partly why last year, at age 87, Herb was named the 2010 Anita Tozer Award winner during the Kelowna Civic Awards for his lifetime contribution to the community. I was honoured to be a part of that ceremony.
Earlier this month, Herb attended a barbecue at our house and was in his glory meeting old friends. He was the star of the party. The number of folks that knew and loved him was testimony to the man he was.
I am heartbroken today at the loss of my dear friend. I’ve lost a lot of friends recently, but Tuesday I not only lost a friend but, as I said, my lifetime hero.
Thank goodness he taught me so many valuable lessons such as “suck up the hurt and move forward” and “soldier on.”
Without Herb Sullivan I have no idea where I would be today. Like my community and my world, I am a much better person today because of him.
Bless you my friend.