It was a birthday Kelowna’s Raghwa Gopal won’t soon forget.
Gopal, who turned 58 Wednesday, started the day by recieveving a B.C. Community Achievement Award from the B.C. Achievement Foundation and finished it off by being named Kelowna’s Man of the Year.
“I’m very honoured and very humbled,” said Gopol, who said he came to Kelowna 37 years ago from Fiji with just $300 in his pocket. But he was given an opportunity and ran with it.
Gopal developed, and then sold, a successful software company, Vidam Software in 2001, and since has given back to the community by volunteering his time with a myriad of education-related endeavours, including Project Literacy and helping students at Okanagan College and helping raise millions of dollars for college improvements and student aid.
“My passion is education,” said Gopal, who was recently named the new executive director of Accelerate Okanagan.
Describing himself as “low-key, low-profile, fly-under-the-radar sort of guy,” Gopal credited the people and groups he works with for giving him so much in return.
Speaking after the annual Civic Awards ceremony at the Kelowna Community Theatre Wednesday night, he, like so many other volunteers in the community, said he does what he does to help, not for the glory.
But when it comes, he said, it is humbling.
“I find that the more I give, the more I get back in so many ways,” he said of his volunteer efforts.
Long-time Special Olympics coach, manager and scheduler Lorena Mead was named Kelowna’s Woman of the Year.
Mead, who has worked with the Kelowna Grizzlies Special Olympics softball team for 25 years, summed up her feeling about winning the award with just one word when she walked onto the KCT stage to accept the honour.
“Wow,” exclaimed Mead, who was part of a double win for the local Special Olympics organization Wednesday night. Grizzlies Coach Dennis Richardson was named the winner of the Bob Giordano Award for the person who has contributed most significantly to amateur sport in the city in 2015.
Asked after the ceremony why she does what she does, and why she has done it for so long, Mead—still shaking from hearing her named called earlier in the evening—said it was because she not only loves what she does, the athletes she works with are special people.
“It’s still something I love to do. I love the sport and athletes are amazing.” she said. “They’re like my second family.”
In addition to Mead and Richardson’s wins, the Kelonwa Grizzlies Special Olympics Softball team was one of three finalists for the Bryan Couling Memorial Athletic Team of The Year award. That award went to the 2014-15 Kelowna Rockets hockey team that went to the Memorial Cup tournament last year and lost the final in overtime.
While the night was filled with surprises for the winners, possibly the most surprised person in the room was former Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd.
Unlike the other winners who knew they were finalists, Shepherd’s name was kept secret until she was called up to collect the Anita Tozer Memorial Award in recognition of her overall contributions to quality of life in the city.
The award, which requires a unanimous vote by city council, does not have finalists. The winner is announced at the end of the civic award ceremony by the incumbent mayor.
Mayor Colin Basran, the man who defeated Shepherd in the last municipal election, presented Shepherd with the award giving her a big hug and saying when it came to council’s decision, there was little discussion needed.
“Sharon is one of Kelowna’s most loved and cherished volunteers,” he said.
Shepherd, whose volunteering history dates back to before she served three terms as a city councillor and then two as mayor, and who has continued to work with many groups since leaving public office in 2011, admitted she was totally surprised hearing her named called out for award.
“I should have known something was up when my husband was so insistent we come tonight,” she joked.
In accepting her award, Shepherd,who has lived inKelonwa 39 years, vowed to keep volunteering and working to make Kelowna a better place
“I’m not going anywhere,” she told the audience.
Later, she said having lead councils in the past tasked with the difficult job of naming a recipient of the Tozer award, she was honoured to receive it.
“I’ve received many awards during my time but I’ve never stopped volunteering. I do it because I love doing it,” said Shepherd.
Other awards handed out Wednesday night included:
• Female Athlete of the Year—Kierra Smith, swimmer and Pan Am Games gold medalist.
• Male Athlete of the Year—Will Dean, rower and Pan Am Games double gold medalist.
• Female Augie Ciancone Award for outstanding high school athlete—Ellie McCarthy, KSS basketball and volleyball player.
•Male Augie Ciancone Award for outstanding high school athlete—Parker Simson, KSS football and basketball player.
• Young Female Volunteer of the Year—Maya Gay
• Young Male Volunteer of the Year—Stuart Isherwood
(For the second year, the three Young Female and Male Volunteer Award finalists will receive bursaries from the Thomas Alan Budd Foundation for their post-secondary education. The winner in each category gets $1,000 each and the two other finalists in each category get $500 each.)
• Honour In The Arts Award— Rosemary Thomson, director of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra
• Teen Honour In The Arts Award—Lauren Maier, Irish dancer
• Central Okanagan Foundation Volunteer Organization Of The Year— Hands in Service
• Corporate Community of the Year Award: Small /Medium Business – Boyd Autobody & Glass
• Corporate Community of the Year Award: Large Business—Valley First Credit Union
• Champion for the Environment Award: Individual—Hugh Westheuser
• Champion for the Environment Award: Business—Unless Market