South Langley's Virginia Nikkel was presented with the Pete Swensson Outstanding Community Youth Award during the Township of Langley's volunteer appreciation and awards evening Tuesday.

VIDEO: Extraordinaire Langley volunteers didn’t see honour coming

The Township of Langley held its annual appreciation and awards evening Tuesday at Langley Events Centre, before a crowd of close to 300.

It’s quite the week for Virginia Nikkel.

Just days out from her 18th birthday, this Grade 12 D.W. Poppy Secondary honour student returned from a two-week humanitarian venture to Rwanda, she was accepted into the nursing program at Trinity Western University, she was rewarded a $750 scholarship, and tonight she was presented with a coveted youth volunteer award from the Township of Langley.

“It’s been quite a week,” she told the Langley Advance. “I’m still reeling.”

Nikkel was one of four of Langley individuals – ranging in age from 17 to 83 – who was called out for recognition on Tuesday night, during the Township of Langley’s annual volunteer appreciation and awards evening.

The South Langley resident was the youngest of the award recipients, receiving the 2017 Pete Swensson outstanding community youth award.

This honour is given to students in Grade 11 or 12 at one of the Langley secondaries, who is worthy of recognition for their athletic, scholastic, and community efforts.

There were eight nominees for this year’s Swensson award, and Nikkel said she was convinced she wasn’t seriously in the running.

“I was at a point where I didn’t expect it at all,” she said, admitting she hadn’t even share news of her nomination with many of her classmates or friends, because she never expecting to win.

She was listening – after all the nominees had been called up Tuesday night to receive a plaque, rose, and accolades for their efforts. She expected one of the other kids’ name to be singled out as the winner.

“It was very exciting,” she said, to hear her own name called, describing the experience “more than a bit surreal.”

“I’m still in shock,” Nikkel said.

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CAPTION: South Langley’s Virginia Nikkel was presented with the Pete Swensson Outstanding Community Youth Award during the Township of Langley’s volunteer appreciation and awards evening Tuesday. She attended the event with her parents.

She was nominated for the distinction by her school principal.

As captain and player of the year for the Langley Football Club, rookie of the year in rugby, and a participant in cross country, basketball, and volleyball, Nikkel has helped lead many teams to medals and championships.

She’s even been to Division 1 soccer provincials twice, bringing home silver and bronze.

In fact, she’s played on almost ever team at Poppy, and she’s been nominated for her school’s athlete of the year award twice.

But her accomplishments are not exclusive to the sports realm.

She’s also an active student leader who serves on the grad council, is a yearbook section leader, president of Global Voices, and volunteers as a scorekeeper and tutor.

An ambassador for Lighthouse Voyage, she has raised money through the sale of her artwork to fight human trafficking in India – and all the while maintaining a 96 per cent grade point average.

She has made the principal’s honour roll and received top student awards every year for subjects ranging from physics and per-calculus to advanced English and socials.

Nikkel also shines in band, choir, and musical theatre, where she has played the lead in several recent school productions, said emcee and Township of Langley Mayor Jack Froese.

Calling her an “amazing young woman,” the mayor commended this young woman for her efforts for the past four years as a youth camp counsellor, noting she has certificates in babysitting and Red Cross first aid.

But she was also applauded for her efforts to help a youth group build a recreation court and clean up the grounds around an orphanage in Mexico last August.

Then, more recently, she just returned from Rwanda, where she offered some assistance (along side her father) to new and expecting mothers at a maternity clinic. And during her down time, she ran soccer and basketball clinics for kids in the village.

“Personal qualities such as leadership, work ethic, and initiative, play a major role in the evaluation process,” explained event co-emcee and youth volunteer Jamie Kusack. And Nikkel was singled out for all those traits.

Asked if she’s worthy of the distinction, Nikkel shrugged off the accolades, pointing to many of the other nominees who she felt were equally or more deserving.

In addition to presenting the Pete Swensson award – which was named after an internationally recognized athlete and photographer who became the Township’s first recreation director –  Froese and Kusack also presented the John and Muriel Arnason and Eric Flowerdew awards during the event.

“It’s a daunting task for our selection committee to choose the award recipients for the Arnason, Flowerdew, and Swensson Awards,” Froese said.

“There are so many dedicated volunteers who lend a hand and judging by the examples set by many of the past and present nominees and winners, it’s what makes us a great community to be part of and one we’re all proud of,” he said.

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CAPTION: Brenda and Wayne Singbeil of Aldergrove were presented with the John and Muriel Arnason Award during the Township of Langley’s volunteer appreciation and awards evening Tuesday.

Husband and wife volunteer close to full time

The Arnason award was presented to just such a pair.

This award was created to recognize people who work together to make the Township a better place, the mayor explained.

This year, that honour was bestowed on a humble husband-and-wife team out of Aldergrove – Wayne and Brenda Singbeil.

This pair was lauded for the work they’ve been doing for their neighbours at the Valley Therapeutic Equestrian Association on 256th Street ever since a bad winter in 2008.

The organization had just moved in across the street, when Wayne came to the aid of some volunteers who got stuck in heavy snow. He’s been volunteering with the society ever since  – in a variety of capacities.

He can often be found building paddocks, fences, and stalls, installing a sprinkler system, or clearing snow, Froese said, noting how he quickly pulled his wife into the fold, too.

Like her husband, Brenda is happiest to work behind the scenes, so she’s served on the VTEA board, helps organize fundraiser, keeps track of volunteer hours, and she’s currently rewriting the associations policies and procedures.

“I do it for the riders,” Wayne told the Langley Advance,  his wife nodding in agreement.

He insisted he doesn’t do any of his volunteer work for recognition, and actually appeared more than a little uncomfortable in the spotlight Tuesday evening, when they were lauded for their contributions.

The pair have been helping at the riding centre for the past eight years, but the accolades also extended to their efforts with the Langley Hospice Society. Brenda provides support to those at the end of their lives, their families, and those who are left to grieve, while Wayne can often be found lending a hand at hospice events.

Likewise, the couple were also credited for their involved in the Aldergrove Minor Hockey Association, the Aldergrove/Fraser Valley Ringette Association, and the Mount Olive Lutheran Church – for some 45 years.

Between the two of them, they donate close to 1,500 hours a year to their various volunteer undertakings – Froese putting it in perspective by comparing it to a full-time job where an employee works a little more than 2,000 hours a year.

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CAPTION: Alice Johnson received a standing ovation from much of the crowd when she was presented the Eric Flowerdew volunteer award during the Township of Langley’s volunteer appreciation and awards evening Tuesday.

Plaque will hang in her new livingroom

The third award presented Tuesday was the Flowerdew Award, named after a school trustee, municipal councillor, member of the hospital board, and a parks and rec commissioner.

In honour of Flowerdew’s “unfailing” commitment to volunteerism and the community, his family set up this award in 1974.

This year, that award was presented to a Langley-born-and-raised volunteer who shared Flowerdew’s devotion to the community.

Alice Johnson beat out five other candidates to be crowned the Flowerdew winner.

“We don’t expect to get honours for it,” said the 83-year-old resident who was first recognized for her volunteer efforts at the age of nine, when she was contributing to the war efforts here at home through the Red Cross.

Johnson said she comes by her volunteer spirit naturally. Her mother always served as an example, primarily bringing her out to help out at Langley Prairie Women’s Institute functions.

“You don’t realize all that you’ve done until someone asks to you start writing it down,” said Johnson, who several weeks ago was also presented with a Rotary Club of Langley’s Women of Distinction award for her years of service.

She was acknowledge for her efforts to celebrate, preserve, and share local history, including her efforts to save the Willoughby school house and to upgrade and move the Willoughby Community Hall.

“Both of these buildings remain thriving centres that are enjoyed by our community today,” Kusack said, crediting Johnson for her role in making that possible.

The humble senior is also a member of the Langley Heritage Society, the heritage advisory committee, a Langley museum history group, a member of the Douglas Day committee, founder of the Willoughby Women’s Community Institute, and she’s even been known to step in as Queen Mother for May Day – on occasion.

Johnson’s work on the environmental end was also mentioned, including clean-up efforts such as Pitch-In and waterway preservation. Her volunteer efforts with the Langley Centennial Museum’s Canada Day celebrations and the Fort Langley Historical Half Marathon were also noted.

She recently moved into a Fort Langley rancher with her brother Brian, and said she’ll be calling on him in the next few days to hang this latest plaque along with her picture, a family photo, an aerial image of the family homestead – in a Langley neighbourhood now known as Willoughby – and her recent Rotary honour.

“I feel we’re all winners,” Johnson said, looking around at the packed room Tuesday.

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CAPTION: Emcee Jamie Kusack, Deb Froese, and her husband, Township of Langley Mayor, and fellow emcee Jack Froese shared a few moments before the two Js took the stage to lead the Township’s volunteer appreciation and awards evening.

Celebrating volunteerism

“This annual evening is the Township’s way of showing appreciation to the volunteers who put in many hours on the various Township committees and celebrating the volunteerism found throughout our community,” Froese said.

“We thank you for donating so much of your time and effort to make this such a great community,” he added, joined Kusack in expressing thanks and presenting awards to many in the crowd of 280-plus people gathered in the banquet hall at Langley Events Centre.

• Stay tuned to the Langley Advance online edition for more about the other people nominated for these awards and their accomplishments, plus photos from the event.

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