Like the great gray owl, with unending patience and dedication to purpose, these individuals work in quiet wisdom to conserve wilderness habitat and wild creatures.
Our success is a reflection of the enduring commitment they have made to Alberta Wilderness Association.
2010 marked the launch of AWA’s Great Gray Owl Award. Inspired in particular by three outstanding women and the significant contribution they have made over the past several years, this award will be presented annually as individuals meet the high standard of volunteerism, dedication and commitment of these inaugural award winners.
Tako Koning is the recipient of the Great Gray Owl Award for 2022. The Great Grey Owl is the award AWA uses to recognize an exceptional volunteer for their service over a period of years. Tako is a worthy recipient. He has been a valuable contributor to AWA’s Adventures for Wilderness program since its inception. Over the three years that the Adventures for Wilderness program has existed, Tako has led numerous Adventures – all field trips – which have drawn on his deep knowledge and enthusiasm for geology, and his concern about environmental damage.
It is our custom to find three words that describe our Great Gray Owls. Choosing just three was hard to do with Chris.
I remember the early days when Chris became interested in AWA- and at that time, I had a little urging from Herb Kariel about Chris, saying Chris would be a great volunteer. Chris asked tough questions, he really wanted to understand and know what it was that we would do and how he could help. Being a member wasn’t all he wanted, he wanted to make a difference and indeed he has.
He is dedicated and no matter the chore, he will do and give what he can. When I walked in to the now almost forgotten hot water tank flood here at the office and thought, I can mop this up… I soon learned I could not mop this up – who did I call (after my husband Dan) – Chris – can you come, I need help mopping this up – and it was not long before Chris and Jen, despite terrible fears of pandemic restrictions and Covid exposure were at the door with rented dryers and here to do what they could to help.
Meticulously, he has helped with our accounting reviews and shared his expertise.
Always engaged, he will write letters, call his elected representative and help others to do the same.
Chris is a Great Gray Owl and we are so pleased to present him with the Great Gray Owl Award. – Christyann Olson
After a successful career in Alberta’s oil and gas industry and as a consultant, Saskatchewan native Murray Little began channeling his talent and love for music to help many demographics across Calgary’s community; he has had a profound impact on many lives. Murray’s friendship with fellow musician and AWA member George Campbell spurred an immediate connection with AWA’s work, and he has been an essential part of many fundraising and advocacy campaigns. AWA is thankful for the untiring and dedicated support from Murray.
Throughout the years, George has supported AWA and promotes the importance of Alberta’s wilderness and conservation by means of the Music for the Wild and Climb for Wilderness events. George’s musical passion and talent continues to create a delightful atmosphere that engages individuals to have a more profound respect for the environment and highlights the important work of the ENGO community in contributing to the protection of Alberta’s wilderness.
Kevin is one of our volunteers who came to AWA, as many of our volunteers do, because his wife was part of our staff. He is a Great Gray Owl in so many ways, arriving with a degree of stealth, taking on his tasks and you hardly realize he is there until you look up and there is a camera pointing at you! His support for our events and any time we need a special shot of someone or something, we can and have counted on Kevin for years. He is an ambassador for AWA through the images he creates, he makes people smile and thrills them when he has a special photo to share that shows them participating and supporting AWA. He will spend hours being sure we have the very best he can offer and never says no – always cheerfully, with dedication, and determination being a vital part of building our historical archive.
Heinz Unger has truly been an AWA Great Gray Owl for a number of years. His support for staff through AWA’s outreach programs has seen him as a hike leader, an ambassador at displays and presentations, a board member and past president and in the field as a researcher. He has made a significant difference. Always thinking, he challenges us and nurtures the best from us. His work on the Bighorn Trail Monitoring Program has spanned the entire time we have been making trips out to measure and monitor trail conditions. His unwavering support has helped ensure the success of our monitoring program. Always willing to help where needed, we are thrilled to name Heinz as an AWA Great Gray Owl.
Bob is quite simply an icon for the Whaleback. Years ago his book “Hiking in the Whaleback” began introducing folks to this enchanted landscape. With little fanfare, every year Bob takes two if not more groups of folks to see the Whaleback and to tell stories about how it came to be protected and what its natural features and landscapes mean. His quiet, untiring strength has helped many learn from him and his stories, whether on the Whaleback or in a classroom or in conversation.
Heather Crone embodies a high standard of volunteerism, dedication and commitment. Heather describes herself as a Saskatchewan farm girl. She called AWA her family when she accepted her award at our Annual Awards and Lecture evening on October 31, 2014. Knowing and appreciating your family and helping when you can is both natural and very important to her.
We describe Heather as “vivacious, tough, caring” and so those words are engraved on the plaque recognizing her and our other award winners. Shy of the spotlight and always ready to help – that’s Heather. Sometimes I think she literally reads your mind. Just think that something needs to be done and… when you turn around – presto – Heather’s already working on it! No muss, no fuss, just “I’m here to volunteer, what can I do?” Whether it’s her gorgeous, reassuring smile or the fact that she always seems to have the tool we need for this or that job Heather epitomizes what the volunteer spirit really means. We are so pleased to honour her with our top volunteer award!
A few years ago Paul sent in an application form to become a member of AWA while he was living in Fort McMurray. As time passed, and after a chance meeting in the Great Sandhills with Christyann and Dan Olson who were just as surprised as he was to meet someone walking the dunes, Paul let us know he would like to become more involved with AWA. Sometime after, Paul moved to Calgary and contacted AWA. His passion for wildlife, a healthy environment, and his newfound time allowed him to become immersed in AWA’s outreach programs. Paul organized some of our most successful hikes and talks programs. He didn’t mind braving the icy waters of the Bighorn River to work on monitoring programs and he never said: “No – I can’t do that.” Paul is the Race Course Marshall for our annual Run for Wilderness. He has been a valued colleague and a tremendous support. We had planned to give him this award last year but couldn’t because he was on an extended vacation, learning how to be retired. We are thrilled to honour him with this award.
Every once in a while, someone comes to this office to offer their help and they make you stop in your tracks. Nuno did that. He was one of the most willing, most capable volunteers that we had seen for some time. He didn’t mind working the nightshift at the casino – in fact he taught us all how to download an app to play monopoly while we waited for our shifts to begin. Nuno is one of that rare breed who sees what needs to be done, musters the resources the job needs, and just does it. He makes a friend of everyone with his easy going personality and smoothes out the bumps in events so no one else knows there were any bumps at all. He has been valuable as a coordinator for one of our most important outreach events, the Wild Alberta Expo at the Climb and Run for Wilderness. Recently he took on the role of silent auctioneer at our Wild West Gala. Nuno ensured with his good humour and incredible patience that all went well and everyone had a great time. Nuno is currently the Program Manager for Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets and has been integral in the development of the Pine Creek Wastewater Treatment Centre for Calgary.
Ed Hergott is one of those volunteers who quietly goes about his work with determination and minimal fuss, and yet without him AWA would be utterly lost. When a team of reliable and organized volunteers is needed, then Ed is always the first person to ask; calling on an apparently inexhaustible supply of family and friends to help. If you have taken part in the Climb for Wilderness at the Calgary Tower, then you will have seen Ed and his trusty team of “tower aides” in the stairwell, keeping an eye on everybody’s safety and providing good-natured encouragement as required. As General Manager of AWA’s casino volunteers, Ed takes on a sizeable piece of planning and coordinating work, and does so with a quiet efficiency that belies the value of his work.
Whether hiking or backcountry skiing, few people seem to get as much enjoyment from the wilderness as Ed. And few people are willing to give back as much as Ed.
Fifteen years ago, on a cold November day, Margaret came by the office and was soon volunteering with the Ambassador Program. Taking displays to events and making presentations to schools, she immediately became an important part of the team. She had just retired from teaching elementary school with the Calgary Board of Education. In the years that have come and gone, Margaret has taken on various roles. She was a critical part of the success of our Masters of Teaching Program with the University of Calgary. Each year she masterfully organizes our Mural Painting competition for Earth Day at the Calgary Tower – now known as the Tallest Art Gallery in the West, there are more than 100 murals completed on the stairwells thanks to Margaret’s meticulous dedication and support. If Margaret isn’t helping stuff envelopes, organizing donations for the Wild West Gala or puttering in the gardens here at the office she is taking on any role she can to help make our days in the office a little easier. Margaret is above all a humble partner in our work, always quietly coming, doing her work with a cheerful bright smile and sometimes with cookies for the cookie jar in hand. She eagerly takes part in public policy discussions and makes a very real difference to AWA.
Linda is AWA’s longest-serving volunteer, having started her work with AWA in 1985. Over the decades Linda’s adaptability to the varying needs of the association has been remarkable. She has a surprising array of talents that the AWA eagerly taps into, including an ability to graphically design and conceptualize, to organize, to care for plants and her compassion and heartfelt concern for wildlife is beyond compare. She keeps AWA’s houseplants healthy, and pursues endless tasks with tenacity. Through the years she has helped maintain membership records, records for the annual climb for wilderness and the gala. Her artistic talents are reflected everywhere within and without AWA’s building in the form of colourful signs, special cards and bird houses. Along with her husband Yusuf, the couple makes and donates beautifully decorated chests for auction each year at AWA’s annual Gala. Linda’s regular work, organizing endless files within the Wilderness Resource Centre in preparation for on-line cataloguing, along with the various daily tasks that arise means we can achieve so much more. Often seen riding her bicycle to the office, she cheerfully makes deliveries and helps save our precious resources. Linda is an AWA Treasure.
Ten years ago, Anne willingly agreed to help out when AWA desperately needed an accountant to join the Board of Directors. Her skill and expertise proved invaluable. As the years went by Anne stepped down from her board position to volunteer as AWA’s book keeper. It is not enough to receive financial support from our wonderful donors – we owe them the promise that their investment in us will be spent wisely and accounted for with the highest of accounting skills and principles. At AWA that promise becomes reality in the form of Anne Fabris. Anne’s enormous gift of her expertise in accounting allows our conservation dollars to go much further than if we had a paid person in her role. Anne’s faithful service has meant we have strength in our fiscal plans. She embodies AWA’s mandate and our hopes and helps us remember that if we take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. The continuity of her service and the breadth of her knowledge and support have helped AWA build an excellent reputation for fiscal management and responsibility. Her kind and generous manner, her natural ability with numbers has helped all of us, she makes a difference and is indeed a Great Gray Owl.