Family and community are equally important to Kenneth Gustafson, who has lived in Capreol for 82 years, married the love of his life and raised three children there, and still serves as an active community volunteer.
Ken and his wife Helen (nee McPhee) recently celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary. A tight-knit family, their three daughters are Sandra, Tracey and Kelley.
“We’ve also been blessed with six grandchildren and three great-grandsons,” said Gustafson. “Our girls and their families all chose to remain in Greater Sudbury.”
In 1939, Gustafson, his parents and sister Dorothy relocated from Winnipeg to Northern Ontario, where his father was offered a job with the Canadian National Railway. Capreol has been home ever since.
“Just like me, Dorothy never moved away. In fact, she lives right across the street from us,” he said.
At age 17, Gustafson decided to leave school and follow in his dad’s footsteps working on the railroad. He worked his way up to passenger train conductor, logging about 6,000 miles a month on the Capreol-Hornepayne line.
After an esteemed 39-year career, Gustafson retired from Via Rail in the early ‘90s. “I loved my job. I met so many interesting people over the years, like (popcorn giant) Orville Redenbacher…. He was on his way north to do some ‘real’ fishing.”
Retirement certainly has not interfered with Gustafson’s longstanding commitment to volunteering.
He is a member of the Capreol Lions Club, an organization he joined almost 45 years ago. For two terms, he served as president.
“I’m proud to belong to an organization that contributes to the community in so many ways,” he said.
“For example, we help those who need financial assistance toward the purchase of wheelchairs or other physical assistance devices. Our club’s donations truly make a difference in their everyday lives, and it warms our hearts to do so.”
One of his favourite projects is the annual CTV-Lions Children’s Christmas Telethon. Gustafson has volunteered for the last 30 telethons and looks forward to his responsibilities at the registration desk during community auditions.
“I spend two days at the TV station welcoming about a hundred different musical acts and entertainers who hope to perform on the show,” Gustafson said. “It’s inspiring to see people of all ages who want to contribute their time and talents to help raise funds for needy children.”
He has also been a member of the Knights of Columbus Capreol branch for the last 30 years and currently serves as treasurer.
In the 1990s, the Greater Sudbury Police Service (GSPS) opened storefront offices in a number of communities. Gustafson responded immediately to the call for those interested in covering the Capreol location.
As a GSPS community volunteer, Gustafson spends Monday mornings in the office taking calls from residents, as well as phoning their list of elderly neighbours and shut ins. “We want to know they’re okay, and after our weekly check-in, I can report if anyone needs help.”
Gustafson was also a volunteer with Meals on Wheels until knee replacement surgery several years ago hindered his physical ability to handle deliveries to apartment buildings.
“I really looked forward to those Wednesday visits with our clients in the Valley,” he said. “They appreciate the nourishing meals and they know this service is possible because Greater Sudbury is such a caring community.
“I know that both Meals on Wheels and the Police Service need more volunteers, and I’m sure anyone who is interested will be welcomed with open arms and given a role that suits their schedule and interests.”
The Northern Ontario Railroad Museum and Heritage Centre is another local initiative that is near and dear to Gustafson.
“Visiting there brings back so many wonderful memories of a time gone by,” he said. “Coming from a railroad family, I’m really proud that everything is so authentic.”
The 6077 Steam Engine on display is the very train that Gustafson rode as a trainman and conductor.
For his significant and longstanding community service and contribution to the Town of Capreol, Gustafson was bestowed with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013.
The medal was created in 2012 to honour the Queen’s 60th year of reign and will eventually be handed out to 60,000 Canadians from all walks of life. “It was humbling to be honoured in this way.”
Ken Gustafson’s Volunteer Words of Wisdom
“Living and volunteering in a small town gives you a sense of kinship and security you won’t always find in a large city. You know your neighbours and your neighbourhood. You’re involved with your kids’ activities. You support local businesses and organizations that help the community thrive.
“It’s only natural for neighbours to want to help one another and very satisfying to help the less fortunate through organizations committed to serving the community.
“However, there are few young people involved in long-established organizations like the Lions and Knights. I encourage more millennials to explore opportunities to join clubs like these and any community-focused groups. You’ll meet nice people and make lifelong friends, plus, you can get involved in projects that do good for others and raise funds that stay in your community.”
Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and occasional contributor to Sudbury.com.