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Helpers: Volunteering and a five-decade love affair

Meet Darlene and Bill McKetsy, a Sudbury couple who fell in love volunteering, and passed their love of volunteering onto their children
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Bill and Darlene McKetsy have been volunteering and sharing their lives together for more than 50 years. (Supplied)

Bill and Darlene McKetsy are perfect partners in life and in community. Married for 53 years, they share a love of sports, careers in education, and they are a dedicated volunteer duo, both on and off the field.

Born in New Brunswick, Bill relocated to Sudbury when he was five years old. His father was a miner at Inco’s Frood Mine. 

“I grew up on Eva Street in the Donovan,” he said, adding, “My brother, Mark, retired as a draftsman with the city and my sister, Valerie, is a realtor in St. Catharines.” 

Darlene was born and raised in Toronto. Both her parents worked at Eaton’s their entire careers. Her siblings still live in the GTA. Joseph is a retired teacher and Doug is a retired firefighter. Their late brother, Wayne, was a computer expert in the early days of technology. 

Darlene left southern Ontario to come North in 1966. 

“I intended to stay here just one year, but I met and married my soulmate within several months of arriving in Sudbury,” she said. 

That same year, she launched her career as an elementary school teacher with the Sudbury Public School Board (now the Rainbow District School Board).

In 1962, Bill became an elementary school teacher.

“Part way through my teaching career, I also took on the role of sports education consultant with the board. Our team conducted physical education classes in 26 public schools.” 

Bill and Darlene met in Timmins in 1966 while both were both volunteering for a regional track and field coaching clinic.

The McKetsys share a longstanding commitment to sports and volunteering. 

Bill was a coach with the Legion Track and Field Club, Sudbury’s first organization of its kind. Involved in track and field since he started teaching, he also co-ordinated and officiated at elementary school track meets throughout his career. And, for more than 20 years, Darlene was an announcer and officiator at elementary school track meets.

When the Ontario Special Olympic Summer Games were first hosted in Greater Sudbury, the couple co-ordinated and ran the swimming competitions. 

“We’ve always volunteered a lot together because we have similar interests and share a lifelong love of sports,” Darlene said.

Encouraged by their eldest daughter’s passion for swimming as a youngster, the McKetsys became involved in the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club. Darlene served as club president for many years, organizing and running local swim meets. She also co-ordinated fundraising efforts to support members taking part in competitions. 

The McKetsys often drove local competitors to these regional, provincial and national championships. They also officiated at all levels.

Sports and volunteering are indelible passions that are ingrained in their children. 

Eldest daughter Janet is a teacher at Lockerby Composite School. Because of her love for competitive swimming since childhood, she thoroughly enjoys coaching the swim team at Lockerby.

Youngest daughter Heather works for the federal government in southwestern Ontario. Her family fosters dogs through Happy’s Place, a non-profit organization that rescues senior dogs. 

While still in high school, son Stephen volunteered as club administrator of the Sudburnia Soccer Club. His passion for the game led to a university degree in sports management and a career managing a large soccer club in Mount Albert, Ontario.

Bill and Darlene are also proud grandparents of seven. “They’re the light of our lives.” As restrictions brought on by the pandemic begin to lift, the McKetsys can now see their two grandsons who live here in Sudbury. “We’re so looking forward to the day when it’s also safe to visit with family who live out of town.”

The McKetsys left teaching in the late 1990s, but retirement has certainly not slowed them down. 

Bill was retained by the school board as a track official and co-ordinator of elementary school track and field meets, a post he held for the next 21 years. Although he is no longer co-convening these events, he still officiates and volunteers at competitions. 

Curling is another passion the McKetsys enjoy together. 

Bill has been a member of the Sudbury Curling Club since 1963 and, soon after retiring, he served as president for several years. Although she curled occasionally while still working, Darlene was able to dedicate more time to the sport after retirement. 

The volunteer duo is very active at the arena. They established a mixed curling league drop-in program for pensioners, which runs Tuesday mornings. “Everyone is welcomed, whether or not they have curling experience. We encourage curlers at every level to join us.”

The McKetsys also assist with various club initiatives, such as the ten-week ‘learn to curl’ event for adults and efforts to introduce kids to the sport. “Curl Sudbury has leagues for every age and skill level, and that’s so encouraging for anyone who wants to give curling a try.” 

As Darlene has described it, “Now, Bill and I are what I would call ‘incidental’ volunteers in track and field, swimming and curling.” 

The couple’s busy lives are a strong testament to how important it is to remain physically active to stay fit and healthy well into your senior years.

Bill reiterated that people just need to get involved and not be concerned about their skill level or experience. 

“When I first started coaching hockey, I knew very little about coaching the game, but, ‘coaching is coaching’, and I wasn’t afraid to try an unfamiliar sport. With a little help from the other coaches, it all came together, and I developed my own style of coaching.”

Darlene summed up the heartfelt rewards of volunteering by recounting a brief story: One day, while they were sitting on their front deck, a young man walking by came up the driveway to say thank you. Bill had coached the fellow in youth hockey and now he was a teacher himself and coaching his high school hockey team “just like Bill coached me,” he said.

Bill and Darlene McKetsy’s Volunteer Words of Wisdom

Bill emphasizes how important it is to explore the wide range of possibilities beyond your own personal interests and skills. You just might discover something you never thought you would enjoy. Living in a sports-oriented household, it’s natural to volunteer in sports, but you might also enjoy volunteering in other areas, too. Think outside the box!

Darlene reiterates how volunteering helps to keep your mind sharp and your body healthy. If your job and family are time-consuming right now, don’t write off volunteering. It’s never too late to get involved in the community and experience the personal satisfaction of mentoring others and helping someone else discover their passions or develop their skills.  

Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and regular contributor to Sudbury.com.



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