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Helpers: Volunteering couple says do your part to make the world a better place

In the final instalment of our Helpers series, we introduce you to Renée and Ray Joly, a Sudbury couple who encourages everyone to “step up to the plate” for their street, their neighbourhood and their community
Ray and Renée Joly (standing before the sign on the street they adopted under the city’s Adopt-A-Road program) believe that everyone can do their part, however small. “If you care about the people in your life, take notice when they need a hand, and if you care about your neighbourhood, help keep your street clean and safe for all to enjoy.” (Image: Marlene Holkko Moore)

Editor’s note: This is the final installment of our year-long Helpers series. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these outstanding local volunteers as much as we’ve enjoyed sharing their stories. To learn more about’s Community Leaders Program click here.

Volunteering is second nature to Raymond and Renée (née Pennarun) Joly of Garson. 

“Our parents instilled in their children a sense of duty to give back and help others in any way possible,” said Ray, adding, “Renée and I were both raised in large families where a strong work ethic and helping others were fundamental.”

Maurice and Carmen Joly raised four sons and one daughter: Richard, Raymond, Donald, Eddy, who passed in 2007, and Lillian. 

“My father was a cCity bus driver for many years before he earned a security guard position with Inco. That’s when our family settled permanently in Garson.”

The Pennarun family moved to Sudbury from Sainte Rose du Lac, Man., in 1951. Renée’s father, Roger, a farmer and beekeeper, set his sights on a more stable career in Ontario, where he landed a job as a raise driller with Inco. Alice, her mother, followed soon after with five youngsters in tow. 

“When Mom saw the barren landscape from the train, she wondered what Dad was thinking, bringing their family to live here.” 

Renée is the second oldest. Her eight siblings include Geraldine, Mark, Claude, Nicole, Valerie, twins Patrick and Patricia, and Joanne. In 1952, a set of fraternal twins died shortly after birth.

The Jolys and Pennaruns were well-known for their willingness to help others. 

“We were a big family and not well off,” said Renée. “But my mother still reached out with a meal or her sewing skills. As she always said, ‘When someone shows you kindness, pass it on.’ ” 

Ray agreed. “My dad never refused a neighbour who needed help with a project, and he faithfully chaperoned the weekend teen dances at the Inco Club in Garson to make sure the kids were safe and well-behaved. We were raised to help friends and neighbours when they asked, or to offer outright if we noticed they could use a helping hand.”

Ray and Renée first met at ages 16 and 15, respectively. They took the same bus to Sheridan Technical School in downtown Sudbury and they often attended the teen dances in Garson. That young friendship blossomed into a lifelong love affair. 

“We dated for about five years and married when I was 20,” said Renée. 

They have three children, Mark, Tracy and Robin. 

Mark is a secondary school principal in Courtice, east of Oshawa. His wife, Sylvie Plante, teaches at an elementary school in Ajax. Their family consists of Camille, 24 and Samuel, 20. 

Tracy is a registered nurse by trade. She works in Vale’s plant protection department. Her husband, Gary MacDonald, is a pipefitter with Glencore, and they are parents to Hannah, 20, and Alyssa, 17.

Robin is an elementary school math and French teacher in Toronto. He and his wife, Syliva Michelizza, a high school teacher, have three children: Juliana, 14, Celeste, 12, and Mira, 9. 

Before retiring in 1999, Renée worked at Garson-Falconbridge Secondary School, as well as at L.J. Atkinson and Agincourt elementary schools. 

“As a secretary, I handled a lot of different tasks beyond clerical — everything from running errands to volunteering at after-school activities and fundraisers. Over the years, I was privileged to get to know so many of the students’ parents and, to this day, I run into people who attended a school where I worked. It brings back fond memories.”

Ray, who launched his career at Inco in 1965, was initially employed in their payroll department before transferring to a personnel role in 1970. A decade later, he was promoted to area supervisor of human resources, responsible for more than 1,200 employees in three area mines and a mill. Ray retired in 1999 with 34 years’ service.

“By this time, our kids were either out on their own or married with young families, so we decided to build a home on Ashigami Lake, where we resided for the next 12 years.”

Ray became an active member of the cottage association, serving as a director for several years. “Our goal was to protect the surrounding lakes.”

His most extensive commitment was serving as a trustee on the local roads board, a position he was dedicated to for a decade. Renée handled all his clerical tasks. As a trustee, Ray worked with the Ministry of Transportation and the ratepayers to ensure the Kukagami/Ashigami road system was well-maintained and in safe condition. They also lobbied government to raise more funds for necessary improvements.

“It was demanding volunteer work, but being involved in this way was for the long-term well-being of the entire neighbourhood.”

Shortly after retirement, the Jolys decided to spend part of their winters in the sunny south to escape the cold weather. “We always looked forward to being involved in our Florida community. When we first bought our vacation home there, we told the neighbours we wanted to do some useful work to keep busy. Well, we’ve been busy ever since, volunteering at dances, luncheons and other park events, but it’s a joy to be part of a close-knit community. They’re family away from home.”

“We really missed not being North for the holidays,” said Renée. “But Ray and I felt much better when we could help with the community’s annual Christmas dinner. You can see how that special occasion put on by the park and supported by volunteers helps to raise the spirits of those who have no family to celebrate with.”

She added, “Growing up in a big family, extra seats at the dinner table wasn’t an unusual sight at our house. Without hesitation, my parents would invite friends who would otherwise be alone at Christmas to share our holiday meal. Heartfelt childhood memories like these are ingrained in our desire to help others.”

At home in Garson, Ray is part of the St. John Cemetery team that maintains and keeps up repairs to the graveyard. 

“A few years back, I had attended their annual Cemetery Day fundraiser. It’s a wonderful reunion of families and old friends who grew up in our hometown. I met classmates I hadn’t seen since high school. It was so nice to reconnect, all for a good cause.”

When Ray learned about John Monaghan’s team, he asked to volunteer. 

“The work is very fulfilling. Renée and I have family buried there, so it was natural for me to offer my services. Doing volunteer work in memory of loved ones is the greatest reward and privilege.”

Renée has been clogging for several years. In Florida, she is a volunteer instructor of a clogging class for seniors, which, she says, “keeps their minds active and their bodies fit.” Through the Parkside Centre, the clogging group she belongs to entertains at nursing homes and seniors’ residences all around Greater Sudbury. 

“If you have a passion for dance, sharing it this way brings a smile to their faces. Such a small act of kindness warms your heart.”

Ray and Renée have also been active in their church since they were first married. At St. Augustine’s Parish, Renée prepared the church bulletin and Ray handled church finances. As extraordinary ministers, they would bring Communion to elderly and housebound parishioners who were unable to attend mass in person. 

When St. Augustine closed, the Jolys began attending St. John Church, where they continue their volunteer involvement, conducting readings at mass and assisting with parish fundraisers. 

“Renée’s pies and Christmas baking are always a big hit at the annual church tea. I never seem to arrive early enough to buy any myself!”

Ray reiterated the importance of volunteering where you worship. “Serving makes a tangible difference, not only by supporting the parish, but it helps enrich your community as a whole.”

The Jolys have lived on a dead-end street off Skead Road for the last decade. The couple keeps fit by walking daily, which spurred their decision to clean their neighbourhood. 

“Our first summer here we remember finding all kinds of garbage. You just wouldn’t believe the tons of trash strewn along the street.”

Ray requested the city do a major clean-up. Once the majority of debris was hauled away, the Jolys ‘adopted’ the street they live on through the City of Greater Sudbury Adopt-A-Road program.

“We’re personally responsible for conducting an annual fall and spring clean-up. That’s fine with us because we want to enjoy our nature walks, help the environment and contribute to the beautification of our neighbourhood.”

On their daily jaunts, Ray and Renée wear gloves and carry a bag to collect what debris they can. 

“Keeping the street clean is not only an easy task, (but) it creates a sense of neighbourhood pride. Everyone can do their part, however small. We all need to take responsibility for protecting our children. Consider their future and respect the Earth for generations to enjoy.”

Ray and Renée Joly’s Volunteer Words of Wisdom

If you care about your neighbourhood, take the initiative to keep it clean and safe.  If you care about the people in your life, take notice when they need a hand. They may be too proud to ask. Step up to the plate. It will make you feel good to know that you have made a positive difference in someone’s life. If everyone gave just a little support to an organization or to a neighbour or friend, this would be a much healthier, more forgiving world.

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


About the Author: Marlene Holkko Moore

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