EVANSVILLE—The official renaming of the Burpee-Mills Gym took place this past Saturday, as part of the community’s recreation committee annual Christmas potluck dinner and dance. The gym was renamed the Colleen Blackburn (Colden) Fitness Centre to acknowledge the efforts of Colleen (who passed away earlier this year) in helping to get the fitness centre open and operational in the community.

“We as a community are very blessed to have such a wonderful facility in the Colleen Blackburn (Colden) Fitness Centre,” stated Cynda Noble, one of the fitness centre supervisors. “Colleen worked endlessly from start to finish. Her commitment and determination have provided us with a gym that is fully equipped, open to the public and accessible to all who wish to use it.”

Ms. Noble explained, “Colleen was the first female member of council for the township of Burpee and Mills. Her energy was contagious. She believed that it could be done and she did it. Colleen was aware of this dedication prior to her passing and was very proud of her accomplishment, making sure that everyone else involved also received the credit.”

“To Colleen we say thank you,” said Ms. Noble. “Fly with the angels. Dance up a storm. And know that you were one amazing lady. Smart, courageous, hardworking, kind and classy. We dedicate the Colleen Blackburn (Colden) Fitness Centre. In honouring Colleen, we would like to give plaques to Colleen’s children, Shauna and Jennifer, her best friend Mark, and her grandchildren Cody, Autumn, Logan and Kieran.”

“We thank you Colleen. Gone but never forgotten,” stated Ms. Noble.

Wayne Bailey, Burpee-Mills councillor, told the large gathering at the event. “Back about 20 years ago, a local group of young people got together and called themselves the Eager Beavers. They were a very active group who lived here and made Burpee-Mills their home.”

Mr. Bailey introduced Tammi Middleton and the gym supervisors, including Tara Bailey, Bob and Joyce Lamb, Cynda Noble, Bev Lewis, Mike Ewart, Lynda Olsen, Malcolm Noland and Alyssa Priddle. “These people and others got involved, in so many things to benefit the community. They did things like build the arena, and made use of the ballfield. Another thing they did was set up gym…that’s looking to the future.”

The top floor of the Burpee-Mills community centre was, “transformed into a rather nice gym, and one to be proud of,” said Mr. Bailey. He pointed out that because of the efforts of this group and others, and with their efforts beautiful equipment and machines were brought into the gym; which was well serviced and maintained. “This group handles its own finances, to repair equipment and have the fitness centre cleaned, as well as supervised,” he said, noting that council does provide for the cost of heating and air conditioning for the gym.

“So people can stop by after work, or during lunch and work out to stay in shape,” said Mr. Bailey. “As well, Malcolm Noland started a weight lifting group and provides those interested on how to weight lift properly. It is surprising at times when you come to the hall to see the number of cars in the parking lot. You would think there is a conference going on, but it is just the people who are using the gym.”

“So the building is being used, and it is not costing taxpayers,” said Mr. Bailey. “And we can think of the tangible results and success they gym program has proven to be. Austin Featherstone works out in the gym and he has competed in athletics not only in Ontario or Canada, but at the world level. And Regan Millsap has made her mark at the Canada level as well. Malcolm Noland competes in weightlifting competitions in Ontario and has done very well. And Joseph Maxwell, who grew up in the community, decided to be a shot putter and is now at the University of Tennessee. Having these facilities here has I’m sure given Joseph a little edge.”

Steve Maxwell (Joseph’s father) said, “it is really great to hear of all the things that are going on or are in place in the township. When Mary and I bought the old Ivan Bailey place we quickly realized this was a wonderful place for our kids to live. I asked Joseph to write out a few things on this.”

Reading from Joseph’s letter, Steve said, “seven years ago, when I was in Grade 7, I made a decision. I told my Dad that I wanted to start training for the shot put and eventually earn a scholarship to a top university in the States.”

“Living at the end of Bailey Line Road, I knew there would be challenges,” wrote Joseph. “While I had this desire to become an athlete, I was hundreds of miles from the kind of training facility I needed. I discussed this with dad and we decided to pour our own concrete shot put and discus circles right behind the house in our first field. After plenty of digging and more shovelfuls of cement than I cared to count, I had everything needed to begin the journey. While the challenge s seemed like obstacles at one point, living in the back woods of Burpee-Mills has actually turned into an advantage. I built a training centre for shot put and discus right at home, and began learning what discipline and self-reliance felt like.”

“As I look out the window of my room here at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville right now, I realize how far I’ve come,” wrote Joseph. “Once a skinny 13-year-old with a dream, I now find myself amongst some of the best athletes in the world, at that university in the United States I’d dreamed about. The success I’ve enjoyed thrills me, but I haven’t done it alone. Without the support of my family and my community, I wouldn’t be here today. It’s very special to know there are so many people back home who’ve supported me since day one. My parents are always telling me about my latest article in the Recorder and when I’m home for visits, I can’t leave the property without something stopping me on the street to wish me the best. I feel privileged to have grown up in such a warm, close knit community and as I travel around the world, it’s an honour to represent our little corner of Western Manitoulin. Thank you for supporting me on this journey.”

Councillor Pentti Palonen welcomed everyone in attendance on behalf of council and Reeve Ken Noland, and for the recreation committee having organized the evening.

After the potluck dinner and a tour of the gym afterwards, caroling was led by Jim and Joanne Smith, Rich and Marg Piche and Janice Frame. This was followed by dancing to the music of Family Tradition.