Worthy projects wither on the vine without champions

The fate of the Mindemoya Old School building appears to be sealed, despite a lively public consultation meeting where the submissions were clearly dominated by those in favour of keeping the facility—with literally dozens of innovative ideas on how to save the historic building coming fast and furious. So how did it come to be that the Central Manitoulin municipal council passed a motion last week to close the building as of the end of October 2016—with one councillor opining in open council that no one had come forward with a plan to save the historic edifice that supposedly means so much to so many?

Ideas are not plans and articulated concepts are not architectural drawings and to get from vision to reality takes not only a lot of elbow grease, it requires a particular ingredient that is critical to the success of large scale projects and is missing from this debate—a champion.

Champions not only can, they do—often despite all odds. A champion is someone with the passion and drive to bulldoze through the obstacles. The first indication you are not talking to a champion is often the words “the problem with that is,” while the question “what’s the problem?” might well indicate that a champion is in the offing.

There are a lot of examples of how a champion can impact a project available as a template right here on Manitoulin. People like the late Dr. Jack Bailey, whose drive and vision helped propel the Manitoulin Centennial Manor into being, despite all obstacles in the way, or the very current Dr. Roy Jeffery, who is championing a push to build an assisted living complex to complement the Manor.

Champions are the people who, despite their own often busy lives, take up a challenge for the greater public good. Champions are not always the most popular person in the room (not to say Dr. Bailey and Dr. Jeffrey were and are not beloved), but the fire of their passion and their insistence that the project will go forward to completion often produces a discomforting heat.

Another current example of a champion is the redoubtable Maja Mielonen, whose steadfast pressure to develop cycling routes across Manitoulin Island and to see the province pave the shoulders of Highway 540, as they did Highway 6, has made her instantly recognizable by as influential personage as the premier of Ontario herself (witnessed by the reaction of Premier Kathleen Wynne when greeted by Ms. Mielonen during the premier’s recent visit to Manitoulin Country Fest).

Champions are not the spark that ignites an idea, they are the flame that hardens resolve in the kiln that is the real world, the heat that fully bakes an idea and the fire that keeps everyone moving forward. Ideas are easy, irresolute resolve is not.

Before the age of smartphones and tablets, you could often recognize the champion by the thick dog-eared calendar in which they jotted down commitments made, dates to call back, deadlines for applications. Anyone who experienced the bulldozer personality of the late Frank Reynolds, himself a champion of many causes, would recognize the type in an instant. They are the people who get things done, brook no obstacle and simply refuse to take no for an answer.

Champions are rarely bureaucrats or other managers; they are not often politicians, although like Little Current’s John Hodder they may choose to follow that route at some point in their lives, but they are often highly successful businesspersons, teachers or involved in sales. Small town politicians usually have their eyes too firmly glued to the mill rate, and their fingers too tightly clasped on a community’s purse strings, to comfortably take on the role of champion.

What champions do share in common in an indomitable spirit, a drive and passion that will not be suborned. What the Mindemoya Old School needs is a champion and it needs one soon if its fate is to be secured, for without a champion, all the best ideas and good intentions in the world will likely come to naught.