Jeff Cook loves his community. And Friday night, his community said thank you by naming him Citizen of the Year in the Alberni Valley.
Cook, a hawiih (hereditary chief) with the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, was one of a number of winners lauded at the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce’s community excellence awards gala, Friday night at the Italian Hall.
Seventeen awards were handed out at the gala; there were 45 finalists for the 2017 awards.
“I was kind of shocked,” Cook said on Sunday. “I was led to believe I was in the running for Volunteer of the Year. I was really happy about it.”
Cook grew up in Kildonan, Bamfield and Sarita on the west coast. He lived in Anacla, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations’ traditional community, from 1977–86. Cook attended Alberni Indian Residential School in Alberni and was instrumental in the reclamation of students’ artwork from the school over the past few years. He was part of a group of residential school survivors that worked with the University of Victoria to bring the artwork home. It was displayed at the Alberni Valley Museum in 2014 in an exhibit entitled ‘We Are All One’.
Born in Huu-ay-aht First Nations territory, Cook has lived in Port Alberni for a total of 58 years. “It’s the community I basically grew up in. I am from Huu-ay-aht; I consider this my adopted home.”
Cook worked for 40 years in the logging industry, in camps such as Franklin River. He has been retired for seven years (he spent four of them as chief councillor for the Huu-ay-aht First Nations), and has been involved in many youth-oriented organizations since then. That’s by design, he says.
“When I was growing up, My environment wasn’t very healthy or wealthy. We were money poor. I thought to myself as I was growing up I would do anything to help my community, especially kids—youth. That’s why I’m involved in Toy Run; their tag line is ‘for the children’.”
He volunteers with a community breakfast club program, and is involved in the daytime Rotary club in Port Alberni because it focuses on youth and education.
Cook and his family have been involved in the Alberni Athletic Hall for decades, and each year raise money to assist in the operation or capital projects at the hall. The Cook family has raised $12,000 in the past four years for the hall.
Before he retired, Cook and his wife Laverne raised three children, who are now grown. They are proud grandparents, and they are also foster parents to a family of four siblings.
Cook is an advocate for ending homelessness in the Alberni Valley, and is involved in numerous volunteer opportunities. He is quick to promote events in the community on social media, and often photographs places of interest during walks around the city.
“There’s a couple of other things I’m hoping to get involved in, but I’ll leave those until a little later,” he said.
Also at Friday’s gala, Gillian Trumper handed out Youth of the Year awards to three youth chosen for their own dedication to their community. Youth winners were Jenna West, Samuel Tsai and Ethan Jack.
Other award winners were:
Health & Wellness — Sarah Thomas
Green Award — Port Posh Wash
Social Media — Trends Design Team
Welcoming Workplace — Breakers Marine
Chamber Award — Houle Printing
Volunteer of the Year — Meals on Wheels
Customer Service — Kal Tire
Ambassador of Service — Terri Buse
Tourism / Hospitality — Alberni Valley Drag Racing Association (AVDRA)
Business Investment — Blue Marlin Inn
Rising Star — Totem Tree Service
Visionary — Don Ferster of Jim’s Clothes Closet
Business Excellence — Port Boat House
Special Recognition Award — Home Hardware