It’s always an adventure moving into a new community — it has its surprises, its apprehensions — but if, like Ken Manwell, you take the bull by the horns and jump in with both feet, it has its charms and delights, too.
Manwell is pretty new to Smiths Falls, here just under six years but in that time he’s joined committees, run for council, agitated for the same reasons as the advocates outside town hall, is a Rotarian, heads up Smiths Falls Cruise-In, and now has been appointed the new president of the Smiths Falls Legion.
He and his wife, Korleen, understand that if you want to get to know a place it’s best to get out and do it — make friends, volunteer, dig in.
So he did.
His newest venture is taking on the presidency of Branch 95 of the Smiths Falls Legion; his tenure begins June 1. The role is familiar — he was president of the Orangeville Legion for three years — and with that experience under his belt he wants to add to and enhance the Legion’s presence in Smiths Falls.
His varied work experience helps. Born in South Porcupine (his Dad worked in the mines in Timmins after WWII), the family moved 800 km south to Cornwall for his Dad to take up work first along the Seaway and eventually in a paper mill.
At 20, Manwell left Cornwall and headed even further south along Lake Ontario to Brampton. He worked first at Carrier Air Conditioning Canada, then at Westinghouse for a combined two-plus decades and experienced “two close-outs in five years.”
His working life took a 90-degree turn here, and he headed back to school, undertaking a five-year stint of correspondence courses in golf course maintenance and landscaping. At that time his son, Jeffrey, was at University of Guelph and the two worked as a tag-team — Manwell worked at his correspondence essays and exams, handed them off to Jeffrey who took them to Guelph to be marked and graded, and brought back books to his Dad. “We were a good team,” he remembers, grinning. Part of that experience Manwell is putting to work in Smiths Falls at the Legion. “I believe in teamwork,” he says. “You need a team or you fail,” he adds with surety, using the experience he gained years ago to bolster his beliefs.
From there he worked for 20 years in the golf business; during that time he was involved with the community particularly in boys and girls hockey. His daughter Jennifer (now 46 and living in Perth) still plays today. His son Jeffrey works for Industry Canada — and will turn 50 this year, Manwell adds with some surprise at how quickly time flies.
So what brought Manwell to Smiths Falls? To be closer to his children and grandchildren, he says from the heart, and, at 72, he adds (again from the heart) “I’ve got lots more to do in life. I’m not finished yet…”
Is Branch 95, then, in for a ‘new broom sweeps clean’ type of president? Manwell doesn’t rush in where others fear to tread, doesn’t step on toes; he’s not a “micro-manager.” But he does have some valid suggestions and ideas to try on at the Legion. After all, he’s been in the milieu for 44 years (Korleen for 22 in the Ladies Auxiliary), so he’s got the bug.
At least for his term in office, the motto will be “It’s not about us as individuals, it’s about what we can do for our veterans and our community.” There are “at least ten Afghan veterans in Smiths Falls” Manwell says, pointing out that there are many veterans from different world engagements other than the world wars — the Gulf War and Vietnam being two. “The Legion is about servicing veterans. Always remember…they gave us our freedoms.”
And it’s easy, he adds, to get help through the Legion or get help from Veterans’ Affairs through the Legion (you don’t have to be a member). “Just walk in,” he says. But, if you want to become a member, that’s easy, too, and you don’t have to have a family member in the services.
Smiths Falls Legion has 271 members. The youngest is 27 and the oldest 100. This year when Manwell takes office June 1, he’s looking at “a few changes.” Some include a Public Relations Officer for the Branch; Jim Jenkins will take up that position when he steps down from the presidency to become past-president. Then he wants a House Manager in place, as well as an Entertainment Committee with plans for its first event in September. He’s also combined public speaking, posters, poems and essays under Youth Education. These are just a few.
Manwell also wants Legion members to stand out in new volunteer T-shirts so they’ll be easy to notice at events, venues, fish and chips every second Friday (a little editorializing on my part — the best in the area!) And one of the big events, Manwell hopes, is an “open-house this fall for everyone to have a look-see at what the Legion really does.”
The Legion gives away about $25,000-$30,000 each year, says Manwell. About 25 years ago, Howie Reynolds started a President’s Meeting inviting the then-current presidents of the service clubs to gather on a monthly basis, discuss who was giving what to whom and divide the requests amongst the clubs; it still goes on.
Briefly, then, this is who Ken Manwell is and what he wants to do — a thoughtful man with a wealth of experience, a good heart, a desire to get things done, a community organizer and someone who genuinely cares about veterans and what they gave up for us.
“I have an open door policy, I listen before I react. People should feel free to come forward to discuss anything, anytime.
“I’ve always been that way,” he adds, “and I’ll continue to get involved.”