It is funny when I recall my earliest lessons in journalism school of how we are supposed to keep people at arm’s length to ensure objectivity, as I imagined my instructor had never worked at a small-town community newspaper before.
It is simply impossible to keep people at arm’s length as a newspaper man if you want to have any sort of meaningful life in a small town, through volunteerism and a social life, given the proximity you have to its citizenry.
One man I’m proud to say I did not keep at arm’s length was Kalvin Odland, who recently passed away from a tragic car accident earlier this month.
I got to know Kalvin, at least to some degree, from covering his sons, Brendan and Jaden, through the Vauxhall Spurs and Vauxhall Vikings baseball program, and his daughter, Karlee, through hockey.
Odland’s passion for both sports was self-evident from the mere fact you would see him as a regular at the local ball diamonds and ice arenas, far after his children graduated from the local system.
I continued to keep in sporadic contact with him later on with the Southeast “AAA” Tigers midget girls hockey team, in which he served as general manager up until the time of his death.
His fingerprints were all over the southern Alberta sports scene as a coach, an administrator, and, most importantly, as a loving and supportive parent with how the power of sport can bring families together.
It is part of the joy of small-town journalism when you see first-hand families growing up together, and you can be a part of their lives in some small or big ways. I’ve broken bread with sports families I covered in Taber. I like the feeling that I can interview the Vauxhall high school principal over an education initiative and then thirty seconds later talk about our love of the Dallas Cowboys. I would beg to argue that if you build genuine relationships with people in the community, they will feel more comfortable talking to you when you have to cover the more controversial or ‘negative’ stories. You just have to tell people that while you will be the first person to sing their praises through the newspaper, you have to show them the realization you have to write about the bad stuff too. It’s part of the job.
I won’t pretend I knew Kalvin to the greatest degree, but in my encounters with him, I knew he was a good man. Every once in a while we would talk sports shop talk at Jets Stadium over a beer in the beer garden, or tell stories or jokes unprintable in a newspaper which would be accompanied by his distinctive and infectious laugh.
Even in just passing paths, I was always met with a warm smile and a hello. It was a courtesy I was afforded, be it for a Spurs baseball game or mixed slo-pitch in Vauxhall, or out in Enchant. You could see why people were drawn to him which was self-evident at his funeral on Monday. The Mennonite Brethren Church is one of the larger churches in Vauxhall and extra seating had to be put in the hallways with the show of support for the man, as there was nary a space in the whole church without someone there occupying it to pay their respects. Sitting in the hallway beside some Vauxhall educators and former baseball players his sons played with, and who I covered in the newspaper, my eyes began to swell with tears as I remembered those little moments with the man – as did his wife Pam and children Brendan, Jaden, and Karlee in their tribute.
It made me further remember moments I treasured with my departed family in Grandma and Grandpa Price at Christmas time, where I always believed in the spirit of Santa; my yearly visits to the west coast in Nanaimo, where I would stop by Papa Lou’s for a scotch or rye and ginger and some good conversation; my first year of journalism school, staying at Uncle Doug’s where, even if I was in the basement, I could still hear his distinctive laugh – much like Kalvin possessed. The political and social discussions I have with treasured friends at Wing Wednesday over a scotch, rye, or pint have their roots from my discussions with my Uncle Andy on his couch as a teenager, who encouraged me to have a voice.
Our friends and family help make us who we are today as people. They seem like moments that are so small at the time, but, upon reflection, have the biggest impacts on our hearts. The suddenness in which Kalvin Odland was taken from his loved ones forces us among the living to reflect on our own mortality. It sounds so cliché but it is so true. Things become cliché because, over the test of time, they hold up in their truths.
As we navigate this life with our family, friends, and acquaintances, just remember:
Life is busy; slow it down. Anger is a natural emotion at times; don’t let it linger. Love can be plentiful; don’t take it for granted. Good health is not a guarantee; travel and get outside to enjoy nature while you can.
Quite simply, don’t let life’s moments slip by without taking a step back to reflect on the gifts those moments have given you every once in awhile.
From the heartfelt messages from Kalvin’s family and his friends, it was a creed he took to heart and one that can be reaffirmed for us all.
Every time I visit Jets Stadium now, I know it will be little poorer without your laughter filling the air. Rest in peace, Mr. Odland, it was an honour to know you.