Billet families offer home away from home

The average family has three children, but she has more than 20 sons in Canada and the world. Jane Johnstone, 76, has been a billet mother since 2008, giving her spare room to Lakers players and providing them meals and love.

“I loved being a billet,” Johnstone said. “I’ve been doing it since 2008 and I only missed last year because of COVID. It’s a lot of work, but I love doing it. I’m on the Lakers board of directors. I’ve had some of the players for three years because they liked it so much and came back.”

The players that Johnstone billeted are still in contact with her. Not a single day passes without her receiving a text, a call and sometimes wedding invitations – something Johnstone said is overwhelming.

“I keep in touch with them and I go see them,” Johnstone said. “I could travel all the way to the West Coast and have a place to stay. I’ve met all of their parents when they came here and they were glad their children had a good home. They didn’t have to worry about them. I’m like a grandma to them. You can tell they are grateful kids. They’re always thanking me.”

One player called Johnstone and told her she helped him realize what life is all about. Another sent a thank you letter saying, “Thanks for the home away from home and everything you’ve done for me.”

Billeting is not an easy job, Johnstone said, which is why it should be done for the right reasons. Billet families have to be invested and involved in the player’s life. This includes attending hockey games, having a meal together and doing activities together.

“I never missed a hockey game,” Johnstone said. “I would always celebrate their birthdays. I have those kids phone me all the time. They say they miss me. It’s not an easy job. You have to do it for the right reasons.”

Johnstone does it in memory of her late son, Brad, who was killed in an airplane crash.

“My son played junior hockey years ago,” Johnstone said. “He wanted to be a pilot when he was 16. He was a commercial pilot at 17. I know he’d want me to take players that needed homes. He was billeted out in B.C. and Saskatchewan. I needed something to do and I have a room.”

Johnstone was also the billet coordinator, where she made sure that the families signing up to take players have an extra room and wifi. Johnstone also had to find out if they’re allergic to any animals.

Although Johnstone’s players were a tad spoiled, there are basic rules set by the club, that families and players follow.

“My rules were no girls when I’m not home,” Johnstone said. “It’s ok if they want to introduce me to them, sit on the couch and watch TV, but no sleepovers. They also have to be in with curfew time. The club sets that time and it’s usually 10 p.m. Some players do not follow the curfews, but the coaches will call the houses and let the family know.”

The Lakers season runs from August until May. Billeting could be a rewarding experience, adding that it would be something ideal for empty nesters to do, said Johnstone.

She said the players would go grocery shopping with her and some enjoyed driving her Jeep Cherokee.

The walls of Johnstone’s cozy house have seen laughter, gatherings and parties.

Every night, for more than a year, Johnstone receives a text from Matty Harrold, the last player she billeted saying “I love you, Jane.”

“Billeting gave me a reason to live,” Johnstone said. “It was just very dear to my heart to have these kids. I treated them like my own. It’s rewarding.”

The Lakers are currently seeking billet families and a new billet coordinator for the upcoming season. If you are interested in helping to provide a home away from home for a Laker player, or would just like to find out more about what’s involved, call Sarah at 275-6991