Cunningham honoured by top citizen nod

Duane Hicks

Best known as being a driving force in getting the new public library built here, Joyce Cunningham was named as the town’s 23rd “Citizen of the Year” at Monday night’s council meeting.
In an interview yesterday, Cunningham said she was honoured and surprised by the honour.
“I know that frequently when people receive commendations or honours such as these, they indicate their surprise and people sometimes don’t believe that, but I actually was,” she chuckled.
“When [‘Citizen of the Year’ selection committee member] Bill Gushulak showed up at my door Friday, I was shocked to see him.
“I think the reason for my surprise is that when I look back over 15 years of working towards that project—the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre—I once more realize and am overwhelmed by the number of people who have come together to work on that project,” she noted.
“Whenever something of that significance and that importance to the town occurs, it’s never just one person,” Cunningham stressed. “It’s a host of people in many, many different ways that have come together to make it so.
“I feel almost as if I will be accepting this on behalf of all those people.
“I think that’s something [recipients] in the past have felt, as well,” she added.
Cunningham also said the honour is “an endorsement of the importance of libraries to the growth and development of a community.”
“I think that more and more we are seeing that,” she remarked. “I spoke [Monday] night of how libraries are being used more and more by more and more people in more and more different ways, and we are only just beginning to see that in Fort Frances.
“And that, to me, is extremely exciting.
“This award is another recognition of how the library is so important to the whole community, to the citizens of the community, to the growth of the community,” Cunningham added.
Fellow library board member Mark Kowalchuk, who was “Citizen of the Year” for 1994, resigned from the selection committee so he would have no conflict of interest when he submitted a nomination for Cunningham.
He said she has been an invaluable leader.
“Very often when people volunteer, they are involved in a wide spectrum of activities,” Kowalchuk noted. “And then, on occasion, you come across somebody like Joyce who has a passion that is something that they work tirelessly for in order to bring good to the community, and certainly libraries and their impact is what Joyce is focused on.”
Kowalchuk said Cunningham also is involved with library groups at a regional and provincial level, and she used that experience to provide valuable input into the local library project, such as ideas about what new libraries are becoming.
In addition to that, when she and Margaret Sedgwick were travelling around Ontario on library business, they would gather information about—and take photos of—other libraries, and they became familiar with the work of architect John Knox of Chamberlain Architects, who eventually was hired to design the facility here.
Cunningham also brought with her what she had learned when the new Fort Frances High School library was built.
“As for the fundraising, she wasn’t really hands-on but I knew I could always go to Joyce to run ideas past her . . . I knew that if they could get past Joyce, they were probably good ideas,” added Kowalchuk, who had chaired of the “Building for the Future” fundraising campaign for the new library.
Kowalchuk noted Cunningham always kept the project moving ahead, even during frustrating times, and also brought negotiating skills to the table when they were needed.
“She was enough of a hands-on leader so that she was involved but wasn’t micromanaging,” he explained. “I think that was the strength of her nomination and her as a board chair.
“Though we concentrate on the facility that was built, Joyce’s contribution to the libraries and the community have been long-term, and we have a very solid, very functional [one] due in great part to her involvement, her leadership.
“The future for the library board is not going to be just a rubber stamp affair,” Kowalchuk added. “There’s a lot to be done yet, and we want to make sure it can reach its full potential.
“We’ve just barely scratched the surface,” he stressed. “Even a year down the road, we won’t have all the ideas in place as to what the library can provide.
“It’s very much an ongoing process.”
Mayor Roy Avis congratulated Cunningham at Monday night’s meeting.
“Every time I drive down Second Street, I see how nice the building looks,” he remarked.
“It’s a huge asset to this community.”
Cunningham will be honoured officially at the town’s annual appreciation banquet next Friday (Nov. 19), although she will not be able to attend.
“We are working on that slight little problem, since I happen to be the chair of the Ontario Library Service North board and I’ll be in Sudbury,” she noted.
It’s likely a representative will read a speech on her behalf that evening.