Hanzuk overwhelmed, honoured by Citizen of the Year award

Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In an unusual year, it’s more important than ever to celebrate the people who go above and beyond to help others.

That was the message at the small ceremony that officially bestowed Fort Frances’ citizen of the year Gabby Hanzuk with her recognition and plaque.

The ceremony was held outside at the Rainy Lake Square in downtown Fort Frances due to restrictions on gathering indoors, allowing Hanzuk and some of her friends and supporters the ability and space to safely gather to celebrate the honour. Mayor June Caul was on hand to say a few words and to present Hanzuk with her plaque.

Like she did when Hanzuk was announced as the recipient for this year’s award, Caul began proceedings by reading from the nomination letter written by Dale Gill that was submitted to the Citizen of the Year committee for consideration. In the letter, Gill pointed to Hanzuk’s decades of support of local initiatives like the Special Olympics, Meals on Wheels and Voyageur’s Lions Club, among others, as deserving of recognition by the town.

“Gabby is also on the board at volunteer bureau, and has volunteered in past to do the taxes for the low income,” Gill’s letter read.

“She also is a valuable volunteer at the Family Centre. Though Gabby’s position for Meals on Wheels is a paid position, I feel that what she does there goes way above and beyond pay. She makes sure that our seniors who can’t cook for themselves get a healthy meal every night, even if she has to deliver them by herself, not to mention every one of them get a Christmas goodie bag from her every Christmas. Along the Christmas line, Gabby has volunteered for the Community Christmas dinner for many years.”

Speaking to the small gathering at the ceremony, Caul agreed with Gill’s letter and acknowledged the work that Hanzuk does for the vulnerable populations in town.

“If we didn’t have volunteers like you to look after the less fortunate especially, there would be a lot less of a place for them to live here,” she said.

“Not very many people have a heart as big as yours, that’s for sure. So on behalf of the Town of Fort Frances, it’s my pleasure to present this plaque to Gabby Hanzuk, Citizen of the Year 2020 in recognition of tremendous volunteer services to our community.”

For all that she does in the community, Gabby stressed that she’s still only one person and receives plenty of help from other volunteers and organizations in the region.

“June mentioned it, she’s been around with me a lot and so has my girlfriend Roz,” Hanzuk said. “Everybody, all the groups and all the places I’ve gone to and helped out, there’s a lot of people that do it. I just happen to be the mouthy one, the one aggressive enough to just say, ‘this is what’s going to happen, we’re going to do this.’ You’ve got to love what you do because it’s hard work. Sometimes it’s hard work and dedication is key and there’s a lot of that in this community. There are so many people that are amazing.”

In addition to the people Hanzuk volunteers with, she also acknowledged the many individuals she’s met while volunteering. She noted that they also make the work worth doing, though it can occasionally be difficult for reasons one might not expect.

“You cannot put a price on all the wonderful people you get to meet and love and care about,” Hanzuk said, speaking particularly about her work with the Special Olympics.

“There’s also sad times too, when we lose one or two. I know a lot of our athletes are gone now that started in the beginning with us. I’ve danced at their weddings, some of them, and unfortunately have gone to funerals, but in the end you’re a better person for knowing them all.”

Caul shared some of her own experiences working with Hanzuk in different capacities, and said the dedication she displays in all the different ways she volunteers makes her more than deserving of the annual award.

“For having done what she’s done for over 30 years, the stamina it takes and doing stuff when she’s not feeling well, she’s still out there working as hard as she can,” Caul said.

“I’ve been involved with the Christmas dinner for I believe 25 years now. She was there when I started working there, so she’s been involved with that for a very long time. The volunteer bureau mentioned in the nomination, she’s been a godsend to that board as well, because she’s so giving, her heart is just so big and wonderful and she certainly deserves every accolade she ever gets.”

Of the award itself, Hanzuk said she felt overwhelmed when she was told about the decision, as well as honoured by being recognized.

“Disbelieving a little bit, but happy nonetheless,” Hanzuk said about being told she had been named Citizen of the Year.

“The funny thing is when they called me I didn’t say anything because I couldn’t believe it. That’s probably one of the first times that I was speechless. Anybody who knows me, they know. ‘Oh my god, she didn’t say something?’”

A separate ceremony is being planned for Ray Calder, the other individual who was given special recognition at last week’s council meeting for the volunteer work he did during the early COVID-19 pandemic