Bill Hesketh Honored
Vernon Morning Star, November 26/08 – by Cara Brady
Bill Hesketh is honored at a dedication ceremony at the Gateway Men’s Shelter as it’s officially named “Bill’s Place”, recognizing a list of achievements and contributions with the John Howard Society.
The community thanked Bill Hesketh for his longtime involvement with the John Howard Society at the opening of the Gateway Men’s Shelter, Bill’s Place. He, in turn, was quick to thank everyone who had given their time and expertise over the years. “It isn’t my story, it’s our story, really. I’ve been bathed in a lot of compliments for the past few weeks but it’s unfair I should get the credit all the way along,” he said. He insisted on naming the people who supported the society, adding his gratitude to the community in general: Bishop Sovereign, Monsignor Miles, Una Dobson, Mervin Davis, Dave Barrett, Ralph Bulman, Don Weatheral, Viola Brown, Nancy Siver, Julian Fry, Tom Thorlakson, Oliver Woosley, Aubrey Reed, Andy Hoglund, Peter Bulman, Sandy Boyd, Joy Watson and Bob Blakeley.
Hesketh, who was born and grew up in Cupar, Saskatchewan, got his first job after high school in a detention centre for boys in Regina. He was ahead of his time with ideas on rehabilitation. “The boys came from poor parenting and didn’t know how to make a good life for themselves. I took them into the community, to Cupar, where we lived in and old livery barn and cooked our own meals and I put them to work keeping the town clean. The community responded well and the boys realized they could do something right and get a good response, and they started to mature.”
The next move was to Vancouver in 1952 to work with the John Howard Society. He graduated from UBC in 1960 with a degree in social work and he and his wife, Pat, moved to Vernon in 1961 when he took a job with the John Howard Society working with branches in Kamloops, Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton. The John Howard Society then supervised men on parole to integrate back into the community. The society also provided housing for homeless men. In the early days, the society supervised the men while they lived on their own in the community but Hesketh realized that they would do better if they were together. He rented a house in Vernon for the men in the early 1970’s.
“Some of the men were skilled tradesmen and had a good work ethic and they passed that on to the others. We got them working on crews and the guys were encouraged when they realized that if they worked hard and learned skills, they could get raises and then go on and get good jobs,” he said. He had 30 to 40 men in the house at a time with crews working at a variety of jobs, including logging, with cattle, cleaning the site for the Revelstoke Dam and community clean-up.
The house was lost in a fire and the men stayed at Camp Hurlburt for awhile. Hesketh bought the original Vernon Hospital, which had been turned into nurses’ residence, for $1 and moved it to a foundation at the present site of Howard House. “This community has always been supportive and recognized the role they have to play for disadvantaged people and those who commit offences. There is a growing need and we will need more people and ideas and support,” said Hesketh, who is now an honourary member of the Board of Directors of the John Howard Society of the North Okanagan/Kooteny Region of BC and attends some meetings. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of O’Keefe Ranch, a member of the Vernon Rotary Club, involved in the United Church and enjoys traveling with his wife. He received a national award from the John Howard Society of Canada for his work and was nominated for the Order of BC.