By Laura Lennie, News Staff
George Wallace was among 60 nominees who attended the city’s 19th annual Senior of the Year Awards gala at the Michelangelo Events and Conference Centre last Tuesday.
The 78-year-old Stoney Creek resident never expected to be one of nine winners to leave with an award.
“It was an honour just to be amongst all of the nominees, so it took a minute or two to clue into what was happening when they announced my name,” he laughed.
The awards program recognizes seniors in Hamilton who have made outstanding voluntary contributions to enriching the social, cultural or civic life of the community. Awards are given in multiple categories.
Wallace received the Healthy and Active Living Award. It is presented to a volunteer who has helped an organization become and/or remain active or has been instrumental in implementing healthy lifestyle programming.
“I’m really humbled,” Wallace said. “I’m very elated because I didn’t expect it. The things I do, I just do it because I like doing it.”
Wallace has devoted his time in various capacities to local hockey organizations for more than 30 years.
He has volunteered both off and on the ice for the Stoney Creek Minor Hockey Association.
Wallace, who loves hockey, became involved with the association after his son, Kevin, took up the sport.
“I was spending a lot of time at the arena and one day somebody asked me, ‘Would you like to get involved with the association?’” he said. “I said, ‘I’d love to.’ The thought of being able to assist such a great organization and help kids in the process seemed like the perfect mix.”
Wallace acted as a convener for two years and served on the board of directors for 10 years.
He also went on to teach kids ages two to five how to skate.
Wallace hit the ice with players on Saturday mornings for three years.
One of his students was Mark Popovic.
Popovic, a 31-year-old defenceman, played for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Atlanta Thrashers in the National Hockey League.
He currently plays with Zagreb Medvescak in the Kontinental Hockey League.
“His dad, Luke Popovic, always credited me with getting his little Mark off the chair used for support,” Wallace laughed. “I have many fond memories from my time teaching kids. It was such a great and rewarding experience.”
Wallace now lends his time as a coach/manager in the Stoney Creek Women’s Hockey League.
He got involved with the league about 15 years ago when his daughter Karen’s team was in need of some assistance behind the bench.
Wallace’s role began with the simple act of opening the gate for players getting on and off the ice.
He later started volunteering his time as a coach.
The league runs from September to April, with an annual Sweetheart Tournament every February.
It is made up of 12 teams, with players ranging in age from 23 to 50.
Wallace not only offers guidance, but also ensures his players are well equipped with water bottles, pucks and taken care of in every possible way.
“The league is strictly for fun and exercise and I always look forward to spending time with the girls,” he said. “It feels good to be able to provide guidance in whatever way I can. The players already know what they’re suppose to do, so I’m pretty much there just to make sure that they have everything that they need.”
Rikki Frith, who has played under Wallace for 15 years and nominated him for the award, said his presence and smile “lights up” the bench.
Wallace’s role extends far beyond that of a coach, she said.
“He’s always going above and beyond,” Frith said. “When you have coach George, you get spoiled.”
Frith said Wallace brings chocolate roses and places them on the bench in the dressing room for each player every Valentine’s Day.
He also brings gifts and puts them in the room for the players every Christmas and supports everyone on and off the ice, she said.
“He fills our water bottles, ensures we have enough pucks, gets the dressing room ready, completes the game sheet and essentially takes care of us in every way,” Frith said. “He’s just always giving, giving, giving. I just wanted to give back to a man who has given so much of himself to so many.”
Wallace said the SCMHA and SCWHL are “very important” organizations.
The SCMHA keeps younger kids off the street and offers them a safe environment where they can stay active and learn many other life skills, while the SCWHL provides women of all ages with the opportunity to bond, have fun and play one of the best sports out there, he said.
Wallace said his goal behind the bench always has been to help players become equipped with all of the necessary skills to succeed both on and off the ice.
He hopes to continue his stint with the SCWHL for at least another two or three years.
“As you get older, you do get more aches and pains, but I think you got to think young to stay young,” Wallace said. “What keeps me going is being behind the bench, spending time with the players and watching them play. Whether they win or lose, it doesn’t make any difference, as long as they have fun.”
To read more about other Hamilton Senior of the Year Award winners click here.