The Okanagan Commandery of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem is committed to serving the Lord’s Sick and Poor by supporting local organizations across the Okanagan Valley and Interior of British Columbia. It resides in the Priory of Mainland British Columbia as one of four Commanderies in the Grand Priory of Canada.
In 2013 Prior Robert Trowbridge, KCJSJ, Prior of Canada appointed Dame Lynda-May O’Brien (Vexo) as Deputy Prior and given a mandate to found new Commanderies across Canada. Work was begun to establish the Okanagan Commandery as the first new Commandery-in-Formation. Planning for the administrative infrastructure of a Commandery Council and a charitable Foundation was begun with researching, profiling, vetting and interviewing a number of individuals. These persons were not only making significant contributions to their communities through their professional and philanthropic activities, but also they were identified as willing to embrace the history, mission, and core values of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller.
In January 2014 three Knights and three Dames transferred their memberships in the Vancouver Commandery to become the first members. These included Dame Lynda-May O’Brien (Vexo), our first Commander, who has now moved to Europe to establish a new Commandery in Copenhagen, and Chevalier, the Rev. Trevor Fisher, KCSJ our longest invested Okanagan Commandery member, and current Prelate of the Commandery. At an Investiture in Vancouver in 2014, four Dames and two Knights were added and the Commandery was fully recognized. In 2016 two Knights and one Dame joined and at the first Investiture held in Kelowna BC in 2017, two Knights and three Dames were invested. Two Dames and one Knight were invested in Vancouver in 2018. Through resignations, and transfers to other Commanderies, our membership in 2020 includes nine (9) Dames and four (4) Knights, five of whom we recognize as Founding Members. Sadly, we lost Chevalier Harry McWatters, KGSJ, one of the legends of the Canadian wine industry, to an untimely death in 2019. Dame Joy Zsombor (2014), DCSJ, was elected Commander in 2017 and was enthusiastically re-elected to a second term in 2019.
COMPLETED MAJOR PROJECTS
Thanks in part to a generous matching grant for raised funds from Dame Lynda-May Vexo, the Commandery has been able to complete two very substantial projects first identified in 2018.
This has been all the more remarkable given the small size of the Commandery. Key to our fund-raising have been two Wine and Art auctions which reflected the environment of the Okanagan. Significant efforts in these were made by all members, but Dame Lisa Lalonde and her husband Chevalier Harry McWatters, and Dame Debra Martin were especially key to their success:
- JOE-ANNA’S HOUSE – KELOWNA
Every year families from across the Interior of British Columbia travel to Kelowna General Hospital to receive life-saving specialist care. However the lack of affordable short-term accommodation, combined with the proven healing value of having loved-ones present during serious illness, created the great need in Kelowna for an adjacent support facility. Named for key donors Joe and Anna Huber, the concept of Joe-Anna’s House as a place of warm and reassuring support was born. Partnering with the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation and many generous donors, the Okanagan Commandery pledged and raised over $50,000 to furnish a St. John Family/Consultation Room in this multi-million-dollar facility.
- MOOG AND FRIENDS HOSPICE HOUSE – PENTICTON
Members of the Okanagan Commandery became aware of the aging kitchen facilities at Moog and Friends Hospice House. The 19-year-old kitchen served in-patients, families, staff, and volunteers but was in serious need of re-design and refurbishment;additionally there was a desire for a second kitchen area for families and volunteers wishing a simple snack. Accordingly the Okanagan Commandery raised $80,000 to permit the Penticton and District Hospice Society to complete work on these badly needed facilities.
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- Growing Membership
Notwithstanding the success of past projects, the Okanagan Commandery recognizes the size of the Commandery limits the ability to pursue and complete larger philanthropic activities. Accordingly the Commandery Council is looking to increase the representation of the Okanagan from Osoyoos in the south to Vernon in the north. We invite fellow Knights and Dames from other Commanderies with acquaintances or family residing in these or nearby areas to forward names of potential Aspirants to our Membership Director, Dame Debra Martin.
- Kalein Hospice Society – A Nav-Care Site for Nelson B.C.
In 2020 the Commandery is joining with the Vancouver Commandery in a one-third/two thirds shared funding to gift $10,000 to establish a Nav-Care CanadaÓ site in Nelson BC to be managed by the Kalein Hospice Society. There is also an opportunity when the COVID-19 crisis permits of further co-sponsoring a Hospice Conference in the Kootenays.
- BC Cancer COVID Emergency Relief Fund
Prior to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Patient and Family Counselling Department of the Sindi Ahluwalia Hawkins Cancer Centre in Kelowna frequently needed to access non-budgeted funds from a Patient Emergency Relief Fund. These consisted of grants of up to $2000 to support needy patients and their families required to attend in Kelowna for specialized oncology care and potentially life-saving treatment. The need remains and the Okanagan Commandery is planning to increase the support of this Fund now known as the BC Cancer COVID-19 Relief Fund. A planned Commandery Foundation grant of $11,000 we hope will be matched by government funds thereby leveraging our financial support.
Update prepared by Chevalier Randall Fairey, KSJ
Secretary, Okanagan Commandery
May 21, 2020
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