2020 volunteer week vern nolin

Doing it all in Dewberry

Whether he’s coaching his kids, flooding the ice, sharpening skates or running the minor hockey association, there isn’t much Vern Nolin doesn’t volunteer his time for in his small town

Paul Edmonds
April 20, 2020

There is something altruistic about volunteerism in its purest form. It’s an underappreciated, selfless act often performed for the benefit of others and the vacancy of personal gain.

Vern Nolin thrives in this context and his community is the benefactor of his immeasurable philanthropy of time.

A resident of Dewberry, Alta., Nolin has a job description and responsibility in his hockey association that would be tough to rival elsewhere in Canada.

For the past three years, he’s operated the Dewberry Arena, flooded the ice, performed maintenance, sharpened skates, coached, administrated and, over the past year, served as president of the Dewberry Minor Hockey Association.

This is in addition to being a carpenter by trade, as well as a horseman, outdoorsman, school bus driver, provider of free sleigh rides throughout the winter and organizer of various local fundraising events. In the summer, he competes on the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) Pro Tour, where he has been highly successful since his rookie season in 2000.

His voluminous activity certainly lends a relevant credence to the old adages: busy people get things done; and, if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it!

“Some days it’s as fast as you can go,” he says. “And then you run out of time, but it is lots of fun.”

As with any volunteer pursuit, things started modestly for Nolin.

Coupled with his wife, Lisa Bensmiller, and their seven children – Brett, Brendan, Cruise, Paynton, August, Sienna and Madelyn – five of which play hockey, the impact Nolin and his family have made inside of a decade in Dewberry and nearby Marwayne – approximately 30 minutes northwest of Lloydminster – is impressive.

“We were busy,” says Nolin, who lives on a 36-acre farm about five minutes from Dewberry. “We didn’t have to look too far to go to a hockey game this winter.”

Justin Volz has known Nolin for years. They have kids playing hockey together and, as a former bull rider and rodeo professional himself, he marvels at the dedication and commitment his friend and the family have in the area.

“When we first got to know Vern and Lisa, they were running,” he says. “They’re always doing something. They’re a very community-orientated family.”

To volunteer simply means making sacrifices with your time for a greater district purpose. It almost never involves a financial benefit.

When Nolin was offered the position to operate the Dewberry Arena, a new facility that replaced the old rink in 2017, part of the proposition was he could augment his wage through the building’s skate-sharpening facility.

It’s your money if you can figure it out, Nolin was told.

Admittedly, he had no idea how to sharpen skates and thus wasn’t going to collect money.

Instead, he put his mind to learning how to use the sharpener correctly with a goal at being the best at it as quickly as possible.

“It was my first priority to learn how to run that sharpener,” he says. “And learn to run it right.”

Three years later, people come from all over the county to have Nolin sharpener their skates; over that time, he’s never collected a dollar.

“I can’t even fathom how many pairs of skates I’ve sharpened,” he says. “People can’t believe you sharpen a pair of skates for free anymore. I tell them, ‘I don’t want your $5. Take it to the concession booth and buy yourself a burger.’”

“The smile on their face is worth more to me that their money. I have fun with it.”

Nolin’s desire to achieve perfection also extends beyond skate sharpening. He strives for excellence in everything he’s responsible for maintaining or crafting at work and personally.

This includes the ice conditions at the rink. He wants it to be the best it can possibly be for the kids and especially the senior team, the Dewberry Mustangs of the SaskAlta Senior Hockey League.

“I put in a little extra time to prepare the ice for them,” says Nolin, who also provides space and equipment help for the Mustangs’ players to get ready for practices and games.

“I’m close to those guys, too,” he says. “And there’s a pride factor in good ice.”

But it’s the kids and grassroots programs Nolin has really focused his primary attention on since moving to the area from his home province of Saskatchewan.

He and Lisa were instrumental in starting the pond hockey program in Dewberry. The initiative through Hockey Alberta focuses on participation in a less structured and flexible environment. It’s designed to get kids into the game with an overall objective to hopefully transition them into organized hockey.

“My goal right from the start was to give kids an opportunity to start playing the game. It’s amazing how many kids have played and then moved on to minor hockey.”

When you consider the achievements and the scope of Nolin’s volunteerism, perhaps his most impressive work is the blending of the two hockey associations of Dewberry and Marwayne three seasons ago.

Only 23 kilometres apart, the two villages have had a decades-long feud stemming over, not surprisingly, senior hockey. But with minor hockey numbers dwindling in the area and the two associations looking for a solution, Nolin facilitated an amalgamation.

It wasn’t easy breaking down the barriers, but with less than 1,000 people in the area it was abundantly clear minor hockey wasn’t going to survive in either place without the other.

Nolin’s message was simple: “You get together and make teams or you don’t play hockey.”

Three years later the two areas can’t see it any other way.

“Vern saw it coming,” says Volz, a product of Marwayne who understands the rivalry first-hand. “He felt there was going to be a forced merger. He was the first to step in line to get ahead of the ball.

“He’s open minded. He understands both sides and sees the long game, too. He’s been able to communicate that to others that might push back and be able to let them see what hockey looks like around here and make the best of it.”

As a result, the district’s minor hockey teams are stronger and the two villages much closer overall. It’s a win-win for the game and the community.

Nolin admits his background as a driver in competitive chuckwagon racing has helped him prepare for his extraordinary community service.

The dedication, time commitment and the group of people it takes to be successful at operating a team of horses, outriders and support personnel have provided the foundation.

And he admits the similarities run a little deeper, especially since a chuckwagon title at Calgary Stampede still eludes him.

“It’s our Stanley Cup.”

Until then, there’s another old adage that suggests you can’t fire volunteers. In the case of Vern Nolin, you would never want to.

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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