April 11, 2016 - 9:00 PM
VERNON - If you’ve ever walked or biked along Bella Vista Road which hugs the grassy, and at this time of year, flower-filled hills on the west side of Vernon, you might have noticed a pleasantly surprising absence of coffee cups, plastic bags and other waste that mars most other roadsides.
You have 93-year-old Helen Sidney to thank for that. The former Armstrong Elementary School teacher has diligently picked up debris on Bella Vista Road every single day for the past 28 years since she retired.
“We always taught the kids ‘make sure you don’t litter,’” Sidney says. “When I moved here in 1988 I saw all this stuff on the road. Well, I can’t walk by a piece of paper or a serviette or a garbage bag without picking it up.”
Every day, rain or shine, summer or winter, she dons her orange reflective vest — which matches the vibrant, bright red hair she’s always been known for — and spends two hours walking along Bella Vista Road. She starts in one direction, turns around, drops off the first bag of trash at home, and then picks back up in the other direction. Usually, you’ll find her walking between 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m.
“I wave to everyone and they wave back to me,” she says. “I’ve had people stop and say ‘keep on waving, I see you every day.’”
Helen Sidney holds just some of the awards she's received for community service over the years.
(CHARLOTTE HELSTON /InfoTel Multimedia)
After her morning walk, the chipper 93-year-old usually goes pattern dancing. In between walking and dancing, she’s got sewing work to do, either patching someone’s pants or hemming a gown for Queen Silver Star. And she’s always looking for a laugh. With an impressive knack for memorizing jokes, she has a large inventory of wisecracks to deliver.
“Laughing is the best medicine,” she says. “You have to laugh and be positive.”
She’s been well-recognized for years of volunteering and community service, as well as her efforts to keep Bella Vista Road clean and beautiful. Among other acknolwdgements, she’s been given the Caring Canadian Award, the North Okanagan Regional District’s Community Clean-up Award, and the Queen’s Jubilee.
But she doesn’t do any of it for attention. She just likes to keep busy and give back to her community. Medals aside, she says the walk itself is reward enough.
“I view the wonderful gifts nature gives us. Those hills with the yellow sunflowers and the trees budding out. I just marvel at it. People should take a little more time to look at how a flower opens up. You can go by a bush one day and it’s in bud, the next day it’s opening and the next it’s come out. I think that’s just marvellous.”
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