TEHKUMMAH—Reg Leeson thought he was attending a going away dinner for his grandson at Garden’s Gate restaurant in Tehkummah on August 19. As it turned out, Mr. Leeson himself was the guest of honour. The surprise celebration was organized by Mr. Leeson’s wife Noreen after she received a telephone call from the municipal office.
“They called a month before to tell me Reg had been named Senior of the Year, and asked if I could put something together,” said Ms. Leeson. “I said I think I can come up with something. To get Reg out to dinner is like pulling teeth. Our 58th wedding anniversary is coming up September 15 and I was going to try to do something for that.”
“It was really a party for my grandson,” explained Mr. Leeson. “He’s just starting as an OPP officer. He’s going to Aylmer for three months to finish his course. This was a total surprise.”
Ms. Leeson agreed. “He was absolutely thunderstruck.”
Each year the municipal council chooses a recipient for the award, someone who is over the age of 65 years and is an inspiration for other seniors and community members. There was no doubt that Mr. Leeson deserved the award for 2014.
Councillor Lydia McKenna stated, “Reg is always willing to help. I’ve never known him to turn down someone in need of help.”
Paul Bowerman echoed that feeling. “Reg has helped out on a lot of building projects around the township, including the church and the marina. He’s just an all around good guy. If he sees something to be done or someone that needs a hand, he’s there.”
Mr. Leeson was born and raised on a farm in the Slash but chose carpentry over farming and moved to South Baymouth in 1966. “I was a carpenter for 62 years,” he said. He has never regretted that decision. Over the years he became known as the handyman around town. When things needed repair, especially on a weekend or after hours, people would call Mr. Leeson.
One of his most rewarding accomplishments was the time he assisted a family by organizing a work crew and building an addition that was handicap accessible and included outdoor ramps. After several days the work crew dwindled to just two or three men, but they continued working for seven weeks until the job was complete.
He also spoke proudly of his participation in the renovations to the lighthouse at Michael’s Bay. “We had to take everything over by boat,” he said. “It took a week, maybe 10 days to complete. They put up a bronze plaque when we were finished. It has all the men’s names who helped with the renovations. That was fun.”
Mr. Leeson has been a First Responder in the township and belonged to the Leisure Services committee. That involved planning and organization community events including log sawing competitions, bed races and outdoor bonfires. He is also very active with his church, St. Andrews by the Sea United Church in South Baymouth.
A few years back there was concern that the church was going to close, so with the help of Noreen and “a few members and some good community minded people, we decided to have a fish fry to raise money to cover church expenses.” That’s an annual event now, along with a turkey dinner held at the Tehkummah community hall in mid-November. Last June he was part of a work crew that installed new windows, insulation, soffit and siding on the church. He made a wood cross for the exterior of the building but required assistance for its installation.
He’s careful around ladders and heights these days.
Mr. Leeson and his wife are starting to feel the creep of old age now and have backed off on some of the community work. “I turned 84 this year,” he said. “Since old age has taken over, we don’t seem to have the get up and go now that we did for a lot of years. But I’m still doing things. Today I was taking the dock out of the water. But then my boat wouldn’t start so I had to leave it for now.”
He uses a restored Cockshutt 30 tractor to take the dock out. Restoring old tractors is a hobby that he took up when he retired at age 72. “The things he brought home—I was appalled,” said his wife. “You wouldn’t believe the transformations though.”
To date he has restored 4 Cockshutt tractors and an International Farmall. He puts the tractors in the annual Canada Day parade in South Baymouth. This year he used one of his Cockshutts to pull the square dancers’ float.
Tehkummah Reeve Gary Brown said, “Reg is over 80 and he’s still quite an active person. He still goes fishing every day. He’s always helping the community. He’s still pulling the float in the parade, working on the church. He’s very deserving.”
Mr. Leeson seems proud to be recognized as Tehkummah’s 2014 Senior of the Year, but he’s very humble too. He’s quick to give credit to the others who have worked side by side with him over the years, especially his wife, Noreen. “I didn’t do it for any awards,” he said. “Mostly I just liked helping people. I just did it because it made me feel good.”