Taking the time
Longtime volunteer and former guidance counsellor offers thousands of hours to Yellowknife

Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 23/98) - Without community volunteers like Cappy Elkin, Yellowknife would have few of the many extracurricular activities that make life enjoyable in Canada's most Northern city.

A resident of Yellowknife since 1972 who has called the North home since 1965, the soft-spoken mother of three and grandmother of seven has been volunteering since she came to the city with her focus primarily aimed at helping local youth.

"I just do what needs to be done when it needs to be done and then I move on," she said.

While she worked as the guidance counsellor at William MacDonald school for 20 years, Elkin said her main job was to be in the home to raise her three kids, Lynn, 37, Brett, 35, and Derek, 32.

"My primary job was a mom," she said. "But, I loved the kids (students) -- it was junior high kids -- I enjoyed being with them when they're just becoming adults."

Elkin met Larry at the University of Saskatchewan while she was studying psychology and he was finishing his engineering degree. Then she moved with him to Coral Harbour in 1965 after they married in 1960. From there, the couple went to Rankin, Iqaluit and Inuvik before finally settling in Yellowknife.

Between working and raising her family, however, she has started several organizations including the Polar Bear Swim Club.

"I was their first registered coach -- I did that for eight years," she said. "We went to the Canada Games twice and one of my swimmers actually broke a Canadian record."

She quit when she found the work not as challenging and meaningful.

"I was doing it for eight years and I really loved it," she said.

"But, I couldn't do it anymore when I found that I couldn't be excited for them anymore."

Elkin, whose 13-year-old grandson is autistic, also started the Yellowknife Autism Society to provide support for the parents and family of autistic children.

She maintains she gets things going when there is a need and there was definitely a need for an autism society.

She's also been involved in Brownies and Guides, the Junior Curling Club, the Senior's Society, Sport North Board and the ski club executive. She still volunteers with the United Church whenever help is needed.

Elkin, who remains modest about the thousands of hours in community work she has put in over the years, said she enjoys all the work she has done.

"It's just been what I do -- it's just my life," she said. "I always keep busy, but I haven't done anymore than anyone else."

But, the volunteer hours increased when Elkin and her husband of more than 38 years, Larry, retired in 1994 and they started volunteering at various organizations full time.

And, never before has she been so busy doing work in the community.

While she has volunteered for more than 25 years in the city, the 59-year-old is perhaps best known for her recent work as chair of the Stanton Regional Hospital Foundation -- an important campaign that is hoping to raise $2 million for hospital equipment.

"A good friend of mine knew I was retired and told me that it was going to be a couple hours a week, but it's six or seven hours a day," she said. "There's a lot to do."

Elkin also said her drive for the foundation's fund-raising also comes from a friend of hers who felt very strongly about the exceptional care provided by Stanton Regional Hospital.

"Molly Hutyra -- she just died in March -- she had had heart problems and she was always trying to get back to Stanton," she said.

In addition, Elkin has been around the North for more than 30 years and knows how heavily communities outside of Yellowknife rely on the care the centre provides.

"The other reason was that I have lived in those communities where you have to be medevaced -- people go out and don't come back," she said. "You have to experience it to know what I'm talking about."

A project to which she is firmly committed, the campaign is taking up a lot of her time these days. However, when the $2-million mark is reached, Elkin knows she will move on and find another cause to focus her time.

It's part of who she is and she doubts she will ever change.

"It's been this way for years, she added.

And, despite her giving her time outside the home, Elkin has always taken great pride in her job as a mom.

"Being a mom is really something and being a grandmother -- oh boy," she said, with obvious pride as she looks through family photos.

Elkin said she has had a wonderful life and has few regrets.

And, part of what has made her family's life so good, she said, is the fact that they have decided to stay in Yellowknife for 26 years.

"Why do we stay? -- It's home," she said. "All our kids and grandchildren are here -- we're lucky."

Elkin said they built a retirement home in Regina, but realized when they moved there that they preferred to live in Yellowknife, so they moved back and this is where they are staying.

"We rent that place out," she said.

She isn't sure what the rest of her retirement years will contain, but she feels certain that her volunteer work will continue.

"There's always more to do and experience," she said. "But, I would like to spend more time with my grandkids -- maybe Larry and I will try real retirement."

Elkin's grandchildren are Bradley, Devon, Kira, Katherine, Davis, Paige and Benjamin.

"They are the joys of our life," he said.