The first thing I noticed about a cheerful looking man that entered my office at The Hope Standard on a fateful day a few weeks back was a kind sparkle in a pair of mercurial blue eyes and a bounce in a confident and world trodden step, as he proudly extended his hand and introduced himself with a beaming and gracious smile as David Rempel.
Not knowing the extent of his accomplishments, I had no way of knowing that Rempel was indeed, Dr. Dave Rempel, who was born on September 3rd, 1938 in a little town in Southern Ukraine at the foot of the junction near the Black Sea.
He immigrated to Canada in 1949 with his mother Anna (who according to Rempel was beautiful, extremely independent and very much alone throughout her life) as a result of the ramifications of World War II.
Ever modest in his approach — the wiry and polished teacher, Rotarian, School Board Trustee member, husband to Sharon Kincaid (who kept her surname) and father of two (Jacqlyn and Julya — both adopted and who carry the namesake Anna in honour of his late mother) has an energy that can only be described as infectious.
Rempel is clearly a man on a mission, as he proceeded with an air of confidence to describe his grand scheme to bring former students of Coquihalla Elementary School together, as well as the community of Hope to have himself roasted in an event called Rempel’s Roast. The roast will be an opportunity to get back at Rempel for his extraordinary teaching methods (including an infamous duck walk, which was given as punishment to students for missing gym strip or tardiness.)
“I bet you can’t guess how old I am,” he said of his appearance, which has changed little over the decades that followed his four year reign at Coquihalla Elementary School from 1964 to 1971 — a side note taken from several conversations with former students on Rempel’s timelessness.
Baffled, I stare at a Rempel who could pass gracefully for a man in his early 60’s and do the only reasonable thing I can, I shrug my shoulders.
“It’s good genes,” said the 77-year-old, as he smiled back at my stupefied expression. Rempel’s love and passion for life, are clearly a recipe for good health and seem to have held the terrible hand of father time at bay.
Carrying with him on our first meeting was an elegant tan coloured briefcase, a briefcase full of photographs and letters pertaining to a glorious era for students and teachers a like, a time not forgotten, but perhaps made murky with the dust that’s settled over four decades.
One thing was clear as he held the briefcase as carefully as one might hold a lost treasure, Rempel had spent a lot of time collecting keepsakes from his students over the years. He started to describe the mysterious contents:
Each letter (Rempel has dozens of handwritten letters from students) and photographs came alive as he recalled various sports teams, intramurals, zany, carefree and totally uninhibited red-tape-free outings (some that ended in disaster, but most were successful) to exciting locations like Seattle and even Russia.
He recited the trials and triumphs of his students at Coquihalla Elementary School during the late 60’s. Faces of boys and girls smiled back at me from the pictures, some with trophies, others hanging out, or sporting the traditional bowl cut of the 60’s and the time revealing knee high gym socks.
One of his letters reads:
“Dear Mr. Rempel, I am writing on behalf of the Youth Walk to thank you for letting us have the money for the walk and for helping us so much,” said Sharon Simpson, former Coquihalla Elementary student.
It was a golden era, where Rempel thrived as a hands-on teacher, who never tired of his students or spending time with them after school, during the many extra curricular activities that he often organized. These activities are not as easy to come by in today’s education system, a system according to Rempel that has gotten caught up in bureaucracies that made the freedom he and his student’s enjoyed in the 60’s almost impossible by today’s standards.
“I remember the duck walk,” said Tara Crofton, former Coquihalla Elementary student. “You only did it once and that was enough, it was a sort of punishment — my quads still hurt.”
The punishment required kids to squat into a duck like position and walk back and fourth across the length of the gym.
“He had a way of inspiring faith in someone and increasing a student’s confidence,” said Crofton, of Rempel’s ability to encourage the talents and abilities of his students. “He thought outside of the box.”
The sports enthusiast, also spent some time as a stage manager for school theatre productions in a bid to stop a war with the drama and music teacher about access to the gym. Rempel taught all subjects, along with his forte, which was physical education.
He spoke candidly about his one time dream of becoming a minister, but instead used his Bachelors in Education from UBC to minister to hundreds of kids.
“It energized me,” he said. “It’s about giving — you get more out of giving.”
The vibrant patriarch and Mennonite who cites his faith as a huge source of inspiration and a steady stream feeding his outgoing nature, calls Maple Ridge home and is also a pioneer of BC EMU Industry. He houses a bird sanctuary that has seen over 3,500 visitors on a plot of land near water, which is where he envisioned spending the quiet period of his life — though Rempel seems to continue at a fervent pace that people half his age might balk at.
“My wife gave me a flock of black swans for Valentine’s Day,” Rempel nonchalantly mentions of the couple’s love of wildlife. My jaw drops, as I try to wrap my head around the romantic imagery of being gifted a gaggle of the black feathered beauties.
Rempel continues without missing a beat, listing name after name of his former students and the amazing trips they took including overnight camping trips, cycling trips and the time he slept in.
“I still remember the principal at the time coming over to my house — he never let me forget it,” he said of his rare late appearance. “The kids were scheduled to go to the library and went without me — proper education teaches independence.”
He continued to list a dozen different names of kids, including their abilities and accomplishments — which he still remembers in great detail.
“He’s very loyal to his friends and I’ve known him for approximately 60 years,” said Vern Giesbrecht, long time friend of Rempel’s. “He’s always had a lot of energy and he’s always on the go — he takes on a lot of projects and he had a great influence, not just on the kids, but the teacher’s as well.”
The life enthusiast also managed Rainbow’s End a local band Hope resident and former student Victor Smith played in for a few years.
“He was always fun and made jokes and stayed positive,” said Smith. Smith played the Organ and chalked the experience up to a great time that gave him the ability to learn about teamwork, interacting with people and communicating ideas to the crowd.
All former Coquihalla classmates and the community of Hope are cordially invited to roast the heck out of Dave at Rempel’s Roast. The event will be held at the Hope Curling Rink on Saturday, July 25th at 7 p.m. For further information please contact Dave at 604-4627563.