Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, shakes the hand of Nanaimo’s Bernie LaFrance, whose volunteerism was recognized with a Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers during a ceremony at Government House, March 21. MCpl Vincent Carbonneau, Rideau Hall, OSGG

Nanaimo volunteer awarded Sovereign’s Medal

Bernie LaFrance receives honour at Victoria’s Government House

Nanaimo’s Bernie LaFrance, who spent more than two decades serving his community, was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers by Governor General of Canada Julie Payette last month.

It was “kind of nice,” said LaFrance of meeting the governor general, who was on her first official trip to B.C. “She’s an astronaut eh? Not very often you get the chance to meet an astronaut.”

LaFrance, 77, was among 45 Canadians recognized for bravery, public service or excellence at Government House, March 21. He received the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, a tribute to the dedication and exemplary commitment of volunteers, a press release shows.

RELATED: B.C. bravery, public service honoured by governor general

LaFrance, born in St. Paul, Alta, served in the Canadian military as a traffic technician for 27 years. He travelled the globe and helped to transport dignitaries like prime ministers and a governor general – a fact he shared with Payette.

He retired in Nanaimo in 1987 and has dedicated more than two decades to volunteerism. The award recognized his work with the Nanaimo Church of the Nazarene, where he helps with maintenance, takes donations to food banks and drives parishioners to church when they can’t get there themselves. But he’s also been a coordinator for a support group of people with breathing problems and is a Patient Voices Network volunteer at the hospital.

“I just had to return something to society,” said LaFrance, who has found volunteering has become part of life and he looks forward to meeting people.

LaFrance spoke to some of the other recipients during the ceremony and said he didn’t feel he qualified after hearing what they’ve done. But it did feel good to get the award.

“It still feels good,” he said.

Gary Nawrocki, pastor at the Nanaimo Church of the Nazarene, attended the award ceremony and said it was fulfilling to see LaFrance recognized.

“I was absolutely thrilled. I think that a lot of people do a lot of good things in our community and often it’s overlooked,” he said, adding it was wonderful to see one of the unnoticed volunteers recognized by the government.

LaFrance is now looking to spread the word about the award in hopes that people will nominate and recognize the work of other volunteers. He’s looking to speak at service clubs and can be reached at bernyis@shaw.ca.

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