John's Story

A Tribute to John Huether

It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of John Huether who left our world on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 and leaves behind a loving family, many friends, and a most memorable legacy.

Mr. Huether holds a very special place in all our hearts and minds here at Volunteer MBC for it was the result of the “Review of Volunteerism” report (2007) which he conducted that laid the groundwork for the creation of our Volunteer Centre for the Region of Peel.

In honour of his dedication and contributions to the voluntary sector, the John Huether Award for Volunteering Excellence was established in 2010. This award is presented to individuals who continually demonstrate exceptional leadership through example and is a significant contributor to the team and the community -- a fitting tribute to the man we all had the privilege of knowing.

His award represents a Canada Goose in flight, which signifies dedication, commitment, teamwork, encouragement, and most importantly leadership. Here’s the details behind why we selected this award to honour Mr. Huether:

  • Geese are incredibly gifted navigators and instinctively know the way across the long haul to warmer climates -- they forge ahead with confidence and bravery.
  • Should a goose become injured during this trek, another goose will leave the migrating flock to stay with its fallen comrade and will stay with the injured until he has recovered or until its final breath.
  • They have intricate methods of communication -- not only do they sense when their comrades are in trouble, they also work as a team to communicate warnings, as well as messages of prime landing sites.
  • Geese are also fiercely protective of their young -- often presenting an impressive thrashing display to would-be predators. These scare tactics often work to protect goslings from attack.

The symbolism of a Goose denotes that they are clear communicators, true-blue defenders and are compassionate keepers of the community. This was Mr. John Huether.

His volunteer story below captures a mere snap-shot of the man we all knew. He will be truly missed. 

John Huether revels in the thought of rolling up his sleeves, getting his hands dirty and planting some seeds - literally and figuratively.

So, when a friend suggested he volunteer his time and organizational skills to a Community Garden organization that was struggling to establish itself to deliver programs in central Mississauga, it was a no-brainer.  For the self-described "gardening addict," here was another opportunity to make a difference in his community, while at the same time exercise his green thumb.

The Mississauga Garden Council, as it was known in the late nineties, needed some community backing and support from the City of Mississauga to develop the 150 acre woodland area at Burnhamthorpe Road and the Credit River into a nature preserve, with gardens and teaching programs for children, youth and families.

"When I joined the board of the garden council, it didn't have a staff but it had some exceptional volunteers with a vision and they were struggling to get funding and make Riverwood a reality," he says.

"Mississauga has always been criticized as just a place where there are houses and concrete. I knew that this park could offer some spectacular opportunity for kids and people to enjoy."

Today, The Riverwood Conservancy, as it is known, operates on a $450,000 budget, providing education programs for students and adults in the area of nature, heritage, gardening and the environment. Local companies such as Scott's Canada, Scotia Bank and Scotia McLeod have come on board to help with the programs and to maintain the area as a special place for Mississaugans to walk, garden, learn about and experience in nature in an amazing setting. Just as importantly, it boasts a roster of more than 600 volunteers who pitch in for everything from creating and maintaining gardens, assisting with educational and stewardship programs to keeping birdfeeders well stocked and helping with administrative and governance responsibilities.

For Mr. Huether, watching Riverwood blossom has been one of life's joys, much like his love growing rhododendrons, trilliums, roses and many other perennials at the Cooksville home he shares with his wife Pam.

"Just being a part of the realization of that dream, watching a group of volunteers make a vision happen in co-operation with other partners, especially the City of Mississauga, by being an effective advocate, by working together, by sharing a vision, by seeking and obtaining funding, corporate and community support - and doing it in a competent and business-like way has been a rewarding experience" says Mr. Huether, who was previously Chair of the Riverwood Board of Directors.

By the time he joined Riverwood in 1998, Mr. Huether was no stranger to volunteering and had long ago realized its two-way benefits. The Mississauga resident had served for nearly a decade on the board of United Way of Peel Region. Over the past decade, he has volunteered with other Mississauga community service programs, including the Fair Share Task Force and the Council of Champions of Success by 6 Peel.  He is past Chair of both of these groups, and worked hard to improve the quality of life for the residents of Peel Region.

His volunteering experience goes back to when he was a youth growing up in Hamilton, when he was a YMCA day-camp counselor. In 1968 to 1970, he taught at a secondary school in Nigeria as a volunteer with CUSO, the Canadian University Services Overseas. "At the time that we went, the Biafran war was on and while we were there it finished. Teaching in Northern Nigeria was a life-changing experience," he says of the CUSO experience.

But it wasn't until he stepped back a bit from volunteering and began working full time that he realized its true benefits. He had become a probation officer in Newmarket and found himself swamped with work. It was suggested that he develop a network of volunteers to help with his caseload.

He enlisted a range of individuals' housewives wanting to reconnect with the working world, business people wanting to give back to the community, professional people looking for something different to do. 

"I gained a tremendous amount of respect for what volunteers can bring to other people and to an organization by watching what they were able to do for the kids," Mr. Huether says. "Their contribution of time, their creativity, their commitment."

Just as importantly from his experience as the Executive Director of the Peel Children's Aid Society, he says he learned what organizations must do in order to recruit, support and manage a corps of volunteers. This includes creating a clear terms of reference, ensuring that they are recognized for their contributions, providing advice and feedback, marshalling the troops so that their skills and time are used to advantage, and striving to make volunteering events and programs positive learning experiences.

All this made Mr. Huether perfectly qualified to assess the state of volunteering in Peel. His 2007 report, Review of Volunteerism, laid the groundwork for the creation of Volunteer MBC, a volunteer centre that connects people wishing to volunteer with the organizations that need them in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon.

"The study reinforced all of the messages I had learned form my own experience as both a volunteer and a manager of volunteers," he says. "As well, it highlighted the nuance of volunteering - what makes people tick when they volunteer and what organizations must do to dovetail with that spirit", he says.

"Organizations need to understand that different volunteers have different motivations and they need to find ways to appeal to those motivations if they're going to attract and retain them."

Finding volunteers and encouraging them to contribute their talents is just part of the challenge, Mr. Huether says. The pace of life today, the struggle people have to maintain work-life balance (not helped by the extent to which many Mississaugans must commute every day), is also something organizations and individuals must overcome, he says.

For besides the skills and passion that people can bring to the task at hand, they also need the support of family because of the time commitment, Mr. Huether says. "I've been very lucky in that regard."

"I deeply admire his passion and devotion to make a difference in the Region of Peel", says Carine Strong, Executive Director of Volunteer MBC. "I honestly believe that John set the stage for Volunteer MBC to be the best volunteer centre in Canada.  Thank you John."

The 2010 John Huether Award for Volunteering Excellence was presented to John at Volunteer MBC's 2010 Annual General Meeting on Monday, June 28, 2010. Special thanks to the Region of Peel for their sponsorship of this award.

Written by: Brian Christmas