Rosemont resident Barry Nelson hasn’t owned a car for the last 15 years, but he has no trouble getting around. The busy transportation and social justice advocate has been involved in so many Kootenay initiatives that he’s been named Nelson’s 2014 Citizen of the Year by the Knights of Columbus.
“We feel so lucky to live here. This is a real honour,” said Nelson, who sat down with the Star this week with his wife Wendy and their chihuahuas Stitch and Carmel.
Behind him on the wall was an array of photographs displaying his four children and 12 grandchildren, many of whom live within shouting distance. Having worked as a banker and restaurateur in a variety of other communities, it wasn’t until he moved to Nelson that he felt like he was home.
And ever since he’s been trying to make it a better place.
Nelson said he would love to see the community move away from car culture, embrace public transit and think about reducing our global footprint.
As a current member and long-time coordinator of the Kootenay Carshare, he’s spent years appearing before city council and researching local transportation issues.
“We’ve determined that for each person that joins the car co-op it actually takes the mileage for eight people off the road. Also, people get healthier because they use other modes of transportation — such as their two legs — or biking and things of that nature. Not to mention use of the transit system, which is actually quite good and has improved over the years.”
Nelson said he believes moving towards a less car-centric city will have a number of economic and environmental benefits, including an increase in local purchasing, and that’s why he’s helped establish car shares in surrounding communities.
“Barry was instrumental in starting branches in Revelstoke, Fernie and Kimberley, and in making sure there were wheelchair accessible vehicles,” said Colleen Matte, who participated in his nomination.
Kootenay Carshare branches now exist in six cities.
Deb Zeeben of the Community First Health Co-op also praised Nelson.
“Barry was certainly a key component of the co-op’s start up. Barry provided steadfast leadership for the creation of our governing bylaws and regulations. His commitment and dedication saw us through the planning phase, incorporation and first year of operation.”
Nelson has also been deeply involved in his church, the Cathedral of Mary Immaculate, where he organizes a monthly sale for Fair Trade coffee and serves as a minister.
Nelson is also passionate about social justice issues, working with ecumenical group Ten Days for Social Justice, which later became Kairos. During that time he also worked with youth at Dutch Harbour youth summer camp.
“He worked closely with our parish youth group, bringing issues of Water for All to the forefront,” said youth leader Kathi Knapik. “His encouragement empowered a few young people to work for bottled water bans in their schools and lives. He also connected students to the importance of the political process.”
Mayor Deb Kozak congratulated Nelson on his honour, and expressed her gratitude for the work the Knights of Columbus do. She received the same honour in 1989.
“It really is an honour to be chosen and to receive this award. It demonstrates that the community appreciates people who volunteer and take time to be part of the community,” she said. “I extend my sincere congratulations.”
A banquet in Nelson’s honour will be held Friday, April 10 at St. Joseph’s School at 6 p.m. Tickets will be available at the Nelson Star office.
The Knights of Columbus have been presenting the Citizen of the Year award for over 50 years, recognizing individuals who have made all-round volunteer contributions to the community in recreation, civic service, youth work and/or religious activities.
The annual event was on the verge of being cancelled this year, but was revived thanks to a new partnership with the Star.
Recent Citizens of the Year
2013: Peter Defeo
2012: Lois Arnesen
2011: Bruce Halstead
2010: Bill McDonnell