Former Slocan mayor Bernie Czelenski, who has died at 89, wasn’t a typical politician. Rather than leave the heavy lifting to others, he’d just as soon do it himself.
When the village bought a footbridge to place across Springer Creek, “I thought hell, I can build these myself a lot cheaper.” So he did, and helped put up two more.
“I used to enjoy getting my hands dirty,” he recalled in a 2012 interview. “I didn’t want to rely on everybody else.”
Czelenzki came to Slocan in 1972 with his son and established a garage where Mountain Valley Station is now. In 1984, he filled a vacancy on village council and a few months later was elected mayor.
He was re-elected in 1986, defeated in 1988, elected again in 1990 and 1993, and then lost in 1996, 1999, and 2002. In all, he was a mayoral candidate in eight straight elections, and was nicknamed “Mayor Bernie” for his folksy style.
“I tried to work with people and help them the best I could,” he said. “Left some pretty good marks, I hope.”
During his time in office, the village completed major upgrades to its ballpark, including a reseeded field and new washrooms. The 30th anniversary of what was dubbed Expo Park will be celebrated this year. Czelenski also designed the village logo that’s still in use.
Born in Watson, Sask. in 1927, Czelenski was the seventh of nine kids in a farming family. When he was six, they moved north of Prince Albert and he attended a one-room school. In his mid-20s he got his first elected experience serving as a trustee on the same school’s board.
Czelenski’s father, a blacksmith, taught him carpentry and mechanics. In 1955, he moved to Kinuso, Alta. to manage a garage. Later he came to Nelson and worked as a mechanic and welder. When he struck out on his own a few years later, Slocan seemed a perfect fit.
“I just figured it’d be a perfect place for a very good living, which it was,” he said. “I really enjoyed it here. I liked the people, plus the weather’s nice compared to Northern Alberta. Then I met my wife here too.”
When his wife Joan died in 2003, Czelenski sold his home and moved back to Northern Alberta — only to discover he had made a grievous mistake.
“It didn’t suit me. I was there just a few days and [realized] that’s not for me. I had to turn around and come back home.”
Villagers turned out in large numbers for his 85th birthday party. In 2013 he received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal.
Czelenski passed away Tuesday in New Denver following several years of failing health. He is survived by children Ben and Sherryl and stepchildren Debbie, David, Charles, and Jim.