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Darlene Thompson is Innisfail's Citizen of the Year

This year’s Community Awards has six winners representing the best and brightest in sport, volunteerism, arts, community service, mentorship and potential for the future

INNISFAIL – Just over 12 hours after attending the 2024 Community Awards Gala at the Innisfail Library and Learning Centre longtime Innisfailian Darlene Thompson was busy at the Innisfail Twin Arena volunteering at the 27th Annual Spring Fever Road Hockey Tournament.

For Thompson it was a beloved selfless task she’s been doing for many years, and just one of many, although many in town would not have known it.

She has never been one to look for the spotlight.

But on April 19 she was finally appropriately recognized by the community as Innisfail’s Citizen of the Year, with mayor Jean Barclay presenting the award.

“Darlene is so deserving. Citizens like her do so much and yet there's really no fanfare around them,” said Barclay. “What's so wonderful about her receiving this award is that it's finally the recognition she deserves.”

Over the past decades Thompson has been a tireless supporter and volunteer for many causes, including managing hockey and baseball teams.

She’s also served in leadership roles with the Kinette Club of Innisfail, as well as demonstrating passion for community service by volunteering for the Helping Hand Fund.

Thompson has also helped out at community blood drives and has freely given herself to food-related initiatives through her work at EQUS.

However, she told the Albertan there were many other worthy nominees and was surprised to be the winning recipient.

“I don't like being in the spotlight. I just want to do things for our community. I don't need to be on the front lines to be doing that,” said Thompson, adding she especially likes being a part of her kids’ sports teams and their school projects. “Just in the background, doing the thankless stuff that nobody else wants to do.”

There were five other Community Awards handed out on April 19, and Wilma Watson, president of the Innisfail Art Club, was part of two of them.

Watson was the winner of the Arts & Culture Award for her outstanding service to the arts community, locally and beyond.

The Innisfail Art Club, which under Watson’s guidance has expanded its membership and increased its presence throughout the community and beyond, was the winner of the Club of the Year Award, which included Watson and fellow executive members Enola Nygren, Carol McKinnie, Karen Scarlett and Laura Ellingson.

“This is a real honour, I'm really thrilled to have had the opportunity to do the things we've been able to do, and to accomplish the things we've been able to accomplish,” said Watson, adding there’s still more to do. “I think it's continuing to grow the art club and continuing to look for opportunities that bring art into the community, because I believe it contributes to a lot of the economic development for the community.”

Leah Johnson is this year’s winner of the community’s Athlete of the Year Award.

She was recognized for her unwavering commitment and excellence in several sports, including basketball, softball, volleyball, badminton and track and field.

Johnson was also recognized for her ability to uplift and motivate others, as well as showing remarkable resilience in overcoming adversity.

Erin Holt, a Grade 5 teacher and physical education teacher at Innisfail Middle School, won the Mentor Award.

She was recognized for her leadership, mentorship and being a positive role model for both staff and students.

It was noted that over the past two years Holt has introduced and mentored about 200 students in the school ski program.

Kaitlyn Jones is this year’s winner of the Leaders of Tomorrow Award.

The young leader has been an active member of the Innisfail High School Leadership group for the past two years and has organized events and fundraisers to support valued organizations, such as the Innisfail and District Food Bank and the Mustard Seed.

She has also volunteered at the Innisfail and District Historical Village and the Innisfail Health Centre, and served as an assistant coach for Innisfail minor hockey and helped organize a Christmas Food Drive at school.


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