Okanagan College honours longtime supporters

College grants Honorary Fellows to Janet Shaw, Yasmin John-Thorpe and Lane Merrifield

For Janet Shaw and Yasmin John-Thorpe, the call notifying them they were to be honoured by Okanagan College came as a surprise.

John-Thorpe and Shaw, along with Lane Merrifield of Kelowna, have each been granted Okanagan College’s highest recognition as Honorary Fellows. But when college president Jim Hamilton made the call, each thought he was calling for other reasons.

Shaw, an Oliver resident and former chair of the college board, was asked to come in and meet with Hamilton.

“It took a few weeks before we were able to get our schedules to jive and I wasn’t really sure why I was going on to see him,” said Shaw, adding that there were a few moments when she wondered if something terrible went on during her time a board chair and she was just going to find out about it.

“It’s that moment of ‘Oh, I hope nothing is wrong.’ When I did go in and meet with him, I could tell by the look on his face that it was good news” said Shaw. “I was really quite taken with the honour that I am to receive.”

In John-Thorpe’s case, the call was a long-distance one, while she was vacationing in Mexico with her husband, retired MLA Rick Thorpe. John-Thorpe first thought Hamilton was calling for advice on doing the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage with his wife. John-Thorpe completed the journey in 2010 to celebrate her 60th birthday.

“He’s starts chatting with me and tells me ‘Your name has been put forward and we have selected you,’” said John-Thorpe. “I was in so much shock, I could not answer him. That was not something I expected to hear.”

“To say this year’s recipients have had a deep impact on our communities is an understatement,” said Hamilton.

“In their own unique ways, Yasmin, Lane and Janet have made meaningful contributions that have served, and continue to serve, the people who call the Okanagan home.”

John-Thorpe, a Penticton native and well-known in the South Okanagan as a writer, literacy advocate and philanthropist, will be honoured at Okanagan College’s spring convocation ceremony on June 2, at 10:30 a.m. in Kelowna.

“It is so nice to be recognized for all that I do and all the literacy work I have been fighting for and the camp for young writers,” she said “It’s really nice to get an award before you die, to be recognized for something you are passionate about.”

John-Thorpe is passionate about literacy and writing and is a co-founder of Penticton Writers and Publishers. She is co-ordinator of Raise-a-Reader in the South Okanagan and organizes the annual British Columbia Youth Writers Camp in Penticton, where she serves as a mentor to young writers. Her efforts to promote literacy in the province earned John-Thorpe the B.C. Community Achievement Award in 2010.

The Okanagan College alumna is a respected author, having written several children’s stories, two were published in education readers and one was selected to appear in a Caribbean reader for young hospital patients.

A longtime supporter of Okanagan College, John-Thorpe served as the honorary co-chair of the $5 million campaign for Okanagan College’s Centre of Excellence in Penticton. In 2005, she and her husband Rick contributed $250,000 to establish a scholarship fund to support local students entering Okanagan College and UBC’s Okanagan campus. To date, 28 students from the Okanagan have received the scholarships.

Shaw, a longtime Oliver resident, will receive her Honorary Fellow status at the college’s summer convocation ceremony on June 28 at 6 p.m. in Kelowna.

Shaw has deep roots in the South Okanagan as a post-secondary advocate, policy maker and devoted volunteer. She was first appointed to the OUC Board in 2001 and spent the next eight years enhancing board processes including a term as chair of Okanagan College’s Board of Governors from 2006-09.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my tenure on the college board. I learned lots, I enjoyed working with the terrific people at Okanagan College. It certainly is an environment where people are encouraged to do their best,” said Shaw. “I stepped down after eight years of service. You take your energy, ideas and enthusiasm and you serve, then it’s time to step aside and let other people come forward.”

Merrifield, one of the Okanagan’s best-known entrepreneurs, will receive his Honorary Fellow distinction at the college’s afternoon convocation ceremony on June 2 at 1:30 p.m. He is the co-founder of Club Penguin, the Internet’s largest virtual world for children, and now serves as executive vice president of Disney Online Studios where he oversees Disney’s Virtual Worlds and Connected Games.

Club Penguin began in 2005 out of a desire to provide a safe online space for children around the world to connect in a fun, creative and meaningful way. The company grew significantly and was acquired by Disney in 2007.