Kathie and Ernst Westphal readily admit theirs is a different kind of love story.
The Osoyoos couple got married several years after both their spouses had passed away. All four were close friends in Prince George.
Now the Westphals are donating $30,000 to the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation’s campaign to provide the medical equipment for the new tower at Penticton Regional Hospital.
“My first husband and I lived in Prince George and we knew Ernie and his first wife,” Kathie said. “We both lost our spouses, but we stayed in touch.”
Kathie said her two adult sons were actually the first to suggest that she and Ernst travel together after their spouses had died.
“My youngest son had graduated from SFU and he was going to travel to Australia and New Zealand,” she recalled. “Before he left, I remember him saying: ‘Have you and Ernie ever thought of travelling together?’”
By the time he returned home six months later, Kathie and Ernst had already followed through on his advice.
The two couple’s ties were even closer through their employment.
Ernst Westphal was a long-time member of the Prince George Fire Department, rising through the ranks before retiring in 1990 as assistant chief. Kathie’s first husband was a volunteer member of the fire department, in addition to his job with B.C. Rail.
Kathie worked as a registered nurse at the Prince George hospital. One of the licensed practical nurses in her ward was Ernst’s first wife, who was trained as a pediatric nurse in her native Germany.
Ernst had immigrated to Canada at age 20 from what was then West Germany in 1954. Kathie grew up in Regina and moved to Prince George in 1962 after obtaining her nursing degree.
The couple have now been married 22 years, moving to Osoyoos shortly after their wedding.
They have been strong supporters of Penticton Regional Hospital over the years, especially after Ernst suffered a stroke more than three years ago.
“He wasn’t in hospital that long, but he had such excellent care,” Kathie said. “He’s had one go-around and we all use the hospital.”
Ernst said others will benefit from their PRH donation as well.
“You’re not just doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for everybody in the whole community,” he said.
A lot of South Okanagan residents come to Penticton Regional Hospital for medical treatments not available at South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver.
Construction of the new PRH patient care tower is scheduled to be completed by early 2019. Work will then begin on expanding the Emergency Department to almost four times its current size.