A pair of high school sweethearts with almost life-long ties to Penticton and Summerland have made a major donation to Penticton Regional Hospital.
Ross and Evelyn Axworthy directed the funds toward the oncology department at PRH through the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation.
Evelyn (nee Washington) was born and raised in Summerland where her grandfather, Jonathan Thomas Washington settled in the community in the early 1900s after immigrating to Canada from England.
Ross was born in Saskatchewan and moved with his family to several communities in B.C. before arriving in Summerland as a teenager. He met Evelyn at the Summerland High School in the early 1950s and they’ve been together ever since.
After one year of teacher training, Evelyn began her career in education in Osoyoos and later at Penticton High School. She and Ross married in 1958, with Evelyn taking 10 years off to raise their two sons and daughter.
Evelyn then returned to teaching while gradually working towards her Bachelor of Education degree from UBC over the next several years. As luck would have it, she received her diploma at the same time their elder son obtained his Bachelor of Science degree at UBC in 1982. Evelyn went on to obtain a Masters Degree from SFU in 1984.
“It took me a long time, but it can be done,” she said with a laugh. “It was very satisfying and underscored the pleasure of watching each of our children progress steadily to their degrees.”
Evelyn spent most of her career at Columbia Elementary where she remained until her retirement in 2001.
“That was a really great pleasure. During that time I taught just about every grade that was there and finished with 10 years as vice-principal,” she said. “It was a great school and we had some wonderful teachers there.”
Ross, meanwhile, entered a career in business starting with a Penticton automotive/industrial supply firm where he sharpened his business acumen.
He soon became involved in the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) and eventually became their president who also sat on the Penticton Chamber of Commerce board. By the mid-1970s Ross was hired as the chamber’s general manager, a position he held for the next 12 years.
“That was a very rewarding part of my life with all sorts of involvement in the community,” he said.
One of those connections was helping form Penticton’s sister city ties with Ikeda, Japan. Ross chaired the Penticton-Ikeda Sister City Society for 30 years with an official sister city agreement signed in Japan in 1977. An ongoing series of cultural, business and educational exchanges has been made ever since. The most notable local landmark is the Japanese Garden next to the Penticton Art Gallery.
The Axworthy’s decided to donate to PRH for a number of reasons. Their children were all born at the hospital and the couple have had a couple of major health issues. Ross suffered a stroke in 2005 but he was taken directly to the Emergency Department in less than 30 minutes and received a special drug to clear a blockage of his carotid artery.
“I went from being completely paralyzed on my right side and within an hour or so, I was back to normal. I was very fortunate,” he said.
Evelyn also suffered a stroke in 2013 and has fully recovered. Now in their 80s, the Axworthy’s praise the hospital and its staff.
“The nurses and doctors – all the staff are just amazing. We’re so impressed with them,” Ross said. “We’re happy to donate to the hospital which is such an essential part of the community.”