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Innisfil pastor recognized for outstanding service with Order of the Red Cross

Pastor Howard Courtney has been 'a humble and dedicated volunteer for 58 years’

The Order of the Red Cross is the highest honour awarded by the Canadian Red Cross Society, recognizing “extraordinary people who have provided outstanding humanitarian service at home and abroad.”

Only 350 or so of the awards have been presented in the past 37 years – one of them on Friday night, to Innisfil’s Pastor Howard Courtney, recognizing his 58 years of service with the volunteer organization. 

The award was presented virtually in a Zoom meeting attended by 40 family members, friends and fellow Red Cross workers.

Dave Fraser, volunteer with the Ottawa Branch and head of the Ontario Recognition Committee, noted that the Order of the Red Cross is presented to those volunteers “whose service has been outstanding or exceptional at the branch, regional, provincial or national level, for at least 10 years.”

Howard Courtney, senior pastor at the Innisfil Community Church, “has been a humble and dedicated volunteer for 58 years,” Fraser said.

Courtney, who first volunteered with the Red Cross when he was in elementary school in Orangeville, has served in many different capacities – earning recognition that has included a Certificate of Merit, 50-year Milestone Award, Service and Distinguished Service awards.

In high school, he chaired Sickroom Equipment and Loan Services. He has been an Emergency Services Instructor, Disaster Chair of the Branch Council, and most recently, an Emergency Response Team Supervisor with the Simcoe County Branch, helping to organize the response to emergencies that have included the 1985 Barrie Tornado, and the pandemic planning that followed the initial SARS outbreak in 2001.

“Howard still puts as much time and effort in doing what he does best – helping people,” said Fraser. “Time and again he has demonstrated great care and empathy for others… Howard’s commitment to the Society has impacted so many.”

The Order of the Red Cross, member level, was actually presented to Courtney by his wife Beulah, and pinned to his lapel as Zoom participants watched.

“I know how passionate Howard is to the Red Cross, but I have to tell you he’s even more passionate about his town of Innisfil,” said an emotional Mayor Lynn Dollin, noting that Pastor Courtney operates the local food bank, and a clothing drive for those in need.

“You do it all with such compassion and a sense of humour,” Dollin said.

 “This is a big deal, and it speaks volumes as to your character, your passion, your commitment to the community,” said MP John Brassard. “I know what you mean to our community, I know what you mean to our country, and many people… You earned this. Congratulations, and we are proud of you in our community.”

Kerry Woodward, a volunteer with the Red Cross, credited Courtney with inspiring and mentoring her volunteer efforts. “Howard was instrumental in providing guidance, understanding, a warm ear.”

She saluted his “commitment to the fundamental principles of Red Cross,” and the impact he has had on so many lives, touched by disaster.

South Simcoe Police Chief Andrew Fletcher also congratulated Pastor Courtney. “You’ve always been such a great friend of our service,” he said, demonstrating “passion and care for the people in the community… You do make a difference in the lives of the community.”

Innisfil Rotarian Al Gilchrist spoke of meeting Courtney when Gilchrist was still a police officer in Barrie. “Every time there was a major problem in town, you were there,” he said, noting that for the past 12 years, the Rotary Club of Innisfil has supported Courtney’s Innisfil Food Bank.

It started with a single truckload of food, collected door to door at Christmas time, and grew to three tonnes of food and $3,000, before COVID hit – “and we hope to be doing that again, in a couple of weeks,” Gilchrist said.

He told Pastor Courtney, “The Community Church is one of the pillars of our community, and you and Beulah have made it that pillar. We are so lucky to have the two of you in the community.”

Courtney’s sons Gideon and Caleb spoke of the impact of having a police scanner as part of their young lives, always tuned to listen for disasters, and the commitment that often had their father the first Red Cross responder on the scene.

They spoke of that commitment with pride. “He was always happy to help, and help people in need,” said Caleb. “This is an extension of what he sees as living out his faith.”

Tanja Zivanovic, emergency operations manager for eastern Ontario added her congratulations. Although unacquainted by Howard Courtney, “I’ve heard your name many times. I’ve heard the many things that you did.”

“It’s great to have so many friends,” said Courtney, after all had had their say. He shared a memory of his earliest engagement with the Red Cross, as an elementary school student, helping out at blood donor clinics by serving refreshments.

At the time, those consisted of cookies and locally bottled Coca Cola, “and at the end of the night, we could maybe take a carton of Coke home,” he said. In those pre-union days, the students could also help load the beds, at the end of the day. “If you were really lucky, you’d get a kiss from one of the nurses,” he joked.

He said, “It’s a privilege to be able to serve.”

“This has been a very special evening,” said Fraser. “One of the best Order of the Red Cross ceremonies I’ve ever had the honour to attend.” He noted that the number of speakers “speaks volumes,” reflecting “all the contributions to the communities you’ve served.”

The Canadian Red Cross is a volunteer organization dedicated to helping people and communities in Canada and abroad, in times of need. Its actions are based on humanitarian values and principles, including respect, dignity, inclusiveness, integrity and transparency.

The Red Cross offers First Aid and CPR training, swimming and water safety programs, health services, violence and bullying prevention programs, migrant and refugee services, home support for seniors and recovering patients, and emergency and disaster response and management – from individual families impacted by a house fire, to the response to major emergencies, like the current flooding in British Columbia.

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