British Columbia

B.C. association honours 85-year-old for decade-long service building free birdhouses for elementary students

John Remple is one of five recipients of this year's B.C. Principals' and Vice-Principals' Association Partnership Award. For more than 10 years, Remple has been making free wooden birdhouses for school children, which they can then paint.

John Remple has created 10,000 birdhouses for elementary school students in Alberta and B.C.

John Remple is pictured making wooden birdhouses in his garage in Vernon, B.C. He has won this year’s B.C. Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association Partnership Award for his voluntary service. (Submitted by Joyce Remple)

John Remple says he didn't expect a simple act of generosity would land him a provincial award. 

For more than 10 years, Remple has been making free wooden birdhouses for school children, which they can then paint.

Last week, the 85-year-old living in Vernon became one of five recipients of this year's B.C. Principals' and Vice-Principals' Association Partnership Award, which recognizes individuals or groups who have supported local schools over an extended period of time.

Remple made the first birdhouse in 2011 for five-year-old twin boys living in Grande Prairie, Alta., where he and his wife used to live before relocating five years ago.

The birdhouse was for their kindergarten show-and-tell, and soon after, Remple says, he received calls from local teachers to create more birdhouses.

Since then, he has created 10,000 birdhouses for elementary school students both in Grande Prairie and in B.C.'s Interior.

He says the birdhouses have made it to schools in Vernon, as well as in Salmon Arm, Lumby, Grindrod, Armstrong and Sicamous.

Remple has built 10,000 birdhouses for elementary school students since 2015, using donated plywood. The students then paint the birdhouses. (Submitted by Joyce Remple)

"It makes me feel good to see the kids smile," he told host Sarah Penton on CBC's Radio West.

"I teach them a little bit about birds at the same time."

Tears of joy

Remple says he wasn't expecting the warm reception at the awards ceremony in Richmond, B.C. on May 13.

"I wasn't aware there would be that many people there and when she handed me the award, I lost it," he said. "I looked down [under the platform], and I saw a lady crying and I started to cry right away, because it just got to my heart."

Remple receives a framed print by Haida Gwaii artist Bill Bedard at the awards ceremony in Richmond, B.C., on May 13. (Submitted by Joyce Remple)

Remple says it's a good educational experience for young children to paint the birdhouses, which are made of donated plywood, and watch the animals enter the decorated accommodations.

"It's just something that the kids normally don't get to watch."

The B.C. Principals' and Vice-Principals' Association (BCPVPA) is a voluntary organization that represents more than 2,600 school leaders in all 60 school districts across the province.

For the past two decades, it has put out calls for nominations from all district chapters for the awards around Christmastime, and presented up to six awards each year.

Remple, nominated by the Vernon school district, was selected last month by a three-person award committee, which comprises the association's president and two board members. 

Other recipients of the award are the Central Community Church in Chilliwack, Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria, Rob Tournour Masonry in Sooke, and Chris Paulson and Rachelle van Zanten in Nechako Lakes.

Remple says painting the birdhouse is an educational experience for children. (Submitted by Joyce Remple)

The awardees received a framed print by Haida Gwaii artist  Bill Bedard and had their flights to the Lower Mainland paid for by the association. 

Remple's wife, Joyce, says she appreciates the support of the Vernon community.

"Everybody's just there to help and get together — it's such a camaraderie," she said. "We wouldn't have picked a better neighbourhood."

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