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UCC welcomes six members to “Quarter-Century Club”

After a record eight people were inducted into Upper Canada College’s “Quarter-Century Club” last year, another six employees who’ve served the school for 25 years were honoured on May 12.

The six who entered the Quarter-Century Club were: retired chemistry teacher John Eix, who continues to chair the computer management committee; painter Tino Herrera; mail manager and assistant receptionist Vina Kandavanam; carpenter Seyoum Lulseged; Upper School computer science and science teacher and house adviser Kevin Olds; and Upper School English teacher and house adviser Blair Sharpe.

The threat of rain forced a 5 p.m. reception to be moved from the Grant House garden to the Upper School dining hall, where guests listened to three student musicians and chatted while snacking on appetizers and enjoying an open bar. Everyone then moved to the student centre for a delicious Aramark-catered buffet dinner consisting of buns, three types of salad, rice, quinoa, a vegetable medley, salmon and prime rib, topped off with an extensive choice of desserts.

Director of residential life Andrew Turner emceed the dinner and received a lot of behind the scenes help from administration coordinator Monica McSheim. Thirty-four current Quarter-Century Club members were in attendance along with five UCC governors. Each honouree had a staff or faculty member introduce them with speeches and/or presentations using a large video screen, and all new inductees also received gifts.

Upper School athletics director Brent MacKay spoke on behalf of “Not So” Sharpe, who he called his best friend. Sharpe started at UCC as a geography teacher before finding a better comfort level in the English department, and he’s been a longtime adviser and coach of the junior varsity hockey and rugby teams. He said that after he arrived at UCC he didn’t want to be anywhere else and credited the school for making him a better person.

Mail coordinator Daryl Collins presented Herrera, who came to Toronto from the Philippines in 1988 and started at UCC 18 months later. While he does a lot of volunteer work outside of the College, he considers UCC his second home. While most people see Herrera around the campus in his white painting clothes, he looked sharp in a black suit and fedora and drew some laughs when he thanked principal Jim Power for a Starbucks coffee card.

Former principal Doug Blakey introduced Eix, who first came to UCC in 1979 and retired in 1999, but who qualified for the Quarter-Century Club this year through the various part-time positions he’s served since. Blakey called him an outstanding teacher who contributed to science education beyond UCC while also being important to the swim team, photo club and computer management committee and playing many other crucial roles at the College. Eix returned to his teaching roots with a slide show quiz on the identifiable attributes of small creatures and paralleled  them with those of Quarter-Century Club members. The 25-year factor was obvious, but he said they also shared a dedication to the ideals of the College and a love of working there.

Upper School history, English and civics teacher Christos Paschalidis used a PowerPoint presentation to tell the fascinating story of Kandavanam, who recently turned 80. He was born in Sri Lanka (which was then known as Ceylon) and went to university in India and had a long run in the education field as a teacher, principal and administrator in his homeland before working in Lesotho and South Africa from 1980 to 1988. He used his intellect in the battle against apartheid and suffered for it, so he sought sanctuary in Canada and started in UCC’s security department in 1989 before moving on to his mail and reception duties — which he now carries out on a part-time basis.

Kandavanam has written more than 30 books, almost all of them in Tamil, and continues to appear regularly in Canadian Tamil publications. He read an English poem from a book he wrote during his acceptance speech. While his background would have made him well-suited to teach at UCC, he took on the security and mail jobs because he saw them as new challenges. He considered himself somewhat of a broken man when he arrived in Canada because much of his work had been destroyed in South Africa, but he credits UCC for bringing him back to life and teaching him new things. “I work at an old school that looks new, and I am an old man who looks young,” he said.

Turner introduced Lulseged, who also had an interesting career before his 25 years at UCC. He was born in Ethiopia in a family of 14 children and graduated from an esteemed high school in that country at age 23. He received further education in Poland and returned to his homeland where he made agricultural tools and taught drafting in high school before working for the ministry of education, where he helped invent a stove that’s now used across Africa and designed an efficient round house for families. He arrived in Canada as a refugee in 1986 and credits UCC for helping him get a house and for making his daughter Betty and son Abel part of the UCC community through giving them summer jobs.

Olds was the final recipient of the evening, and he was presented by Upper School dean of students Evan Williams, who showed a number of vintage photos from his younger days. Olds had an impressive academic background and was invited to a Calgary Stampeders training camp before an ankle injury ended his professional football aspirations before he joined the UCC faculty as a teacher, coach and adviser. He’s also been very involved with UCC’s initiative to introduce rugged, low-cost, low-power laptop computers to students in Kenya. Olds said his classes are all about student engagement and he distributed materials for an activity involving mirrors, lines, letters and tracing that seemed to thoroughly baffle many of the audience members.

The evening ended with Herrera showing he’s not just a painter, he’s a crooner. He serenaded guests with a rendition of the Elvis Presley hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love” as they filed out of the student centre.

The Quarter-Century Club dinner probably won’t run three-and-a-half hours next year, as there will be just two inductees: music chair Tony Gomes and payroll manager Bronya Faerman.

Here are photos of the Quarter-Century Club members:

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