There is something altruistic about volunteerism in its purest form. It’s
an underappreciated, selfless act often performed for the benefit of others
and the vacancy of personal gain.
Vern Nolin thrives in this context and his community is the benefactor of
his immeasurable philanthropy of time.
A resident of Dewberry, Alta., Nolin has a job description and
responsibility in his hockey association that would be tough to rival
elsewhere in Canada.
For the past three years, he’s operated the Dewberry Arena, flooded the
ice, performed maintenance, sharpened skates, coached, administrated and,
over the past year, served as president of the Dewberry Minor Hockey
This is in addition to being a carpenter by trade, as well as a horseman,
outdoorsman, school bus driver, provider of free sleigh rides throughout
the winter and organizer of various local fundraising events. In the
summer, he competes on the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA)
Pro Tour, where he has been highly successful since his rookie season in
His voluminous activity certainly lends a relevant credence to the old
adages: busy people get things done; and, if you want something done, ask a
busy person to do it!
“Some days it’s as fast as you can go,” he says. “And then you run out of
time, but it is lots of fun.”
As with any volunteer pursuit, things started modestly for Nolin.
Coupled with his wife, Lisa Bensmiller, and their seven children – Brett,
Brendan, Cruise, Paynton, August, Sienna and Madelyn – five of which play
hockey, the impact Nolin and his family have made inside of a decade in
Dewberry and nearby Marwayne – approximately 30 minutes northwest of
Lloydminster – is impressive.
“We were busy,” says Nolin, who lives on a 36-acre farm about five minutes
from Dewberry. “We didn’t have to look too far to go to a hockey game this
Justin Volz has known Nolin for years. They have kids playing hockey
together and, as a former bull rider and rodeo professional himself, he
marvels at the dedication and commitment his friend and the family have in
“When we first got to know Vern and Lisa, they were running,” he says.
“They’re always doing something. They’re a very community-orientated
To volunteer simply means making sacrifices with your time for a greater
district purpose. It almost never involves a financial benefit.
When Nolin was offered the position to operate the Dewberry Arena, a new
facility that replaced the old rink in 2017, part of the proposition was he
could augment his wage through the building’s skate-sharpening facility.
It’s your money if you can figure it out, Nolin was told.
Admittedly, he had no idea how to sharpen skates and thus wasn’t going to
Instead, he put his mind to learning how to use the sharpener correctly
with a goal at being the best at it as quickly as possible.
“It was my first priority to learn how to run that sharpener,” he says.
“And learn to run it right.”
Three years later, people come from all over the county to have Nolin
sharpener their skates; over that time, he’s never collected a dollar.
“I can’t even fathom how many pairs of skates I’ve sharpened,” he says.
“People can’t believe you sharpen a pair of skates for free anymore. I tell
them, ‘I don’t want your $5. Take it to the concession booth and buy
yourself a burger.’”
“The smile on their face is worth more to me that their money. I have fun
Nolin’s desire to achieve perfection also extends beyond skate sharpening.
He strives for excellence in everything he’s responsible for maintaining or
crafting at work and personally.
This includes the ice conditions at the rink. He wants it to be the best it
can possibly be for the kids and especially the senior team, the Dewberry
Mustangs of the SaskAlta Senior Hockey League.
“I put in a little extra time to prepare the ice for them,” says Nolin, who
also provides space and equipment help for the Mustangs’ players to get
ready for practices and games.
“I’m close to those guys, too,” he says. “And there’s a pride factor in
But it’s the kids and grassroots programs Nolin has really focused his
primary attention on since moving to the area from his home province of
He and Lisa were instrumental in starting the pond hockey program in
Dewberry. The initiative through Hockey Alberta focuses on participation in
a less structured and flexible environment. It’s designed to get kids into
the game with an overall objective to hopefully transition them into
“My goal right from the start was to give kids an opportunity to start
playing the game. It’s amazing how many kids have played and then moved on
to minor hockey.”
When you consider the achievements and the scope of Nolin’s volunteerism,
perhaps his most impressive work is the blending of the two hockey
associations of Dewberry and Marwayne three seasons ago.
Only 23 kilometres apart, the two villages have had a decades-long feud
stemming over, not surprisingly, senior hockey. But with minor hockey
numbers dwindling in the area and the two associations looking for a
solution, Nolin facilitated an amalgamation.
It wasn’t easy breaking down the barriers, but with less than 1,000 people
in the area it was abundantly clear minor hockey wasn’t going to survive in
either place without the other.
Nolin’s message was simple: “You get together and make teams or you don’t
Three years later the two areas can’t see it any other way.
“Vern saw it coming,” says Volz, a product of Marwayne who understands the
rivalry first-hand. “He felt there was going to be a forced merger. He was
the first to step in line to get ahead of the ball.
“He’s open minded. He understands both sides and sees the long game, too.
He’s been able to communicate that to others that might push back and be
able to let them see what hockey looks like around here and make the best
As a result, the district’s minor hockey teams are stronger and the two
villages much closer overall. It’s a win-win for the game and the
Nolin admits his background as a driver in competitive chuckwagon racing
has helped him prepare for his extraordinary community service.
The dedication, time commitment and the group of people it takes to be
successful at operating a team of horses, outriders and support personnel
have provided the foundation.
And he admits the similarities run a little deeper, especially since a
chuckwagon title at Calgary Stampede still eludes him.
“It’s our Stanley Cup.”
Until then, there’s another old adage that suggests you can’t fire
volunteers. In the case of Vern Nolin, you would never want to.