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Robin

Written by Lenora Klappe

On Wednesday, January 4th, 2017, three members of the Penticton Adventurers Club (PAC) hiked to the Petroglyphs off East Side Rd, Penticton.  It was an 8 km track with a 300m elevation gain. For the most part, it does not sound remarkable, unless three factors are considered. They were all 70 years old; with the wind chill, the temperature was -20◦C;  and the leader, Robin Dunham, has Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Robin is an amazing long time resident of Penticton and a very active senior.  His love and respect of the outdoors and his sense of adventure are contagious. He is always ready for a chuckle, especially at his own expense. 

Life for Robin began in small town in Ontario where he was one of seven children. His parents were very busy working in their landscaping business and running an antique store. Fortunately, his natural curiosity of the outdoors, a wonderfully attentive Irish grandfather, and a faithful dog all contributed to his exploration of the nearby forest. Boyhood memories include building a sled for his dog, trapping muskrat, camping and hiking, often alone.

Ages 12 through 16, Robin spent weeks at summer camp where he enjoyed overnight canoe trips, by lake and wilderness. He also worked in his father’s landscaping and nursery business. At this time, he had his first motorcycle, that provided transportation and access to more distant trailheads.

After graduation from high school, Robin worked in telecommunications for Bell, CBC and the Ontario Board of Education. It was not a good fit, so he began a three-year apprenticeship at the Niagara Parks Botanical School.  There, he received a comprehensive education in all aspects of gardening and horticulture. Upon graduation, he was offered three jobs.

Robin accepted the position of ground maintenance foreman for the University of Guelph, where his job was to supervise a crew of 30. Robin was active on and off the job, hiking, biking and cross country skiing. After three years on the job, he knew that the job was too much managing and not enough hands on.  

Timing is everything. While perusing a magazine, he spotted a job opportunity for Parks foreman in Penticton. He applied and was granted an interview.  Getting to that interview proved to be a challenge, as the highway west of town was closed due to a heavy snow storm, as were all flights. But Robin, determined to get to town, hitched a ride with a logging truck driver.  The staff at city hall was so impressed with his resume and tenacity, they hired him.

So, in 1973 Robin moved here with his wife Lois and young son. Over the next few years, another son and a daughter were born. While working for the city, he became active in the Outdoors Club, and introduced his young family to hiking and camping. Alas, once again, he found that his job was too much supervising, and not physical or rewarding enough.

In 1977, he started his own business with a lucrative contract at the Cherry Lane Mall, and many smaller contracts for pruning, spraying, and landscaping.

For the next three decades, Robin and Lois enjoyed raising the children, being active and prospering from his well­-earned reputation as a reliable, talented landscape contractor. 

In May of 2008 Robin sold his business. Now he no longer had work to fill his days. He became lost – not unusual for the first months of retirement. But within months came the devastating news.

After years of dealing with fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, spray, pests and weather, and having a family history of the condition, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. 

For three years he fought against despondency, melancholy and fear. But Robin had a huge support group. Former clients and colleagues offered him small jobs. His friends rallied around. Guy H took him kayaking; friends mountain biked and hiked with him. Lois encouraged him to get out every day. Gerry B was his confidant. Plus, he went exploring and hiking alone to let his brain sort through the issues, working to stay focused on how to rethink his approach to life. The local PD support group was, and still is, awesome. But his best decision was to join the PAC where twice a week he enjoys a hike with people who provide laughter and camaraderie.

Robin soon became a favorite at PAC as he knows many trails from the border to Peachland. Added to that, his sense of humour, his constant kibitzing and great story telling resulted in his setting the bar very high for the rest of us.

Robin may have PD but you can bet that PD does not have him. He never gives up an opportunity to engage in an adventure. Last June he flew to Newfoundland to hike with a stranger, his son’s friend’s father. This summer he will canoe half of the Bowron Lake Circle.

So if you ever see a white haired fellow wearing huge hiking boots getting out a white Ford Ranger truck, be sure to say “Hi, Robin!” or better yet, join him for a walk.