First time I met Smiley – he wasn’t smiley.
By Charlie Hodge.
In fact he looked a tad bit annoyed. My eyes had been averted to him immediately upon the ear-piercing shrill scream of a whistle that ripped all ambient airways within Kelowna Memorial Arena.
“Okay that’s enough you have two minutes for cross-checking. Off ya go,” he pointed at me.
“What? I hardly ..”
“Don’t but me. One more word and you’ll get 10 minutes,” Smiley decreed waving me towards the penalty box.
I may have learned (after all these years) when to shut-up but certainly not at age 11 or 12. “What about him spearing me firs…”
“Okay ten minute misconduct as well, no problem,” Smiley said announcing my punishment to both coaches. I had been a smart ass all day. Having still not learned to shut up and behave – I did what many a stupid young hockey player does next. I slammed the penalty box door.
That’s when I saw ‘him’. The giant frame glided up to me and loudly announced. “Make that a game misconduct,” he pointed to the dressing rooms and smiled.
It was 1966, Memorial Arena was my second home, and so it seemed for Smiley. When not busy with his two children at the rink he was refereeing or cheering the local junior A hockey team.
My memory of Smiley tossing me out of the game on our first meeting came to me as I sat listening to his memorial service Monday. Hundreds of other friends with various memories and stories of the great man gathered at the celebration of life to say farewell to one of Kelowna’s true icons. Everyone knew Smiley.
As evidenced at his send off Smiley Nelson was one of those unique characters in a community that touched many lives in a variety of ways. Certainly he packed a lot of living into his 91 years on this planet. Born in Muskoka, Ontario Smiley grew up farming the land originally homesteaded by his Swedish grandparents. After working years on the railroad he joined the Ontario Provincial Police in 1950. John, wife Joan, and growing family moved to Kapuskasing, Ontario in 1953 where he operated a dry cleaning business and policed.
In 1962 Joan, John and their four children arrived in Kelowna and purchased Henderson’s Cleaners. When not working at the cleaners Smiley took his happy face and wonderful warm personality with him to work with the Kelowna RCMP as Detachment Crime Prevention Officer. He was often referred to as “that nice cop” because of his warm gregarious nature.
Never afraid of getting involved or standing up for what he believed in Smiley served on Kelowna City Council from 1996 until 2002.
Smiley was active in skiing, golfing, and acting/singing with Kelowna Community Theater and St. Paul’s United Church Choir. Aside from hockey he loved to umpire baseball and cheering for the Kelowna Rockets.
Family came first however Smiley had two other passions as well: his bees and his Masonic Lodge. He kept many folks supplied with fabulous honey. Fittingly son Wayne told me Smiley died while tending his bees. “Dad died with a smile on his face among the beehives. Up until the moment of his death, he lived his life the way he wanted.”
A long-standing member of St. Georges Masonic Lodge (Kelowna) Smiley held numerous positions including Secretary for more than a decade. A kind and wise Brother, Smiley took me under his wing when I joined the local Lodge and made me feel welcome and included from the first moment. His value to Free Masons in B.C. was evident by the more than 90 members who attended his celebration of life from around the province.
Survived by his three loving children: Lynn Baker, Don Nelson Wayne Nelson, eight grandchildren and a plethora of relatives – Smiley was living proof of how a positive attitude carries one far in life.
Certainly he touched my world in many ways. My life is better because of him. Thanks Smiley.