Gary and Ruth Statham discovered North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington on Vancouver Island in 2001. Founded in 1984 by Robin and Sylvia Campbell, NIWRA is a world-class wildlife rehabilitation facility developed for alleviating the suffering of wild creatures and releasing them back to the wild.
“We were very impressed with the wildlife centre they had set up there,” says Gary.
Shortly after the Stathams began visiting the centre, Robin and Sylvia indicated they didn’t have an enclosure large enough to accommodate the bears coming through the shelter.
“We were in a fortunate enough position to make a donation,” says Gary.
A year later and with help from other donors, the accommodation was built and ready to receive the bears.
With running water and trees where the animals are very much isolated from human contact, the sanctuary now shelters bears in a natural-looking surrounding. When they are released back into the wild, they haven’t become accustomed to being around humans. The enclosure is set up with monitors so visitors to the centre can view the bears without disturbing them.
Gary and Ruth contribute both time and money to the sanctuary. Recently, they donated a much-needed and much-appreciated travel trailer for the Wildlife Preserve’s residential groundskeeper.
To entertain during various events, Ruth has dressed up as a bear and has stamped children’s hands and directed them to the TV monitors where they can view the bears. Other volunteer activities at the centre include working as a gift shop attendant, acting as tour guide, or helping to clean cages. A big attraction at the nature preserve is the Eagle Release on Family Days.
“A lot of families come out and watch an eagle being released into the wild,” says Gary. “We’ve been part of that. We do a lot of background work where we’re sort of helping set up events or take down events or helping get auction items.”
Ruth and Gary met at university while studying to become social workers. Ruth’s career led her to working with hospitalized special needs children, while Gary worked primarily with families. They began their careers in Victoria while living on a hobby farm.
Born in Ludlow, England, Gary came to Victoria with his parents when he was a child. “I really had no say in the matter,” he laughs.
Ruth began her life in Victoria, but since her parents were in the military, “they moved all the time,” she says. Having lived in Vancouver, Germany, Ontario and Alberta, when it came time to go to university, Ruth returned to Victoria.
Semi-retired, the couple has fond memories of the trips they have taken. “We took our children out of school and travelled with them and had them in correspondence school and thought they got a much better education,” says Gary.
Travels with their son and daughter included the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Vietnam, Australia, Singapore, Botswana and Egypt. The travels were spread out over several years.
“It seemed to be a lot easier to teach them while we were travelling,” says Ruth. “In Costa Rica, we came across the leaf cutter ants. We got down on the ground looking at them and writing up a history of what they did and how far they went.”
On another occasion, while the family was in Costa Rica, one of the children was required to write about a favourite dog or cat. Since they didn’t have a dog or cat, at the time, the story turned into writing about a howler monkey.
The children sent the reports to the school and got feedback on what they were doing and what they were expected to do next, so it was easy for them to follow the program, says Ruth. While they were travelling, the children “had to do their education first.” When they wanted to go to the zoo in San Diego, for example, the Stathams parked outside the zoo and the children were required to get their schoolwork finished before they could go inside.
Both Ruth and Gary enjoy sailing and have done a lot of sailing with their children. They have gone as far as Desolation Sound and into the States, “but mostly around the Gulf Islands and across to the Mainland,” says Gary.
Whether travelling by land, air, or water, the couple loves to explore. “There have been times when we’ve hooked up the camper and just taken right-hand turns to see where we ended up,” says Gary. Ruth also has a keen interest in B.C. history, and they both like to explore the province.
Although the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre is the biggest charity Ruth and Gary have contributed to, Gary belongs to seven organizations in all and does eight different volunteer jobs over the course of the year.
“I have contributed to other non-profit organizations and other organizations that I feel are very worthwhile, but don’t get the financial benefit,” Gary says. Ruth volunteers at Arts and Crafts programs with seniors in Parksville and runs the Street Market in Parksville and Farmer’s Market in Qualicum when time allows.
The Stathams have relieved some of the tension on the NIWRA by providing the organization with a living will says Chief Operating Officer Sylvia Campbell. “As a non-profit organization, funding is always on our minds. Gift giving during one’s lifetime allows the individuals to see where and how their legacy is being used.”
And a living legacy is equally important to Gary and Ruth.
“If people are in a fortunate position to be able to donate – whatever the amount – before their death, then I hope they will,” says Gary. “Ruth and I have been able to help several organizations to continue their work. We don’t ask for monuments in our name, in fact, we prefer to be anonymous. However, in giving, we feel a great pride from knowing and seeing – while we’re still alive – that we have helped an organization to continue.
SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE MAY 2012