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Three Decades In, John Funk Hopes to Stay on Niverville’s Council

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Niverville councillor John Funk will run for another term. Brenda Sawatzky

After 34 years of service on Niverville’s town council, Councillor John Funk still isn’t ready to hang up his hat. On October 26, Funk’s name will appear on the ballot for the ninth municipal election in a row.

Funk first won a seat around the council table during a by-election in 1988. For the latter 20, he’s settled into the role of deputy mayor, stepping in to fill the mayor’s shoes when needed.

For seven years he’s been retired from his career as a teacher of the construction trade, and Funk feels that he’s got more time to give than ever before.

“[Retiring] has really helped,” Funk says. “I can be way more productive on council now.”

Having lived in Niverville for more than 40 years, Funk has been witness to enormous change in the community’s fabric—change that he believes is thanks to the many forward-thinking councils he’s had the pleasure to sit on.

In 1988, Funk ran a campaign to improve on what the town lacked in two significant areas: seniors housing and recreational activities for young people. Now, just better than 30 years later, the town boasts a thriving seniors aging-in-place complex as well as recreational facilities rivalled by few other communities in the province.

His decision to run again, he says, is because there’s never a dull moment on council.

Looking back, Funk was among the first to recognize a problem with the way council was handling the town’s lagoon a quarter-century ago. The lagoon, once located at the southwest corner of the plot of land now known as Hespeler Park, was leaching sewage byproducts into the surrounding land. To compensate the neighbouring landowner, council was paying him an annual fee for the crop damage.

“I said to council, this can’t be,” Funk says. “We won’t pay this for the rest of our lives. Let’s buy the land and that’s the best thing we ever did. How else would we have a central park like [Hespeler]?”

It would be years further until the town had the financing to build out Hespeler Park, so Funk made it his mission to create outdoor space for kids to play on two small sections of land that had been donated to the town for this purpose.

One was Opa’s Park, and the other the Lion’s Club Park. Funk approached council with a proposal to allocate $2,000 per park towards landscaping and play equipment. With those funds in hand, Funk challenged the land donors to match the town’s investment, which they did. Shortly after, $4,000 in play features were created at each location.

Funk also has unique ties to the inception of the Community Resource and Recreation Centre (CRRC).

“When I campaigned eight years ago, I knocked on all the doors. There was a number of younger families and they said to me, ‘We have nothing for our kids to do in winter. We have to take them to McDonalds to play.’”

This, he says, is when he approached the town’s CAO about the possibility of allocating a cool $5 million in Hydro grant monies to a new recreation facility with year-round indoor options for all ages. Funk was with that project from start to finish.

Funk says that his background in construction has made him a useful resource for community projects of all kinds.

Most recently, Funk was behind the building of dugouts at the Hespeler Park baseball diamonds and the construction of the Red River ox cart feature that sits at the CRRC to commemorate the region’s Metis and Mennonite heritage.

He was also there, back in the day, when the firefighters of Niverville were first feeling the squeeze in their tiny fire hall located on the property behind Chicken Chef.

“Being a builder all my life, I said to council, ‘You let me sell that building and I will add onto the Public Works building for the same amount [I sell it for].”

And so he did, giving the fire department twice the space as before without any cost to the town.

If re-elected, Funk’s next term will have him brainstorming for a second time on how to address the needs of a growing fire department.

As for adding diversity to council, Funk is confident he’s got what it takes to empathize with the needs and desires of virtually every demographic in the community.

“I think I’m probably the best suited [for council],” he says. “I have a close connection with the seniors and my wife was in Services to Seniors [for a while]. All four of my children live in town. All of them work or run businesses in town… so I hear their thoughts on how things should be done.”

Thanks in part to Funk’s efforts, his grandkids are actively involved in local hockey, ringette, badminton, and volleyball. One of his grandsons plays for the Bison Juniors and has had the privilege of travelling with the team across western Canada.

His biggest learning curve over 34 years of service, he concludes, was when council attempted to go paperless under Greg Fehr’s mayorship.

Online meetings have really not been his thing, he adds with a chuckle. He still prefers meeting with residents in person. And he takes pride in listening to what his constituents are saying.

As for his feelings about working with the other members of council, he says it’s been a pleasure.

“When I look at some of the other councils and the headbutting that can happen, we don’t [have that],” he says. “We definitely have some very lively discussions sometimes. But when it’s done, we work as a team.”

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