By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Retirement can be a tricky situation for some people. Going from seeing your coworkers every day to suddenly having a lot of free time on your hands can be a shocking life change, and it’s recommended by multiple experts that retirees find ways to remain social and stay active.
That’s exactly the goal of Probus Canada and Lorraine Veroba, the winner of the 2020 John R. Morris Award.
The award is given to a member of Probus who has provided major contributions toward the ongoing development of the organization in Canada. It is named for one of the founders of the group, John R. Morris.
Probus stands for Professional Business and was started in England in the 1950s, by retirees who found they didn’t have much to do and were missing the camaraderie they’d had before retirement.
“They’d meet with a few friends, but they said, ‘We should have something better than this,’ and that’s how they came up with the idea of getting professional and business people together,” explains Veroba.
It then expanded from the UK to Australia, New Zealand, and various other nations which fell under the British Empire.
“Now it’s an international club all over the world,” says Veroba. “The only country that I know of [that was part of the British Empire and] doesn’t have very many is the United States… I think they have two clubs.”
There are 4,000 clubs worldwide, including 255 across Canada, made up of 38,000 members. Ontario has the most of every province in Canada, with 10 alone in Durham Region.
“In 1997, the first one was started in Ajax… and some of us joined that one after we heard about it when we retired,” she says.
She notes the Ajax club started to get too big, and they felt they would have to “cut off membership.”
“We decided to start Oshawa in 2004,” says Veroba, adding clubs then started in Port Perry and Whitby-Brooklin.
But once again, the club Veroba was a member of started becoming too large “I asked people in the Oshawa club [because it was getting too big] if they could help me get this new club started, and I had 18 people volunteer,” she says.
Both Veroba, and the 18 people who joined her, have played pivotal roles in the creation of several clubs in Durham Region.
Veroba says she belongs to four clubs right now.
“If I start it I usually join it to help, and a lot of the other people who have been helping also join, and get on committees and so on. I usually serve as a past-president just to guide the beginnings of the club,” she explains.
The last club she was involved with starting was Durham Central. Veroba said she hoped at least 50 people would show up to the first meeting.
“I worried all night before about whether or not we’d get 50 people at the first meeting. We had 210,” she says. “We didn’t have enough chairs for everybody.”
When she received the John R. Morris Award, in her speech, Veroba noted the club is a community.
“It’s a community for people after retirement because life changes a lot when you’re retired. You don’t have the same contacts with your colleagues or friends,” she says. ”Lives change, some move away, some become ill, so it all changes, and there was a real need for something to fill that gap, and that’s basically what’s happened with Probus.”
Veroba says she became involved when she retired in 1998 and a few friends told her about the club.
“My husband and I joined, and we met other people there and we got to know them. I became president after two or three years, and the club was growing, so we thought we’d start [Oshawa,] and it’s just kind went from there,” she says.
For her being president was all about being organized.
“You have to be well organized, and get everything set up, and you have to like working with people… and that’s one of the things that I’ve enjoyed because at all the clubs that I’ve helped to start, I’ve gone on
as acting past-president, because when it’s new there’s no acting past president…, and you just work with the people to get things going and I find it really rewarding,” she says.
She explains she’s isn’t the type of person who has a lot of hobbies, but she likes to be with people.
To receive the John R. Morris Award was overwhelming for Veroba, who is quick to point to the efforts of others on behalf of the club ahead of her own accomplishments.
Veroba pulled out a slip of paper containing passages from the speech she gave when she accepted the award.
“Many people have dedicated time, expertise, and themselves to our Probus clubs. Steering and planning committees, members of executives, as well as volunteer committee members all deserve recognition for their efforts,” she recited.
What the award means to her is how a group of people came together, and encouraged their new clubs to grow.
Veroba herself is from small-town Saskatchewan, the type of place where a lot of people in her community knew each other, far and wide. Her father was a salesperson, and her mother was a stay-at-home-mom.
She then went to teacher’s college in Regina before moving around a bit, then coming to Oshawa.
“I really enjoyed [being a teacher] because, again, it involved people and I enjoyed working with other people, the children, and their parents,” she says.
She put in 33 years of service as a teacher, working at 14 schools in three provinces, teaching every grade from Grade 1 to Grade 8, before becoming a special education teacher. She then got her masters in education before becoming a vice-principal, and then becoming a principal.
She is married with two sons, along with a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Since retiring, Veroba has been the president of the local chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women, president of Retired Teachers Ontario – Durham District, she belongs to her church’s ladies group, and worked with Meals on Wheels.
“Just a lot of different things in the community,” she said.
The Oshawa group meets monthly from 10 a.m. to noon and starts with letting members know what’s going on in the club, a treasurer’s report, social time, then a speaker.