Laurie Walters is the executive director of the Social Planning Council as well as working at Community Futures helping prepare business owners preparing to sell their small to medium-sized businesses. (Ruth Lloyd photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Laurie Walters is the executive director of the Social Planning Council as well as working at Community Futures helping prepare business owners preparing to sell their small to medium-sized businesses. (Ruth Lloyd photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

OUR HOMETOWN: Laurie Walters is a community leader who loves Williams Lake

Passion and compassion emanate from Laurie Walters when she talks about the community

After 50 years in the Cariboo, it is clear Laurie Walters loves Williams Lake.

Speaking with her, you feel both her passion and compassion for the community she holds so close to her heart.

Walters was not born in Williams Lake and moved to the area with her parents at 11 years old when they bought the Morehead Lake Resort near Likely.

Walters suspects her father might have been having a midlife crisis, purchasing the run down resort sight-unseen and heading up from the Lower Mainland, leaving her five older siblings behind as they had already left home.

But despite the rough state of the resort when they arrived, she helped as her parents built the business and she loved the life spent outdoors, even with the two-and-a-half hour school bus rides each way during the school year.

“It was a good life,” she said.

Eventually she moved into town to live in the dormitory, and then after having the resort for five years, her parents sold it and moved into town. Three of her siblings also followed their parents to the Cariboo, and the family is still close, thanks to her parents, she says, tearing up thinking of them as she says how grateful she is to have this.

She met her husband Todd Walters when she was just 16 years old, and the two married when she was 19.

Forty-one years later they still enjoy spending time together and with their grandkids. They have a daughter Lindsey Shewchuk and a son Nathan Walters, both of whom now have their own families and live in Williams Lake as well. Lindsey has one son and one daughter, Hayden and Kiera. Nathan has two daughters, Grace and Violet.

Walters opened her own business in 1999, and hasn’t seemed to slow down much since.

“It’s taken me in a lot of directions,” she said of the variety of consulting work she has done over the decades.

Walters passion has been theatre and the arts since she was 15 years old, and she did some acting with the Williams Lake Studio Theatre Society and then she found she liked directing plays even more, with her last directorial production being One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

“I tended to move towards the classics quite a bit,” she said, listing a number she directed over her years with the society.

Walters was on the board for the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Williams Lake in the 1980s, which then led to her being on the national board for the organization.

She started the Art Walk in Williams Lake and ran it from 1999 to 2003. After trademarking the event, she took it on the road, hosting one in Salmon Arm, and Merritt.

She spent 10 years on city council, campaigning on creating a dog park for the community, which still exists in Boitanio Park.

Her true desire was also to help get a performing arts centre built, though this did not come to pass, but she helped lead the team which got the Central Cariboo Arts Centre up and going, and was co-chair for the team to get the pool renovation completed.

Though she said many of the smaller things which were accomplished also brought her a lot of joy.

But in her last year on council it was very lonely and she felt like the only voice for more social program development at the time.

She moved on to do some special project work with First Nations and then did recruitment and retention work for the Central Interior Rural Divisions of Family Practice. Next she went on to work on facility engagement projects with the Cariboo Memorial Hospital to help out on special projects directed by physicians to help alleviate burnout.

“I think it was important work because it got them not living and breathing COVID at the time,” she said of the work.

Walters was recruited to join the board of Rural and Remote Division of Family Practice, which includes remote communities like Bella Coola, Clearwater, Ocean Falls, and Lillooet.

She was the first female non-physician to chair their board and spent two years as chair.

Now, Walters is the current executive director of the Social Planning Council and works for Community Futures to help businesses prepare to sell as owners look to retirement.

“I am in such a happy place right now,” she said about her work to support the community. The Social Planning Council has been working in the community for over 28 years, with behind-the-scenes work like stewarding the Central Cariboo Food Hub project, creating a report to secure the funding for the current daycare project underway at Columneetza and working on the years of community consultation which went into the Thrive Project poverty reduction strategy to tackle the root causes of poverty in the community and creating the award-winning Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP) for the city back in 2011.

She had spent her time on city council trying to highlight the importance of social development, and she is hoping to implement the action items from the Thrive Project in her current role. She is now working on trying to secure sustainable funding to put the plan into action.

As a female community leader in Williams Lake, Walters said she has mentored a lot of women and young women in business in the community over the years. She said things have come a long way, and there is still a long way to go, but she doesn’t recall being a woman ever really stopping her.

When she was involved as one of the few women first in Rotary Club in Williams Lake, she and her fellow women in the organization went to 100 Mile House to present to 100 Mile Rotary on why they should allow women to join. She helped work to create more space for women on city council and mentored women into those roles.

She said she is very grateful to the community which has allowed her to “do and be” what she wanted.

In her spare time, she and her family relax on Horsefly Lake, where they have a “little piece of paradise” and she and Todd enjoy going for rides on their e-bikes and hanging out with their grandkids.

“I love everything about this community,” she said. “The people are amazing.”

READ MORE: Laurie Walters seeks a second term as a city councillor

READ MORE: OUR HOMETOWN: Rick Hansen, 50 years of activism

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