Margret Onneken (left) was surprised and thrilled when Sue Hemphill announced at the Williams Lake Field Naturalists’ banquet that she was their volunteer of the year.

Margret Onneken (left) was surprised and thrilled when Sue Hemphill announced at the Williams Lake Field Naturalists’ banquet that she was their volunteer of the year.

Preschool teacher naturalists’ volunteer of the year

Although she is an employee of the Williams Lake Field Naturalists Society, Margret Onneken was recognized as volunteer of the year.

Although she is an employee of the Williams Lake Field Naturalists Society, Margret Onneken was recognized as volunteer of the year during the society’s annual fundraising banquet in April.

Sue Hemphill, Scout Island Nature Centre’s environmental educator, says Onneken goes “above-and-beyond” her job description as the Discovery Preschool teacher.

This year’s theme is the importance of getting children back outdoors, and Onneken fits the bill perfectly, Hemphill says.

She puts in many extra hours to make sure the program is well run and meets the needs of individual children.

Onneken has run the Discovery Preschool at Scout Island for 22 years.

There are 25 young children in Williams Lake currently enjoying the unique nature experience Onneken provides for children.

“A big part of what we do is exploring and getting outside – seeing nature face-to-face,” Onneken explains.

Onneken says Scout Island is unique in its natural environment, and that all themes at the preschool are based on nature, the environment and the changes of the seasons.

The preschool is committed to providing a well-balanced, nature-inspired preschool program, providing young children with creative, physical, social, emotional and intellectual experiences in a safe, nurturing atmosphere.

“There are some apple trees here and in the fall we harvest them and make jam or jelly or dried apples,” Onneken says.  “Any leftovers are given to the worms for the garden; we weave one thing into the next.”

The preschool provides a wonderful opportunity for children to explore what comes naturally to them, Onneken says.

“This is something that is deep-rooted in each of them,” she says. “It’s part of their heart and part of their whole being.”

Onneken emigrated from Germany to Williams Lake in 1983 with her husband and two sons, Jens, and Rene. Their third son, David, was born in Canada.

Holding a degree in business and some nursing training, she worked as a bookkeeper in the family bike shop and took English as a second language before returning to university and a career as an early childhood educator.

She did her practicum with Jean Wellburn at the then part-time preschool in 1991, taking over the preschool in 1992 when Jean retired, and naming it Discovery Preschool.

In her spare time Onneken enjoys the outdoors, collecting rocks and exploring places such as Barkerville.

“I haven’t found an icky bug yet,” Onneken says.