Joe Zayonc (left)

Joe Zayonc (left)

SMART 55: Fond memories shared among friends

Joe Zayonc and George Keener have been friends approaching 70 years.

Joe Zayonc and George Keener have been friends approaching 70 years.

The two first met when Zayonc arrived in Williams Lake from northern Alberta in 1946.

“There were no jobs in Alberta and I was starving,” Zayonc said.

Nodding toward Keener, while the two men enjoyed a cup of coffee at the Cariboo Friendship Centre’s Hearth Restaurant recently, Zayonc said one of the first things Keener did was take him fishing.

“We went to Lyne’s Dam north of Deep Creek and caught some trout,” Keener reminisced, as he held out his arms to demonstrate the size of the fish. “They were big, 12, 14 and 16 inches.”

The two friends worked for P and T Lumber at a time when earning $2.70 an hour was the norm.

They recalled the generous Christmas hampers all the employees were given.

“If you drank, you got a 40 ounce bottle of whiskey too,” Keener said, adding he quit drinking 46 years ago and Zayonc quit 40 years ago.

A favourite drinking hole on the way home from work was at the Maple Leaf Hotel, where Caribou Ski Source For Sports is today.

Zayonc’s late wife Mary worked as the cook for the company’s middle camp on Six Mile Hill and made the best borscht, Keener said.

Outside of work, the two men were very busy.

Keener and his wife Bonnie had three children at their home on Slater Mountain, but for many years brought in extra children that were abandoned or on the streets.

“One time this boy came to our home and told me his mom had left them two weeks before,” Keener said.

When he went to the house Keener discovered there were three children, aged eight, seven and six, and a six-week old baby.

“They didn’t have milk for the baby and they were recycling the diapers,” Keener said, adding he loaded the children up, took them home and they adopted them.

“I’m still here to help anyone I can,” he smiled as he signed some cheques for the Friendship Society. “I’m one of the last founding members of this place and I’m here every day.”

Zayonc’s daughter Judy Kunka described her father as a “suitcase farmer.”

Through all the years of living and working in Williams Lake, he continued to return to his farm in Northern Alberta.

“He’d work, then go to Alberta to put the crops in, come back to Williams Lake to work, and then go to the farm to take the crops out,” Kunka said.

The farm is still in the family, although these days it’s rented out.

As they posed for a photograph and joked about breaking the camera, Keener paused to asked what laughter creates?

“Healing,” he answered. “When you can laugh at your own mistakes it can heal you.”