Friday, December 31, 2010

40 after 40: Gert van Niekerk

Then:

Gert van Niekerk was on his way to do his PhD at Berkeley when he got a call from Douglas College asking if he was interested in a job. It was 1970 and Gert had applied for a PE instructor position at the brand-new college, but hadn’t heard back. Gert agreed to interviewed, and the recruiter flew out to Edmonton, where Gert was living.

“That was a Thursday,” Gert recalls, “and on Friday they made me a good offer. I’d asked my wife, ‘How much money must they offer me to take this job?’ And we came up with a dollar figure, and they exceeded it.”

After some hemming and hawing, Gert and his wife decided he should accept. Three days later, Gert found himself in New Westminster. At that point he didn’t realize the College didn’t even have a campus.

“I was staying with another faculty member, Henry Waack, and we drove by this big empty lot full of mud, and he said, ‘There it is.’ I said, ‘There’s what?’ ‘There’s the college.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? There’s no campus, no pool, no gym.’ He said, ‘No, man, you’re it.’”

Now:

Undeterred by lack of a campus, facilities, curriculum guidelines and the like, Gert stayed on at Douglas and for the last 40 years has been an instructor in Sport Science. He founded the Douglas College rugby club and has travelled around the world as coach of the championship-winning golf and rugby teams.

He recently received a 2010 President’s Distinguished Service Award for his outstanding contributions to the betterment of the College and its community.

“I was very proud to get that. I don’t go looking for accolades, but it’s nice to be recognized. It makes all the effort you put in seem worthwhile.”

Gert became eligible to retire six years ago. But he says he had no desire to hang up his trainers.

“People often ask me how I can stay with one institution for 40 years,” he says. “It’s because I’ve had no stress, I’ve had no trouble coming to work in the mornings. I love the students, and my colleagues are terrific. That makes it easy to come to work every day.”

40 after 40 is a series showcasing our amazing grads and employees in celebration of our 40th anniversary. Check back every Wednesday and Friday for another inspiring story. See more about our 40th on our Anniversary page.