My 978th column–what a ride!

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 30, 2020

The soon-to-open Jack Tennant Memorial Bridge honours the founder of the Cochrane Eagle, here wearing his Santa hat associated with his fund-raising efforts in behalf of the Salvation Army. Photos by Warren Harbeck

This week’s column celebrates the 80th birthday of one of our coffee companions who hasn’t missed a week since Coffee with Warren began appearing in the Cochrane Eagle with its first issue on August 1, 2001. In fact, this is my 978th consecutive column published in the weekly newspaper founded by the late Jack Tennant, of Chistmas SUNshine Fund fame.

I’d like to mark this occasion by sharing with you excerpts from that first column. It was a tribute to a man who had become a bridge over troubled waters and a lamplighter for many in life’s journey. In fact, Cochrane’s newest bridge over the Bow River, tentatively opening this fall, is named in his honour: the Jack Tennant Memorial Bridge.

AUG. 1, 2001 COFFEE WITH WARREN – Jack Tennant’s own story solidly establishes him as a lamplighter in the true spirit of this column.

Jack is an old hand at the newspaper business. He started out in 1955 as a photographer at the Brandon (Manitoba) Sun, and went on to become a television news reporter, newspaper columnist, and founder and publisher of several Alberta papers.

It was his respectful way of writing about people that first grabbed my attention. “A good newspaper is a reflection of the community it serves,” Jack once told me. “If it’s an honest reflection, then we all gain.”

The SUNshine Fund is a good example of Jack’s community-mindedness. It all started with a column he wrote for the Calgary Sun in 1982.

The paper had asked him to do a Christmas article on the Salvation Army. The service of the Sally Ann to the down-and-out has brought hope to many over the years. It had a particularly personal meaning for Jack. His column was received so well, the paper approached him again the following year for another article.

Thus, the SUNshine Fund was established. Every Christmas since then, in cooperation with the management of the Calgary Sun, Jack has donned his Santa’s hat and used his writing and public speaking to raise support for this worthy cause.

“I once received a $10.00 donation from a woman who had been a recipient of one of the Salvation Army food hampers the previous year,” Jack recalls, and then beams that that grateful person recently contributed $1,000 to the SUNshine Fund.

All the money received is turned over, without any administrative deductions, to the Salvation Army.

But even though Jack’s SUNshine Fund is recognized widely throughout southern Alberta, there is part of Jack’s background which is less widely known – a part of his life that explains why he is personally grateful for the street work of the Sally Ann.

In 1961 Jack was fired for drinking. He wound up in Vancouver – on skid row. For five years life was about as low is it could get for him.

“I would go to Harbor Light Mission for supper. That stew tasted like a gourmet meal to me,” Jack remembers. That’s where he met “Banjo Billy,” a major in the Salvation Army. Life started turning around. “Since June 4, 1966, I haven’t had the need for a drink,” Jack says, with the humble admission that it’s still one day at a time.

I guess this is why Jack has become such a hero to me. He illustrates so well the saying, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” He appreciates the candle lit for him, and has used his journalistic interests to light candles for others.

Best wishes on your new venture, Jack. Let the Eagle soar!

WELL, THE EAGLE has indeed soared! So now, whose 80th birthday is this week’s column celebrating? MINE! (May 2.) Thanks, readers, for joining me in our 978th coffee together in this memory-packed on-going journey of life. You are amazing travel companions. As an ever-appreciative Jack Tennant would say, “What a ride!”


© 2020 Warren Harbeck

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