Lifetime of community service is wrapped up in College gift

Last week Joanne Craig and Brenda McGregor joined almost the entire Barrie Lions Club at Georgian College. They crowded into a photo with faculty and students from the college’s Opticianry Program. The Lions were there to give a $15,000 gift which is to produce a perpetual $1000 bursary forOpticianry students. They made this gesture to honour a 63 year member.

The bequest is in the memory of Dr. Noel Stephenson, downtown optical anchor, and six decade Lions Club member, likely the only one with perfect attendance. Many of us remember Dr. Stephenson’s optical office on Clapperton St., a couple of doors up from Tamblyn’s Drug Store, and just down from Gold’s Shoe Repair.

Behind this bequest of devoted Lions Club members is the esteem they held for their long time colleague. Noel Stephenson’s story in Barrie takes us back to a slower time. Dr Stephenson’s father, Joseph, had a double-barrelled approach to life… he was an optometrist AND owned a jewellery business, too in the Markdale area. The youngest of eight children, Noel assisted his father with optimetry… he mailed out flyers, booked apppointments, ordered supplies. He followed his father’s footsteps and started an optometry business 1943 as he and his wife, Hilda moved to Barrie to set up practice in the back of brother Bill’s jewellery store, then located on Dunlop at Clapperton St. As their businesses grew, the brothers expanded to individual locations, never out of each other’s sight, looking across from Clapperton to Bayfield and seeing the name “Stephenson” on both buildings. Bill’s son Bob took over Stephenson’s Jewellery store and mourned its loss in December during the Five Points fire.

Like good businessmen, they were active in their community. Noel and Hilda had four daughters–Joanne, Brenda, Mary Jane and Donna. He joined the Barrie Lions Club where he held every single position, served on the School Board, the Barrie Collegiate Band Parents, Collier St United Church, Sea Cadets, the Board of Directors of the Barrie figure Skating Club, Boy Scouts, and Sheba Shrine. He was business manager of the Huronia Symphony Orchestra for over a decade. Why? Because his wife’s brother, Arthur Burgin, was the conductor.

He was named Barrie’s Citizen of the Year in 1989.

Noel and Hilda turned their Tollendal cottage into a home and their daughters remember an idyllic life based on Lake Simcoe, and filled with water sports in summer and skiing and snowmobiling in winter. In fact, Noel often boated from his dock to Delaney’s Marina at the foot of Bayfield St where he tied up and walked the block to his office. He closed the office at lunch and took his boat back across Kempenfelt Bay to join his wife for his mid-day meal. In the winter, he traded the boat for a snowmobile to get to and from work. See what I mean about slower times?

Noel was a keen boater and kept a 30-foot Trojan cruiser anchored out from their Tollendal home. He and Hilda and the kids cruised up and down the Severn system and into Georgian Bay. They spent lots of time with friends on their boat… Jack and Betty Nixon, Ron and Elsie Moffatt, Fay and Ed Meyers, Ernie and Lorna Bell, Ralph and Val Snelgrove, Ron and Betty Tyler.

Hilda died in 2002. Their daughter Mary Jane died of pancreatic cancer two years ago. She worked as an assistant with her dad and later became an optician and opened a dispensary at Costco in Barrie. Noel’s son in law, Dr. David Hazlett joined him in practice and continues today at a Cedar Pte location.

It’s a fitting tribute from the Lions Club to honour their comrade’s memory. Noel lived a sturdy life, leaving his waterfront home at 86 and moving to independent living at Heritage Place just a year ago. The week of his death last May, Noel seemed to put his affairs in order. He dined with Brenda on Monday, Joanne on Tuesday, at the Shrine banquet on Wednesday and with friends on Thursday. He passed away two days later, at age 87.

As you measure Noel’s life, you have to smile. Four daughters. A busy optical practice, a ton of community commitment, a life of contentment in a community he loved. Two daughters, Joanne and Brenda, are both Lions Club members and anchored the photo that captured their dad’s memorial last week.

It’s a fitting tribute. Thanks, Noel.