November 22, 2018 - 9:15am
One of Emil Sorensen’s favourite things to do is share the knowledge he’s acquired over the years with others.
Every morning, the 90-year-old gets up and rides his bike – an electric-assisted bike now, he jokes, because his heart isn’t as strong as it once was – from his Departure Bay home to Vancouver Island University (VIU) to volunteer in the Heavy Mechanical Trades program. Sorensen, an instructor in the program for 28 years until he retired in 1992, helps faculty repair and modify equipment, and shares with students his unique skill-set.
“I’ve got the best of both worlds. I don’t have the responsibility to the students in the sense of their outcome – whether they pass an exam or not – but I have the fun of showing them things,” he says. “I absolutely love this trade. It’s so satisfying to show somebody something you’ve done. If I can give them a little bit of my knowledge, then maybe they don’t have to go digging for it later. What I get paid in is thank you’s and you can’t buy that – it’s so precious.”
For all his volunteer efforts, Sorensen was nominated for and won the Extraordinary Senior Award this year – a provincewide award started by Retirement Concepts in conjunction with the Pacific National Exhibition and the BC Alzheimer’s Society. The award goes to one senior per year who goes above and beyond to help their community. On top of his volunteer work at VIU, Sorensen also organizes a dinner group for single seniors to break the social isolation and foster new friendships; volunteers for the Mid-Island Vintage Tractor and Equipment Club; and donates fresh produce grown in his backyard garden to the Salvation Army.
“The award came out of nowhere and I was completely blown away,” says Sorensen, who is grateful for his daughter for nominating him – and Glynis Steen and Paul Mottershead, Dean and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Trades and Applied Technology, for supporting the nomination – but is also a little embarrassed about the recognition.
“A lot of people tell me I’m an inspiration. If I can serve as an example of how following your passions doesn’t have an age limit, then I’m happy to share my story,” he says. “I know too many seniors who didn’t make it long past retirement because there was nothing for their bodies and their brains to do. There’s this fundamental belief that when you’re 65, you’re finished – you get stuck in front of the TV and all you do is sit there and become mummified. I wanted to keep on going.”
When Sorensen started at VIU in 1964, the apprenticeship program in BC was just getting started. Originally from Denmark, Sorensen went through the Danish apprenticeship system, so he wanted to get involved and share with others what he had learned in that system.
Paul Mottershead, Associate Dean of Trades and Applied Technology, says Sorensen’s passion for the trades inspires students, as well as his ability to think up new, innovative ways of doing things.
“Emil helps our current students become critical thinkers – after spending some time with him and watching him come up with out-of-the-box solutions to problems, they aspire to attain the same level of knowledge he has,” says Mottershead. “He demonstrates for students that learning never stops, and that this trade is more than just a job – it’s a career.”
Last December, when Sorensen turned 90, students and faculty showed their appreciation for his work by throwing him a birthday party after class ended. More than 100 students and faculty attended.
“They sent me out for something and when I came back, they had strung a banner across two cranes and all the students had stayed behind to celebrate with me,” he remembers. “I’m amazed by young people today – I drop a tool on the floor and there are two students there picking it up. They are so appreciative of what I do.”
Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University