“I probably don’t deserve it.”
That was Times publisher and co-owner Jim Cumming’s reaction yesterday after finding out he had been named the 1999 Citizen of the Year for Fort Frances.
“I have worked with a lot of people over the years, and I’ve been only a cog in the wheel, and those wheels have turned,” he remarked. “I wasn’t a key person—I was just lucky to be associated with those great people.
“And when it’s all put together, I end up looking pretty good,” he added.
The Citizen of the Year committee, which included Larry Cousineau, John McTaggart, Coun. Deane Cunningham, and Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, chose Cumming out of about a dozen nominations.
Their selection was approved by council at Monday night’s meeting.
“For all the years of selecting applications, this was the hardest year,” Mayor Witherspoon noted in yesterday’s Daily Bulletin.
“It became very apparent our choice was very difficult [to make]—and we chose a worthwhile candidate,” he added.
Besides working at the Times for more than 30 years, Cumming has been a town councillor and president of the Jaycees. He’s also been—or still is—a Cub and Scout leader, chairman of the Session at Know United Church, master official at swim meets, chair of the “Tomorrow” Strategic Planning Committee, director of the Ontario Community Newspapers Association, and volunteer for the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship.
Spending three to four nights a week attending various meetings and countless hours on the phone every day, the “payoff” comes when he can make a change in people’s lives—on a personal or community level.
“When I look back on things, I can remember a night on Caliper Lake with a group of Cubs and the sky was clear and the stars were like diamonds,” he recalled. “And we were sitting by the campfire and we were talking about Indian legends and the whole bit.
“And just watching the boys’ faces was remarkable,” he remarked. “Their reaction to the whole camping experience [is] one of my really great memories.”
He also remembered another time when he was helping out with the Fort Frances Aquanauts.
“Back at a swim meet in Sudbury, we had a young lady from Devlin, Sarah McTavish, swimming. And she was swimming up against a really strong swimmer,” he related.
“And I watched Sarah and she swam the race of her life. I was so proud to be alongside that district swimmer,” he enthused. “Everyone was cheering and the crowd was deafening.
“I get a great deal of enjoyment working with kids and seeing their excitement and enthusiasm,” Cumming said. “And it’s really rewarding to be able to share information and nurture inquisitiveness—to challenge them to new ideas and opportunities.”
But Cumming also admitted he’s learned a lot from working with many other people and groups.
“I’ve learned all kinds of things on the ‘Tomorrow’ committee,” he said. “I’ve learned an awful lot of things about regional development and business opportunities working with the RRFDC.”
The “Tomorrow” committee, a group formed to set goals and plans for the district, is another one of Cumming’s proud moments.
“Being part of the ‘Tomorrow’ process is about seeing ideas unfold and people coming together from across the district and making things happen,” he noted.
“It’s kind of neat to stand by the wayside and watch things unfold, like the Rainy River Valley Safety Coalition [an offshoot of ‘Tomorrow’].
“And recognizing people for their work across the district, recognizing and working with people in Barwick and Rainy River and developing community events, and trying to make those communities grow, and discovering the great sense of pride their communities,” he added.
Something else Cumming has been working on, with several others having a similar vision, is “trying to bring the 21st century kicking and screaming into the Rainy River District” with improved telecommunications capabilities.
“It’s really important. It’s one of those things that will help shape our communities, our education facilities, our health facilities, our ability to do business into the future,” he stressed.
“It’s one of the most important things the community has to focus so they can compete in the 21st century,” he remarked.
Cumming also said being involved in the media can help a community establish and maintain an identity.
“One of the things I’m involved with across Ontario is getting publishers to become an active voice that supports projects that will enhance the quality of life in the community—projects that will increase opportunities for our young people to stay in our community,” he explained.
“Here in Fort Frances, we have a huge migration of young people away from our community. We hope, as publishers, we can be a binding force to create that sense of community,” he stressed.
“Without that, you really don’t know where you’re from. Once you have that sense, you can work together to get projects done,” he said.
Continuing to stay active at many things, Cumming said it was unlikely he’d ever stop helping out within Fort Frances and the district.
“One thing I find is there’s so much optimism out there. Its really contagious, and I enjoy that contagious feeling—the hope and the optimism that we can make things better,” he remarked.
“I’ve worked on projects, and watched them unfold and seen ribbons cut, and thought, ‘Isn’t this wonderful this is happening in Fort Frances.’
“There is no feeling like it. You volunteer and you help out people but you also get so much out of it,” he added. “Maybe it’s being selfish.”
Cumming will take part in the Santa Claus parade this Saturday evening, and he will be formally honoured by the town at its annual recognition dinner Dec. 3.