I did this interview with Tom Wickersham, Alderman for the City of Lethbridge in December. Unfortunately, the 'Christian' publisher', who ordered the article, took down his website & left town in a hurry. Not sure what his story was, but a few of us didn't get paid.(Stuff like would turn most people cynical. Not me. I tried to find a new market.)
Well, I quickly found out interviews with municipal politicians from outside the two largest cities, especially those written by writers from outside the two Golden Circles, don't get much ink in Alberta.
That's too bad because Tom grew up on the site of Fort Kipp. That experience shaped him; and his vision for our province is worth the read. Enjoy!!
Tom Wickersham: Serving Many Ways
Born: April 1, 1944, Galt Hospital, Lethbridge, Alberta,
Spouse’s Name: Arline
Family Stats: Married 47 years (December 02, 1961). Tom and Arline Wickersham have four children: three sons and one daughter, 13 grandchildren, and 2 grandson-in-laws.
Elementary School: Coalhurst.
High School: Winston Churchill High, Lethbridge.
Church Affiliation: Victory Church
Career History: Chicken Farmer (1991-1999), Fireman (1965-2001), City of Lethbridge Fire Chief and Director of Disaster Services for the City of Lethbridge (1992-2001), Alderman (2001-PRESENT)
City of Lethbridge Alderman Tom Wickersham did what many little boys dream of doing: He grew up to be a farmer and a fireman. But for the past seven years, this former City of Lethbridge Fire Chief has devoted himself to municipal politics.
In addition to his regular city council duties, Alderman Wickersham serves as Liason to the Green Acres Foundation, Lethbridge Regional Police Commission, Airport Advisory Board, Municipal Planning Commission, Sub-division and Development Appeal Board, City Affordable Housing Committee, Community and Social Development Committee and Downtown - Heart of the City Committee. He is also a member of the Child and Family Services Authority Board for the Province of Alberta. He and his wife Arline attend Victory Church.
What do you like about City Council?
`We`re an eclectic group of diverse people,`` he says.
`We`re not running under a party banner, that`s what make municipal politics so interesting,` says Wickersham. You just have a whole mix of different opinions and & I think it works well. It about who you are, not what party you represent.`
What was it like as a kid on your parents’ ranch on site of Fort Kipp?
It was fascinating. We bordered where the half-way house going to Fort Macleod was.
Mr. Fuller, who was an English gent, had a little cottage near us. He always had tea on and he smoked a pipe. The house was always warm and had a sweet smell of pipe tobacco. He fascinated me with the history of the ranch hands and traders, and some of the history of our ranch.
After school, I`d visit him. He always had a peppermint for me.
He grew up in this area and he would spin stories about wildfires and what it was like in the early days. He told me about Fort Kipp. At that time you could still see the outline of the foundations.
He had jars of arrowheads that he had picked up when the fields were broken. He had two gunbelts. One had a notch He bought it from a fellow who claimed he had killed a man.) I tried to get my dad to by those gunbelts.
The wagon ruts of the whiskey traders were still visible then. It was a great time. Mr. Fuller made it come alive.
How did you become a fireman?
I had a desire to serve and make a difference. As a young person grassfires fascinated me. I loved fighting grassfires.
I knew I didn`t want to be a police officer because, when people call them, they don`t really want to see them. As a fireman, people want to see you come right away.
I got married at seventeen. So, I was hitting the ground running, raising the family
I had a good job at Horton Steel, but we got laid off. During the two months that I received EI, I played a lot of chess with a firefighter. He said that I should apply to get on the fire department. At that time, it was very hard to get hired. 150 to200 people would apply for one job.So I became a member of the Lethbridge Auxiliary Police.
After that, I would go in about once a month to talk to the Personnel Manager at the City of Lethbridge to ask about openings. When a position came open, I made application and was one of two people hired.
How did you become Fire Chief?
I didn`t really aspire to become fire chief. I enjoyed learning things and trying to make a difference.
I have always been interested in continuous learning – I took college courses and I made myself available for any kind of education. I still try to take every advantage of seminars, education, and personal development life is continuous improvement, we never stop learning.
When the position came open, I was encouraged by co-workers and others that I should apply. (I had already been promoted to captain, union president, and vice president for the Canadian Association of Firefighters.)
How long were you a member of the Fire Department?
You became an alderman a month after retiring as Fire Chief. Why?
I still wanted to contribute to our community.
When I became fire chief, I took on the role of Director of Disaster Services for the City of Lethbridge. It`s a very challenging role and I was in that role for nine years, 1992-2001.
Retirement is doing what you enjoy doing. I thought it would be an honour to serve as an alderman. In serving, I believe you should strive to make a difference and leave an organization better than when you started.
I retired and ran for council.
Does Your Faith Impact Your Work on City Council?
I believe it is the values in our beliefs that govern all decision making. I firmly believe that we should treat people with dignity and respect and that we should be honest and have integrity in our decision making; being true to our values and beliefs while representing the community.
We must respect the most vulnerable in society. If we start to elevate ourselves above those people then we get disrespectful. That applies to our parents as they get older and become more vulnerable and to people who are homeless.
What Challenges do you see for Lethbridge’s City Council?
Challenges ahead include homelessness and affordable living; Being able to maintain our infrastructure for our community. The next few years will be a challenge as far as the economy is concerned. We as a city council, giving the times have passed a responsible budget that will maintain services and infrastructure. We’re committed to downtown revitalization. That`s going to be a challenge.
One of the main initiatives of council is moving forward with the West Lethbridge Centre. That is going to be a very exciting development that will take us to the future as far as development for Lethbridge.
How did you operate a chicken farm while serving as our city’s fire chief?
For a number of years Arline farmed by day and I farmed by night. Without a question Arline has made a lot of sacrifices for my career and my family. Fire fighters work shifts, they miss many family events because they are working. Family support is crucial. Arline still makes sacrifices for me now that I am on council.
Do you still own the chicken farm?
No we sold that in 1999.
What is your vision for council?
I believe that if we, as council, walk together in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect we will succeed. My goal in doing that is creating a viable healthy attractive city.