Coffee with...Universe is the limit for Stevenson

Barb Stevenson is retiring as executive director of Fir Park/Echo Village after 25 years.  - WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News
Barb Stevenson is retiring as executive director of Fir Park/Echo Village after 25 years.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

Sometimes retirement from one thing is just the beginning of another.

Barb Stevenson is retiring from Fir Park/Echo Village as only its third executive director after 25 years.

Stevenson’s last day was Wednesday. “As of Thursday I’m on vacation and, well, that’s it,” she said.

Her position has had value; she knows she’s made a contribution and there have been challenges along the way as well. “It’s very much like life. With this though, I know ‘why’ I went to work every day.”

Stevenson leaves a facility that has grown in size in 25 years, but care of residents has expanded even more—the documenting of which has grown tedious.

But change is a thread that weaves intricately throughout Stevenson’s life.

She was born one of nine children in Los Angeles, Ca. in 1951.

There was a pecking order in the family and being the oldest girl she was foisted into a leadership role by default. “I often found myself being in charge. That being said, everything took a total team effort,” she said. “Being the oldest girl I never had to wear hand-me-downs either.”

Stevenson attended a Catholic girls’ school as a child. She had a flair for math, which she liked because it involved problem solving, and she counts it as her favourite course.

Stevenson’s late father was her role model all of her life, she said. He was an inventor who worked for NASA. “I remember we built a telescope together. He was very creative with electronics when they were new,” she said.

The family moved to Cape Canaveral where her father worked with the space program. But they moved back to California after the Apollo One tragedy.

Stevenson finished high school and attended the University of San Francisco, where she took math and art.

She moved to Canada, and lived in Victoria where she worked for an ad agency first, then ran an accounting business and later a toy store.

Stevenson met her husband Don, who was a teacher, and moved to Port Alberni with him in 1984 when he got a teaching job here. The two have a son: Seamus.

She operated a toy business, worked at Gayle’s Fashions, and did set production with Portal Players Dramatic Society.

Stevenson took a job as the business manager with Fir Park in 1988, then Echo Village when it opened in 1992.

She became the acting director when the facility’s first manager Terry Whyte left after 11 years, and was subsequently replaced by Bill Clapperton, who stayed for three years. In 1995 Stevenson took the helm permanently.

A lot has changed during Stevenson’s tenure. Care used to be more personalized but now requires more complex reporting. Residents are also arriving with more serious health issues than in previous years.

Every staff member has a funny story or two about working with residents and Stevenson has her own. One resident tried to pay their rent with their gold card. A female resident told her that she preferred the company of younger male residents because they don’t drool.

But her favourite story is about a resident who asked how many years’ rent he would get for $50,000. She replied 10. “He said he just wanted to know how much it would take for him to live to be 100 years old.”

There are difficult memories as well. Residents come and go but one month during her tenure more than 16 residents died. “They all died of natural causes but there was no chance for anyone to say goodbye,” she said. The fallout required a debriefing to help staff work through the grief. “There’s only so much loss you can absorb,” she added.

The death of two employees, one of whom was 32 years old, was the hardest, Stevenson said. “It devastated the staff and we all grieved,” she said. “When someone dies who shouldn’t die people don’t have a defense.”

Fir Park/Echo Village has been a part of Stevenson’s life for more than two decades. But the closing of one door means the opening of another, or re-opening.

She’s been taking classes in the software program Creative Suite and wants to devote time to making animated films.

“I like to create things,” Stevenson said. “Dad used to tell me: ‘There’s no limit to what the world and universe holds.’ I’m really looking forward to this.”




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