For some people, the Bulkley Valley is a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
That’s what John and Aleeda Vis thought 43 years ago.
“It’s kind of funny, because, like a lot of people, my wife and I moved here thinking I will be here for two or three years, and then, you know… [the valley] has done that to a lot of people,” John said.
For the last 43 years, John has been a math and science teacher at Bulkley Valley Christian School.
He was one of eight children who grew up in a faith-filled household in Ladner, B.C. after his parents immigrated to Canada in 1953.
“Some of us were made in Europe and some of us were made in Canada,” he said.
He was one of the latter and recalls a happy upbringing in the Lower Mainland.
After high school, he went off to the United States to attend Dordt University, a top-ranked evangelical Christian college located in Sioux Center, Iowa.
That’s where he met and married Aleeda.
When they graduated, they wanted to find a place that could offer them both work. They had a choice between Smithers, Florida, Alberta. They ruled out Florida pretty easily.
“I think they thought living in Florida was enough pay, because they didn’t pay much,” John said.
Ultimately, they were attracted to the Bulkley Valley. What they found here, of course, was a strong Dutch community.
SCIENCE AND FAITH
But although John himself had a Dutch background, that wasn’t what really fostered the connection that kept them here for more than four decades.
“The faith connection was probably more the issue than the Dutch connection,” he said. “That being said, there’s a connection between those two… you can’t really pull the two apart, probably. But I’d say it’s more the issue of the faith connection. I don’t consider myself very Dutch. I hardly speak any language. I consider myself more Canadian, I’d say.”
While John graduated from university with a major in English, he gravitated more toward the sciences.
“When it came to teaching, I definitely preferred the idea of teaching science and math,” he said. “I think I’m more left-brained and that probably matches who I am better.”
While science has advanced a lot over the past four decade, John hasn’t seen a lot of change in the curriculum. He attributes that a lot to the fact at the high school level you are teaching fundamentals.
“They flip things around from Grade 8 to Grade 9 and Grade 11, and Grade 10, and stuff like that periodically,” he said. “But the main content is roughly the same when you look at a physics course or chemistry course.”
He added that sometimes a few things have been removed to lighten the load a bit, or things are added to reflect advances in science, but overall it has stayed fairly stable.
But despite teaching roughly the same things over and over for more than 40 years, John said it is no problem at all keeping it fresh.
“When people ask me that question… my answer always is, I don’t teach Math 10, I teach students, and every year is different.”
In fact, it’s the students who are the highlights of his career, he said.
“Some of the highlights would be the kids who come back 20 years later and talk about what they’re doing and where they’ve gone and just seeing where kids have gone, I guess, after they leave here.”
And in that amount of time, he’s seen a lot of kids leave there, to the point that he has taught the kids of kids he taught and even, in one case a grandkid.
“Just barely, but yes, there was a student in Grade 11 whose grandmother I taught,” he said.
Of course, students can also be challenging and the subject of whether the teachings of science line up with the teachings of faith has come up more than once.
“We have pretty open discussions about stuff like that,” he said. “I mean, within our community, we’ll have a variety of interpretations and stuff. Some are fun, some aren’t fun. Some people are closed-minded, some people are open-minded. I think that’s everywhere.”
For John, though, they line up just fine.
“I don’t really see them as being in conflict at all. I think that there’s tons of stuff we don’t know for sure and I think sometimes people make assumptions about what the Bible says about science and vice versa, that aren’t necessarily not necessarily correct,” he said.
“So, I don’t think they’re in conflict, I believe in the creator and I think everything we have around us is made by him.”
In addition to teaching, John also got involved in sports while he was at Bulkley Valley Christian School.
Although he had no background himself in volleyball, he has been involved in the girls volleyball program for most of his time at the school.
“I’ve enjoyed that,” he said. “I’ve coached at various levels at different times. “It’s been lots of fun watching kids learn and develop both volleyball skills, but [also] team skills and personal skills. It’s pretty rewarding and it builds connections that have benefits in the classroom as well.
While John still hasn’t lost his passion for teaching and coaching, he recently turned 66 years old and has decided it is time to retire.
“I’ve enjoyed 43 years and, of course, a lot of that is just having the chance to work with a lot of good people,” he said.
“Sometimes when you retire, just like funerals people go ‘oh, he was such a good this and that,’ not just one of those people. And that’s really all it is. I just happened to be here a long time but I’m just one of the people that make this place work right and over time, the place becomes a part of you, so you care about the place.”
He is totally unconcerned about leaving a legacy except he hopes he has been able to have a positive impact on students”
“My job was to just serve God while I was here,” he said. “And I made lots of mistakes in 43 years, so hopefully had some good things along the way too. And you know, my time will be over and other people will continue to serve, I’m sure.”
While part of the decision to retire was to have the opportunity to spend more time with his kids and grandkids — he and Aleeda had five of their own along the way and they have now added five of the next generation — he has no plans to leave Smithers.
“I have no reason to move,” he said. “This has been home for a long time and I enjoy it here. I enjoy the mountains and the rivers and the pace of life. I don’t mind visiting Vancouver, but every time I go there, I remember it’s a good place to visit, but this is a good place to live.”
From the end of the school year on, the pace will be a little slower still, filled with gardening, fishing and enjoying the outdoors.
But also possibly a little bit of school, too.
“There’s a good chance I’ll be somehow involved in the school a little bit here and there, but it certainly is not going to be full time,” he said.
“That’s my commitment to myself.”