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Profiles: Ken Pawlachuk is a man of many different hats

Ken Pawlachuk has worn many different hats, but right about now he prefers a Santa cap. “I enjoy sharing Santa this time of the year,” says Pawlachuk, who acts as one of “Santa’s helpers” each holiday season.

Ken Pawlachuk has worn many different hats, but right about now he prefers a Santa cap.

“I enjoy sharing Santa this time of the year,” says Pawlachuk, who acts as one of “Santa’s helpers” each holiday season.

A brawny man with a friendly demeanour, Pawlachuk is certainly cut out for the part of Kris Kringle. Then again, he’s adapted to multiple roles throughout a long and eventful life. 

Pawlachuk was born in Flin Flon on Dec. 5, 1949 to immigrant parents. One of five siblings living in a tiny house on Hiawatha Avenue, he was an outgoing teenager who enjoyed baseball, broomball and curling.

He also belonged to air cadets and the now-defunct 21st Field Engineer Squadron military unit. He partied like most other teenagers but also knew that at the end of the night he would have to press his uniform so he would be ready for morning drill.

“Most of my friends didn’t have to worry about the crease in their pants and their shirt being pressed,” Pawlachuk says lightheartedly.

As a student, Pawlachuk excelled in math. So much so that after graduating from Hapnot Collegiate, he was given a chance at a sponsorship to attend Toronto’s respected Ryerson Technical College.

“My family was not very well off, so I refused the opportunity,” he says. “I realized years later what an honour it was that [college officials] travelled all the way to Flin Flon for me.”

Instead of moving to Toronto, Pawlachuk did what many young Flin Flon men of the era did: he went to work as a miner at HBM&S, now Hudbay. He later completed an electrical apprenticeship and then became a certified refrigeration mechanic.

By the start of his career, he had already met the love of his life, Janice Panagapko, with whom he had gone to high school. They married in 1972.

The couple went on to have three boys and one girl, the latter child delivered at home after Janice could not make it to the hospital in time. Pawlachuk helped his wife deliver the child, calling the process “pretty natural.”

“But I didn’t get a cut on the delivery fee from our doctor,” he adds wryly.

In fatherhood, Pawlachuk discovered a very special, very educational experience.

“I learned a lot of things nobody ever told me,” he says. “I took my kids to hockey, skating, swimming, music, ball games, soccer, chaperoned band trips, and tried to support them as best I could… They all turned out great, and are really good parents and they tell me I did a good job. So fatherhood is my greatest achievement.”

Pawlachuk acknowledges that fatherhood, coupled with his decision to become a Christian in his mid-20s, forced him to grow as a person.

“Both caused a very sharp learning curve,” he says.

Along with that learning curve came a decision to stop drinking. Though Pawlachuk never had a problem with alcohol, he says things could have gone that way since alcoholism ran in his family.

“It was easy to quit with that in the back of your mind,” he says.

As a teetotaler, Pawlachuk sought out more healthy ways to spend his time. In the mid-1990s, he joined the Flin Flon Community Choir despite having by his own account very little musical ability.

“I found I could learn by surrounding myself with people who know how to sing, and from [choir founders] Mark and Crystal Kolt’s instruction and encouragement,” he says.

By 2010, Pawlachuk had retired after nearly 39 years at HBM&S, having worked at multiple mines and surface departments. Again, he was ready for something new, so he ran for city council and was easily elected.

“I just thought I could add something to the running of the city,” he says. “And once I got there it was not as easy as I thought it would be. It was a big learning curve for me. And it’s not as easy as people think to get things done. It goes very slow.”

During his first term, Pawlachuk sharpened his political skills under the tutelage of then-mayor George Fontaine. Fontaine urged the rookie councillor to pick his battles.

“I used to fight for everything,” Pawlachuk says. “And he’d just say, ‘No, you fight the important battles and the other ones, you keep those out, because you can’t fight every one.’”

Pawlachuk now has nearly two years remaining in his second term as a city councillor. He will be almost 70 when his term is up, and he has not decided whether to run again.

Now a grandfather of eight – with one more on the way – he is prone to looking back on his life. If his current self could counsel his 18-year-old self, he says the advice would be: “Take more risks, think outside the box, dream big, make lots of friends, love and serve people unselfishly, and [remember that] as long as nobody dies and nobody gets hurt, life can be an adventure.”

How might Pawlachuk’s life be different had he followed that that advice as a young man? He notes that he may have in fact gone to Ryerson in Toronto after high school. And from there, who knows?

“It was easier in those days to get a job at the company [HBM&S] and just settle in, and a lot of guys did that,” Pawlachuk says. “But a lot of my friends moved on, too, whether they were successful or not, they just moved on, they did things different. Some of them went overseas, some of them went to the States, some of them joined the army. They did something that wasn’t the status quo, to go work at the company for the rest of your life.”

Which isn’t to say Pawlachuk regrets where he ended up. Between his council, community choir and many board of directors duties, he leads an active life that still allows plenty of time for family.

“I especially enjoy spending time with my wife of 44 years,” he says.

After a few more moments of conversation, Pawlachuk rises from his chair with the energy of a many half his age. Who says retirement is a time to slow down?

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