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Ashcroft resident turns bottles and cans into fundraising gold

Ron Jones’ weekly trips to the bottle depot have resulted in thousands of dollars in donations
Ron Jones (back row, right) and Oscar Battel (back row, left) with the 2005 Ashcroft Rams girls’ soccer team. (Photo credit: Ron Jones)

It was when he was coaching girls’ high school soccer in Ashcroft when Ron Jones first discovered that there was valuable fundraising gold in them thar bottles and cans. Even those his coaching days are behind him, he still spends hundreds of hours each year sorting and returning cans and bottles to the Ashcroft Bottle Depot, raising thousands of dollars for the Terry Fox Run and the Ashcroft and District Curling Club.

Jones can’t remember precisely when he started collecting bottles as a fundraiser, but says it was when he noticed that some of the girls couldn’t afford to go to tournaments because of the cost.

“I began collecting bottles with the girls and [fellow coach] Oscar Battel, who was the greatest guy to coach with. With the number of girls we had on the team we could do bottle drives, so we did quite a few and they were very successful.

“We went to invitational tournaments, and we took the girls to Nakusp each year, which was a tremendous tournament, and to Osoyoos and Merritt. And we made the provincials seven times in 12 years, so that was pretty expensive.”

With the money from the bottle drive fundraisers, they were able to cover roughly 75 per cent of the tournament fees each time, says Jones. He adds that he asked Paul Quesnel, the then-owner of the Bottle Depot, if he could put a sign up on the chalkboard telling people that they could donate their refunds to the soccer team, a practise that spread to other groups in the community. Sadly, the current owners have discontinued that practise, so Jones now keeps the money from his weekly trips to the depot and then gives the money to the Terry Fox Run and the curling club each September.

He decided on those two recipients when his years of coaching came to an end. He and his wife Hilda organized the annual Terry Fox Run in Ashcroft for more than a decade, and Hilda is president of the Ashcroft and District Curling Club, so both groups are close to his heart. He admits, however, that he’s not a curler himself.

“I tried curling for three years here and it wasn’t my sport. But Hilda is president of the club, and I know they need the money.”

Soccer is Jones’ first love. In addition to coaching the high school girls for 12 years, he was on the executive of the South Cariboo Minor Soccer Association for 15 years, and played the sport at different levels for 59 years.

“That’s my love,” he says. “I started coaching when I was in my early 20s in Vancouver, and then became the girls’ soccer coach in Ashcroft, with Oscar, when the teacher who was coaching there took a job in Kamloops, and they had no one else.”

The soccer season was 2.5 months long, involving practices, league games and travel, playoffs, and provincials. Jones says that while it involved putting in a lot of hours, he and Battel both loved it.

“The kids bonded together, especially when we went away to invitational tournaments. There were four girls in a room, and we ate meals together. We went to the hot springs in Nakusp and the girls were so happy. When we went there it was the first time on a ferry for some of the little Grade 8s, and they were just thrilled.

“Neither Oscar nor I ever had a girl on the team; we just loved the sport. I coached boys for two years but the girls were so much better to coach. They listened better, and we never had any problems with them, even though we had some tough rules, like no cellphones from 30 minutes before to 30 minutes after a match, and no energy drinks.

“They went along with the rules and were eager to learn, and some of them did quite well. Marlee Rittinger ended up playing for the university team in Kamloops. We had some really excellent players and really good support from parents.”

After 12 years, however, Jones felt it was time to go: “I knew there was another teacher ready to step in.”

Jones has lived in the area since 1990, and spent 37 years working for BC Tel and then TELUS.

“I lucked out when I got hired; it was the best job I could have got. When I got hired I was told that BC Tel installed phones and that was it, but Canadian Telephone and Supplies, which was owned by BC Tel, had travelling jobs installing switching equipment. I was 19, single, with no girlfriend, so I said ‘That’s for me.’”

He worked all over the province, from the Fraser Valley to the north and out to Bella Coola and Haida Gwaii, in tiny places and in some of the biggest buildings in Vancouver, but says that after 24 years he got tired of travelling.

“I had a fishing resort at Loon Lake at the time, and didn’t want to move from there, so in 1990 I took the first available posting in Cache Creek as a cable splicer. I waited a year for a job to come open in Cache Creek and then jumped at it, so there I was, an old guy of 44, learning how to climb a telephone pole.”

His telephone pole-climbing days are in the past, but Jones still collects bottles from some of the companies around Ashcroft, and gets bottles from Ashcroft Terminal and the Legacy Park. He notes that since people know what he does, he’ll often come home to find seven or eight bags of bottles in his driveway: “I don’t know who they’re from.”

Even though it’s “very time consuming” to sort the bottles by himself, it pays off in what he is able to donate. This year he gave $1,000 each to the Terry Fox Run and the curling club; since 2014 he’s raised $7,300 in total for the former, and since 2013 he’s donated $8,000 to the latter.

He also gets help from TELUS. “They have a tremendous program called Volunteer Rewards. Former employees keep a list of the hours we volunteer and they track it. When I reach a certain amount of hours TELUS donates up to $500 to any charitable group of my choosing. Last year I put in 180 hours for the curling club and 180 hours for the Terry Fox Run.”

Jones plans to keep up the fundraising, and says that next year he might split the funds three ways instead of two: “I’d like to include the E. Fry food bank.” If you’d like to help him, by donating bottles or cans, you can drop items in his driveway at 1440 Riverside Drive in Ashcroft, or call him at (250) 453-2001 to arrange a pick-up.