COLUMN: Pioneering strength is what makes us great.

Living here 40 years or more qualifies you to attend the MSA Pioneers’ annual dinner, celebrating its 78th anniversary

Mark Rushton

Mark Rushton

Me? A pioneer? That was my reaction to Peggy Livingston’s comment that anyone living in this area for 40 years or more qualifies as a “pioneer,” according to the Matsqui-Sumas-Abbotsford Pioneers’ Association. Well, at least it qualifies you to attend the group’s annual dinner which this year celebrates its 78th anniversary.

While living here for close to 48 years has given me the opportunity to see this community grow from three entities to one combined unit making up the largest city in area in the province, it hardly earns me the designation of pioneer when compared to the many families whose roots go back generations, some of which were living here long before the 20th century ticked over.

A walk through Musselwhite cemetery documents the residency of those families forebears, but a visit to the MSA Pioneers’ dinner on May 6 is living proof of the legacy they created in what must be close to a 150-year-long transformation of what is now Abbotsford.

Chatting over dinner with people in their 90s who will recount helping to cut roads through the wilderness, or whose forebears drained Sumas Lake or built the Matsqui dikes, carved out farms in Bradner and Mount Lehman or mined for clay on Sumas Mountain, is an illuminating walk back in time.

This year at the dinner being held, appropriately in the long-standing Rancho, John Molnar and Herb Grass are being recognized for their, and their families, pioneering contributions to Abbotsford’s development.

And while he may not be officially recognized at this year’s dinner, one young man whose family has farmed Sumas Prairie for four generations certainly was celebrated on the front page of The Vancouver Sun a week or so ago.

Layton Schweigert is, according to the story, a miracle man. In 2014 he underwent successful brain surgery, followed quickly by a brain infection that left him both paralyzed and unable to speak.

Obviously a fighter, while in rehabilitation at GF Strong in Vancouver, the story said he was inspired by the movie Forest Gump and its signature statement “run Forest, run.”

So determined was he to be mobile that not only did he begin walking, he quickly began jogging around the hospital.

And once he got back home, he continued his running on Sumas Prairie, kindling his fighting spirit even further to the point he decided to enter the Vancouver Sun Run, less than a year after his devastating illness. This year, and thus the impetus for the story, he again entered the event.

Not only did Layton run this past Sunday, he completed the 10 kilometers in 58 minutes, 23 seconds!

I’m not sure if he’ll be at the Pioneer dinner, though I’m sure some of his family members will be.

If you attend, and meet him or one of his relatives, be certain to say how proud we are of his accomplishment, his pioneer-like strength to overcome an incredible handicap, and his family’s generational contribution towards making Åbbotsford the great place it is today.

Tickets for the May 6 celebration are available at Medical Tower Drugs or by calling Rosalie at 604-853-2347.