A life-long advocate for seniors’ welfare has been recognized with an honorary doctorate from Brock.
Doug Rapelje, the Region’s past director of social services and senior citizens, was one of two people to receive an honorary degree from the University this spring, both of which were bestowed during Friday’s ceremonies for the faculties of Mathematics and Science, and Applied Health Sciences.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I expect, approaching my 80th birthday, that I would be standing on this platform at the 49th convocation at Brock University, receiving an honorary degree… in recognition of my life work with seniors that was a labour of love,” a humbled Rapelje told the crowd of 422 graduands and their families.
Rapelje, who hails from Niagara, said that unlike many of the people who sat before him Friday, he wasn’t able to attend university until he was 44 because his family’s savings were wiped out by his father’s hospital costs for a deadly illness when Rapelje was nine.
In the meantime, he began his career as an advocate for seniors in his 20s after a public outcry and investigation into deplorable conditions in the County Home for the Aged in Welland.
By 26, he was running the 350-bed seniors’ home.
“I must have had God-given talent because I sure didn’t have experience or education, but somehow survived,” he recalled.
“I had a vision and a goal to change what I was witnessing,” he added. “I believe in the area of long-term care and community care that affects the lives of so many seniors and their families. We have made great progress but there are still major challenges.
“Older Canadians must be assured they can live out their lives with dignity and respect.”
He told graduands that service to humanity is the greatest work in life, giving a nod to the volunteer work done by Laura Broley, Friday’s undergraduate Spirit of Brock medal winner, and student Kristina Wamboldt of Brock Leaders Citizenship Society for their efforts hosting a ball hockey tournament that raised money for the Niagara Alzheimer Society.
Rapelje also reminded the grads, some of whom could follow in his career footsteps, of the importance of life-long learning.
“I’m a big believer in growth. Life is not about achievement. It’s about learning and growth, and developing qualities like compassion, patience, perseverance, love and joy and so forth,” he said.
Friday afternoon, Neil Armstrong, a professor of pediatric physiology, senior deputy vice-chancellor and vice-president of the University of Exeter, was presented with an honorary degree before 336 graduands.
Armstrong was recognized for his exceptional academic contributions to pediatric physiology, and sport and health sciences.
His long list of accomplishments includes leading the physiology team in the development of the International Olympic Committee guidelines for training elite young athletes.
Nicholas Beamish, graduating with his master’s in health and physical education, and Ellen Robb, who earned her PhD in biology, received the graduate Spirit of Brock medals Friday morning. The medal is awarded to students who best exemplify the spirit of Sir Isaac Brock.
Guillaume Farand Viau, graduating with his bachelor’s degree in sport management, received the Spirit of Brock medal Friday afternoon.
Prof. Cheri Bradish (Applied Health Sciences) and Prof. Alan Castle (Mathematics and Science) were presented with the Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence.