Town loses dedicated volunteer and car enthusiast

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Cochrane lost a dedicated leader, advocate and volunteer last week.

Ken Hutchinson died at the age of 74 on April 14, following a lengthy battle with respiratory ailments and heart disease.

His wife, Janny, also a dedicated volunteer in the community, reflects on a life well lived by her “gentle giant” of a husband – whose 6’7” stature was well-matched by his big heart.

“He was just that guy – bigger than life … he was always happy, laughing and looking ahead,” she said. “He always saw his cup as half-full and was always optimistic, always looking out for someone else.”

Married in 1967, Ken and Janny moved to Calgary in 1968 where Ken built a reputable career as an accomplished architect, including past president and lifetime member of the Alberta Association of Architects.

They also raised two children and welcomed their third grandchild only weeks before Ken’s death. Janny said their children took on their father’s fuel for carving out careers grounded in passion – their son, Kodi, a highly-accomplished jazz musician and daughter, Keesa, in architecture.

Their connection to Cochrane superseded their residency here, which began in 1997, as Ken was the architect who built the now-demolished Big Hill Leisure Pool.

“We had a fabric here before we even lived here … we have had a connection to Cochrane for a long time,” said Janny, who drove her husband to view the recent facility tear-down, joking that he was now old enough to watch the buildings he built be demolished.

Once rooted here, the couple got on board with Cochrane Society for Housing Options (CSHO) – of which Janny is the current chair and Ken undertook the build of the HomeStead Building, where the CSHO and Family and Community Support Services offices are, with affordable housing above.

Ken was an active Rotary Club member – at first with Calgary and then with the Cochrane club, of which he served a term as president.

“He was a focused, dedicated guy. He had a ton of passion and when he wanted to get something done, he did it,” said friend and fellow Cochrane Rotarian, Steve Cook, adding that Ken was “unstoppable” and a champion of community projects, such as the promotion of green spaces around town.

Janny exemplifies her husband’s activism and advocacy – laughing that even though he had to take the Rockyview Handibus to get there, Ken made his way to town council around two years ago to advocate for the need to get the now-funded elevator for the Seniors on the Bow Centre.

“Sometimes his work life and charity life blended … if someone was in trouble, they knew they could go to him and he would help them to the best of his ability and beyond,” said Janny, adding that her husband stood up for the marginalized, the underdog.

A car enthusiast pre-dating their marriage, Ken took his love of his 1966 Mustang convertible to new heights several years ago as one of the kick-starters of the Cochrane Classic Car Club and its car shows.

Ken was an active volunteer for the now-defunct Arts and Culture Foundation of Cochrane (ACFC), as a passionate lifelong painter himself.

The group advocated for the need for an arts/cultural centre and the 2011 feasibility study for the project; town council is now moving ahead with a feasibility study that would look for a future build of such a hub, expanding on the ground work of the foundation.

His contributions to architecture earned him induction into the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada – with landmark projects known for their innovation on his resume, including Westside Recreation, the Calgary Real Estate Board headquarters, the MacKenzie Towne Fire Hall and a project Janny said was “near and dear to his heart” – the Hobbema Healing Lodge.

Referring to Ken as a “loving husband and father” Janny said she marveled at how supportive he was of all her personal and professional endeavours.

She expressed gratitude to the staff at the Bethany Care Centre, where Ken lived for the last four years. He suffered from asbestosis, COPD and congestive heart failure. His work as an architect in historical buildings, filled with asbestos in an era when awareness of the toxic material did not exist, is what Janny links to his eventual diagnosis.

A memorial will be held at 2 p.m. on April 24 at Eden Brook Memorial Gardens & Funeral Home.

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Lindsay Seewalt

Lindsay is a senior Eagle reporter who has transformed her penchant for storytelling into the craft of writing. She has a knack for getting the scoop on stories and is a strong interviewer. The U of C and MRU English/Journalism graduate is committed to telling every story through a new lens, from a fresh perspective. Currently, her focus is on news and politics reporting, including town hall. She has a passion for providing a platform for underdogs, grassroots movements and those who have the courage to put themselves out there. She bases the strength of her stories on the depth of her connection with her interviewee, which is best done over too much coffee.