Sept/Oct 2009

Keeping the flame burning

The winner of the Coal Award fuels neighbourly spirit

By R. Pillo


CIM Past President Jim Gowans (right) presents Ken Chekerda with the Coal Award.

Ken Chekerda, an active and dedicated CIM volunteer,  was the winner of CIM’s 2009 Coal Award. The prestigious honour recognizes his contributions to the social and technical endeavours of the former CIM Coal and Oil Sands Society and to Canada’s resource industry.

Engaging the industry

Ever since he attended his first CIM meeting in 1974, Chekerda has enthusiastically done his part to carry out CIM’s aims and objectives. From Sparwood, British Columbia, to Edmonton and then Fort McMurray, wherever his profession took him, he called the local CIM branch his home. Chekerda believes that “CIM is a common link to just about every mining community you can go to.”

Ever the team player, Chekerda has taken on many roles within his branch executive. As chair of the Oil Sands (Fort McMurray) Branch and the former Coal and Oil Sands Society, Chekerda faced all the challenges that come with the territory.

“If you don’t keep members interested and active within the group, the branch will eventually dwindle and die,” he says, adding, “My primary focus was to increase the number of people involved within the executive.” By combining its efforts with other local organizations, the branch gained access to more people, broadened the reach of its membership and elevated its profile in the community.

Keeping members active was not the only challenge Chekerda’s team faced. At times, it was quite difficult to simply keep them as members. “When the turnover rate was at a high, the branch lost so many people it had long invested in,” he recalls. “It was a big blow to a small group.”

Engaging youth

Having learned the value of engaging potential members early on, Chekerda now turns his attention towards increasing student participation in the branch. “We try to get young people more involved, so that when we leave, the branch will be in a solid position,” says Chekerda, who is confident that the branch will be left in capable hands. “There are some great young movers and shakers within the group who will become the next generation of industry and CIM leaders.”

Among his many roles as a mining specialist at Syncude Canada, the one Chekerda values and enjoys most is mentoring. Whether guiding his young charges through engineering solutions or people skills, Chekerda revels in the freshness of their perspectives. “They have such energy. We work off each other like that.”

Engaging the community

Chekerda’s passion and involvement are not restricted to his beloved industry. He is just as committed to his local community. Through the CIM Oil Sands Branch and the CIM Coal and Oil Sands Society, Chekerda has been involved in many fundraising initiatives benefitting the Northern Lights Regional Hospital, Keyano College scholarships and the Fort McMurray Public Library reading incentive program. He and his wife Lonnie were recently presented with a civic award from the Municipality of Wood Buffalo for their community improvement efforts.

A graduate of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Chekerda worked in the coal sector for 13 years before shifting to oil sands, where he has been for the past 23 years. Planning to retire and move to Victoria, British Columbia this fall, he looks forward to this new adventure with both excitement and trepidation. “It’s a little scary. But I am eager to get to know a new community. There is always a group that needs our help.”

Forever engaging

His commitment to CIM has not faltered. “One of the most important benefits of being part of CIM is the relationships that develop over the years. Wherever your life takes you, there is a good chance you will encounter some of your past colleagues, whether at an industry event or some obscure airport when a CIM logo on someone’s carry-on bag catches your eye.”

As another chapter of his life begins, Chekerda moves on with hopes of renewing a CIM Victoria Branch. ”It’s a big world out there, but with CIM it’s a little friendlier.”

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