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UNBC unveils display honouring petition signatories

When Wendell Unger made a $5 pledge to support the idea of higher education in the north, post-secondary for his children, then babies, was a far-off dream.
Wendell Unger points to his name on the wall at UNBC that has the 16,000 names of northerners who joined the public campaign to create UNBC in the late 1980s.

When Wendell Unger made a $5 pledge to support the idea of higher education in the north, post-secondary for his children, then babies, was a far-off dream.

"When I did the pledge way back, I wasn't thinking family," said Unger, who was featured in a video at Saturday's 25th anniversary celebrations at the University of Northern B.C.

Then, Unger had only a vague idea of what it could mean. He only knew friends left the north for school, and they rarely came back.

Unger was one of 16,000 to sign a petition the late 1980s calling on the province to support the creation of UNBC.

He didn't know all three of his children would become UNBC students, two of them graduates of the Northern Medical program.

He didn't know all three children would earn entrance scholarships, making his $5 investment one of the best the Burns Lake man could have made.

Unger said it's helped having his family so close to home, both for their transition into academics and to stay rooted in their communities. His two eldest, now pursuing their residencies, have said they want to practice in rural and smaller communities.

"There's (the idea) you're supposed to get your wings and fly and go and experience the world but maybe this way you can do it being a bit more connected to home still and maybe keep your northern identity, your northern connection," said Unger, who owns a janitorial business in Burns Lake with his wife, where they raised their children.

His youngest, Samantha Unger, is a first-year general science student who spoke at Saturday's celebrations.

"It all basically started with dad," said Samantha about the Unger family's now longstanding connection to the northern campus.

"I didn't actually know he had signed the petition until just last year," said Samantha, when her sister graduated from the Northern Medical program. "I was surprised and intrigued and thought it was a neat addition to our family story."

Ten years separate 18-year-old Samantha from her older sister Jocelyn. She recounts feeling connected to UNBC as both Jocelyn and brother Christopher, 27, shared lessons.

"UNBC was educating me even before I even attended," joked Samantha, after flawlessly singing of an equation her brother taught her years ago.

"It kind of just felt natural," said Samantha of her decision to become the third sibling educated at UNBC. "It's pretty neat. We're really connected."

Wendell said he felt that connection even before his children chose their path, every time there was a new development with the university.

"I've been connected because of (the petition) to every phase," he said. "I see them breaking ground and the first buildings and construction and adding new buildings. I've been watching it closer perhaps because I feel a bit more connected, a bit more ownership."

Now that ownership is etched in ink on the windows in the Canfor Winter Garden's upper level.

On Saturday Samantha helped unveil the installation listing the many contributors that made UNBC a reality, including her father's name.

The anniversary event featured a number of presentations: several alumni including Ryan Matheson who was also named new chair of the Board of Governors; Margaret Warcup, a member of the original Interim Governing Council from 1990; and finished with president Daniel Weeks on the university's future vision.

Tracy Summerville, chair of the 25th anniversary steering committee kicked off the speeches.

"This year has been filled with memorable moments for the UNBC community, and projects such as the one to honour the 16,000 petition signers and the planting of 16,000 trees across Northern BC will leave behind a legacy for many years to come," said Summerville in a release after the event.

In the same release, Weeks said the event was about celebrating the institution's "unique history" and its impact on northern B.C.

"Today we're pivoting into our next quarter century and imagining a future for UNBC based on leadership, excellence, and engagement," Weeks said.

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