By Calli Forbes, Canadian Red Cross

By all appearances, Klaus Winkelmann fits right in with the community of Williams Lake – a small city in British Columbia’s interior built on ranching and forestry and known for its stampede rodeo each Canada Day long weekend.

His tall, slender frame is decorated with cowboy boots and blue jeans. A large black cowboy hat hides a tanned and bearded face. But it’s not all that meets the surface when it comes to this 70-year-old Williams Lake resident.

Woody from Williams Lake says thank youKlaus (or ‘Woody’ as he is nicknamed) is a natural storyteller.  After a few moments spent with him, I soon discover he was raised in Germany – a faint accent still remains – and that he was inspired to earn his second-degree black belt in martial arts after being bullied by two classmates as a young boy. At the age of 14, he started apprenticing as an electrician before moving to Canada at 19. A few years ago, he spent five months in Japan building custom log homes.

Woody shares how he met his wife, Cathy, through an online dating website. His five daughters, all with families of their own now, encouraged him to join after his first wife passed away from cancer.

"I do my own cooking. I bake, I sew, I knit, so I didn’t want anyone to do that for me," Woody explains.

"I don’t need a maid. What I need is a mate to share the rest of my days with. That was my tagline."
After chatting online and over the phone for months, it was Cathy who brought Woody out to Williams Lake from Alberta over a year ago. The couple was excited to move back to Alberta this September, but those plans were put on hold after this summer’s wildfires forced them to evacuate their Williams Lake home.

Woody and Cathy drove for nearly 15 hours to Prince George – a journey that typically takes around 3 hours.  When they arrived, they were overwhelmed by the generosity they received – whether it was from agencies, such as the Canadian Red Cross, supporting evacuees at the Expo Centre or local businesses that provided them with discounts when they found out they were from Williams Lake.
Woody felt compelled to say thank you in some way or another.

"I can’t walk around and talk to everyone, so I thought I’d slap a sign on the side of the truck," says Woody.

That sign read: "Thank you, Prince George. From Williams Lake – Cathy and Woody."
Woody says he didn’t expect anything to come of it, but soon he was being interviewed by local radio stations and newspapers – a picture of the couple in their truck was even splashed across social media.

"Everybody is trying to help in some way, so how can you not say thank you?"
Now that Woody and Cathy have returned to Williams Lake, they are still planning to move to Alberta.

This summer hasn’t been easy, Woody admits, but the kindness and support he has received from the Red Cross and beyond keeps him going.

“People are being so friendly and so forthcoming and so helpful and trying to make everybody feel as good as they can – what more can a person ask for?”

And with his happy-go-lucky attitude, he concludes: "Tomorrow’s another day."

On the photo: Woody Winkelmann meets with Allie Murchison and at the Resiliency Centre in Williams Lake where Woody received support from the Red Cross upon returning home after being evacuated from wildfires this summer.