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A lifetime of community service recognized by Canada's highest award for volunteers

By Aldis Brennan, Canadian Red Cross

Cor Zandbergen has been helping people his entire life. In 1971, as an 18 year old, he joined the Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Service in the town of Mackenzie, B.C. Since then, he’s been an active volunteer with the Vancouver Police Department, Vernon Search and Rescue, and of course the Red Cross. In fact, you would have to try particularly hard to find a time when he wasn’t volunteering to better his community.
Cor pictured in the middle.That dedication to public service has earned him the Order of the Red Cross in 2017, the Society’s highest honour. And in March 2019, Cor was recognized with two more prestigious national awards for volunteerism: the Governor General’s Sovereign Award for Volunteers and the Government of Canada’s Volunteer Awards for Community Leader. Cor is pictured with his wife, on the right, and Canadian Red Cross Vice President of British Columbia & Yukon, left.
“When I received the Governor General’s award, I really questioned ‘Why me? Why am I getting it?’” Zandbergen demurred.
It wasn’t until he read what former Governor General David Johnston had said about the award that the ever humble Zandbergen came to terms with it.
“[Johnston] talks about recognition being given towards individuals, but he also says this award recognizes the organization; in that the organization allows the individual to thrive,” Zandbergen said. “So, when I read it that way, I figured ‘Okay I can accept that’ because certainly the Red Cross has allowed me, as a volunteer, to really move forward and accomplish things and learn things from other people.”
The chance to learn new skills, even after retirement, is what drew Zandbergen to the Canadian Red Cross.
“They had a good training program and the opportunity to work in my immediate community as well as working in other communities in B.C. and in Canada,” Zandbergen said. “And at the time, I was hoping it would also provide opportunities to go outside of Canada.”
That opportunity came many times. By 2012, Cor had spent time assisting a disaster response in every province west of Ontario. He spent weeks in Louisiana and New Jersey helping those communities recover from hurricanes. And fulfilled his goal of travelling internationally when Zandbergen was given the responsibility of escorting vital aid supplies to Pakistan after heavy rains caused serious flooding.
“I would highly recommend volunteering with the Red Cross to anybody, whether people are working or approaching retirement,” Zandbergen said. “Red Cross have always really shown that they value their volunteers.”
After 18 years with Red Cross, there’s one moment Zandbergen keeps coming back to. Driving back from a deployment in Williams Lake, the upbeat lyrics of UB40’s ‘Higher Ground’ playing on the radio seemed to crystalize the feeling he’s kept with him throughout his time volunteering with the Red Cross: ‘The more I learn, the less I know’. So he keeps learning.
Cor Zandbergen leads the Red Cross team in Vernon, B.C. with his wife Cecile.
Find out more about volunteering with the Red Cross here.
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