(The following article is written with the help of a biography recited at Blaine Burbank’s funeral by loving family.)
An inspirational and influential figure in the Vauxhall area, many have fondly remembered Blaine Burbank, who passed away after a courageous two-year battle with cancer last month.
Burbank was raised in Fincastle, Alta., where his dad was a grain buyer for Alberta Pacific Grains, and his mother was a homemaker. His parents were very hard-working and thrifty, traits that Blaine carried on throughout his life up until his help with the Jets Stadium Society.
During his elementary school years, Blaine attended Central School in Taber. Blaine’s dad was 39 years his senior but would play endless hours of catch with him. Blaine often wondered why his Dad never tired out. One day he asked him and his dad replied, “better a back ache today than a heartache tomorrow.” Perhaps this is what fuelled Blaine’s love of sport that would later help make Vauxhall a baseball hub in Alberta.
“One word I could use to describe him is prince, because that’s what he was,” said Bob Miller, who became quite close to Burbank in his later years as the two helped with baseball facilities around town.
Blaine attended W.R. Myers High School, for his junior and senior years, graduating in 1963. He described himself as an average student who didn’t spend a lot of his time doing homework.
In both Grade 8 and Grade 12, he was elected student council president. Blaine had a natural ability for public speaking and was chosen to be the emcee for his Grade 9 grad. Those who heard Burbank speak know that he had the gift of gab, and he knew how to make a “short story long.”
“He could go into a contested environment, where there was 30 grouchy people and he had the intangible ability to be a calming influence,” said Miller.
Burbank made many friends in his childhood and teenage years and valued these relationships throughout his life. Many of these friendships remained with him until the time of his passing.
Burbank loved sports. He loved it so much in fact, that he chose to take a second year of grade 12 just so he could stay and play basketball. He played hockey, baseball, and basketball and was quarterback of the Myers Eagles football team. A highlight for him was receiving one of only five all-star trophies awarded at basketball provincials his senior year.
Burbank became involved in the Jets Stadium Society as president until resigning because of his health problems. Miller said Blaine was given a nickname.
“We called him the paper man. We kept feeding him paper, we had boxes of paper. Blaine was the guy that did the best he could to keep things organized. He had the disposition,” said Miller. “For example, the fence on the west side of the ball diamond, when we decided to build the new fence, we decided to move it seven feet to the west.”
“ We had to go through a dog-and-pony show with council that I never would have had the patience for that. He did the whole thing, it took six weeks, having a complete drawing of exactly how it was going to look. Blaine had that patience, he had an abundance of it and we worked so well with people and he had a terrific sense of humour.”
When Blaine returned from his mission in Paris, France, he enrolled in summer school to upgrade his french and math so he could be accepted into the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Lethbridge. Because of his dedication and determination, Burbank achieved the highest GPA average for the Faculty of Education in his first year of studies.
Blaine continued his university education where he met his eventual wife Judy and spent a summer working as a correctional officer at the Lethbridge Correctional Center during this time. Their first child, Devonee was born in January, 1971 and Blaine graduated with his Bachelor of Arts & Bachelor of Education degrees later that same year. He was offered a position teaching French in Vauxhall. He accepted and moved his small family to the town they would remain in for the next 43 years. Blaine and Judy went on to have five more children in Dustin in 1972, Pamela in 1974, Shari in 1978, Rebecca in 1980 and Mark in 1985.
Blaine taught at the Vauxhall Junior/Senior High School just shy of 30 years, 14 of those as principal. Students knew not to cross Burbank who commanded a quiet respect in the community. To friends he was “Burbs & Burp”, to students and teachers he was “Mr. Burbank, Mr. B and Coach.”
Aside from his job at the school, dad was an active community volunteer. He was on the committee responsible for the funding of the Vauxhall swimming pool in which he participated in a Walkathon where he ran 21 miles from Taber to Vauxhall in two hours and 42 minutes. He coached a variety of sports, basketball being his favourite. Blaine had a strong affinity for the Vauxhall Spurs, the Jets diamond and the Vauxhall Baseball Academy. Blaine spent many hours working on improving the Jets Stadium and was the president of the Jets Stadium Society for a few years.
“I thought back to 1980, when I rebuilt the fence on the diamond. I remember Blaine Burbank and Johnny parkinson painted the whole fence, it was six feet high. Blaine was the little green man with green overalls, a green paper bag over his head and green gloves,” said Miller.
Once Blaine go involved in the ball diamonds in Vauxhall, he was Miller’s go-to guy, talking every day at the Co-Op.
“Blaine was not only our paper man, he was our liaison with the authorities because he had the patience and was organized and I have neither of those virtues,” said Miller.
Blaine was a jack of all trades. When he took over teaching shop at the high school, he learned welding, woodworking, and mechanics. Blaine would buy “do it yourself” books and did most of his own mechanical work on his vehicles.
On June 24th, 1999, Blaine’s 55th Birthday, he retired from teaching, and on the following Monday started work at South Country Co-op in Vauxhall as a tire technician in the tire shop. His entire life he had been blessed with great health, yet in the spring of 2012, Dad was diagnosed with cancer and went through several treatments which did not work. The result of this was him having to have chemotherapy and surgery. He was home for a few days and ended up with pneumonia, which required more hospitalization. For all his years up until his health struggles, he helped out at the ball diamonds.
“He would have a chemotherapy treatment, have a nap on the way home and maybe another nap and an hour later he was at the ball diamond. You go into the maintenance shed, he had boards for all the scheduled practices and the tools, there was place for everything. He tried to keep on top of everything,” said Miller. “He was the guy that made sure the mower was driven down to the Co-op and the blades were sharpened and there was gas in the gator. He was always looking ahead to see how can we keep this thing going. His demeanor on the diamond as a liaison person for the town with people coming from all different parts of Canada, there was no better person to greet them on the behalf of the community than Blaine. He made everyone feel welcome.”
At the start of his battle with cancer , Blaine continued to work at the tire shop until he couldn’t because of the effects of the chemotherapy. Again on Aug. 18, more surgery was required resulting in another cancer diagnosis, and he was forced into long-term disability. Blaine really missed working and the everyday associations with people. Through all of these struggles, he maintained a positive attitude which helped strengthen those around him.
“He was an inspiration to the little things that we can all pay attention to. His wishes were that with what we started (Jets Stadium Society), that other people will somehow make the time to step up and keep the thing going,” said Miller. “Something like this is so important to a small community to help keep it vibrant.”
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