This story was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of Clark Magazine.
Fifty years after they attended Brandon College as it transitioned into Brandon University, Bill Hillman, Ron Westcott and Bill and Lana Myers are fine examples of the different ways that lives can diverge from a single starting point.
Hillman became an outstanding educator with a long musical career as a recording artist. Westcott is 48 years into a career in the education publishing industry, while his sporting sideline has earned him a spot in the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame and on Brandon University’s Dick and Verda McDonald Sports Wall of Fame. And as Bill Myers established a long career as a surgeon Lana Myers taught, raised four children and made a significant contribution to the community with her volunteer work.
All of them point to their time at Brandon University as a meaningful start to their later success.
“It’s a huge part of our lives and a huge part of the community,” Bill Myers said. “I don’t think people, generally speaking, realize what a gem it is to have here. Not only the opportunity of going to university in your hometown or home area, it’s relatively small so you’re not lost.”
“I think it was a great stepping stone into business,” Westcott said. “You learn a little bit of confidence, you learn how to cope and be an independent learner. In a way it helped shape my career in publishing, and it’s been a great career.”
Hillman was the first on campus, leaving Strathclair in 1961.
“It was close to home,” Hillman said. “I had never really been away from home and it seemed like a logical progression.”
He took science courses, finding his passion in geography under his mentor, John Langton Tyman, who established the department in 1962. Hillman also played football with the Caps, who played at the former Kinsmen Stadium.
“I was a football nut but eventually something had to give,” Hillman said. “I couldn’t do football as well as carry on with my hectic music schedule.”
Hillman played in four bands, including one with classmate Barry Forman. They earned a daily gig performing during CXX-TV’s noon show with future BU lecturer Larry Clark on drums.
“We were doing noon shows every day and it clashed with the geography class with John Tyman,” Hillman said. “He gave me his notes and let me skip all the classes.”
Hillman needed money, so he returned to Strathclair without a degree to teach high school, staying three years on permit.
After he married Sue-On, his wife of 52 years, Hillman resumed his education, earning an elementary teaching degree. He carried on to earn a Bachelor Science and Bachelor of Education degrees, as well as a Silver Medal in Geography in 1971.
He said he loved the educational dynamic at Brandon University.
“There were a lot of bull sessions,” Hillman said. “Profs weren’t afraid to speak out controversially … You could speak your mind and have different topics. It was a great experience.”
Hillman returned to Strathclair and taught for 30 years, but continued his studies and received his master’s from BU in 1991.
He joined the faculty at BU in 2000, and after a decade there in which he battled cancer and CIDP, a nervous system disorder, Hillman retired at 65. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BU Senate at Convocation in 2013.
The Hillmans have a couple of claims to fame. They co-owned and operated Soo’s restaurant in Brandon until 2002 and the couple also released 12 albums, first as Western Union and later under their names, touring across Canada and Europe.
In one of their England recording sessions they were joined by Alan Clark, who later earned a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Dire Straits, and the Hillmans were entertainers of the year in Manitoba in 1980.
Sue-On is also a BU graduate, with a Bachelor of Arts and a B.Ed., and taught English for Academic Purposes at the University. The couple has three children, China-Li, Robin, and Ja-On, all of whom attended Brandon University before going on to successful careers.
“The atmosphere is great and it’s a nice, small, compact university compared to a lot of them, which are really sprawling,” said Hillman.
They now travel the world, and Bill works on websites, with more than 15,000 pages online.
Westcott also remains busy, but in very different pursuits.
This year he coached his daughter and daughter-in-law for Team Canada at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts national women’s curling championship in Penticton, B.C. His path in the roaring game also can be traced back to BU.
Westcott wasn’t sure what to do after he graduated from high school, although his mother, Jemima, who lives in Brandon’s Fairview Home and remains active at 107, encouraged him to continue his studies.
“Being a small-town boy, I was quite happy to stay in the area and go to Brandon College,” Westcott said. “It’s always a big adjustment. In high school … the teachers kind of guide you through everything. They make sure your homework is done. At Brandon College, you realized ‘Oh my God, I’m on my own.’ The profs were there if you asked for extra help but it was a big learning experience.”
Westcott’s first real taste of curling glory came in 1965. He played third for skip Gary Lumbard’s team, and, in an unprecedented bit of success for a university team, they captured the Brandon Men’s Bonspiel. He would later skip a BU team to a Manitoba small colleges championship in 1968.
Westcott graduated in 1967 with a Science degree with majors in Chemistry and Geology, and then took a year of Education in 1968. After graduation, he taught in Neepawa for two years, but a curling opportunity led him to Winnipeg and into a career as a salesman in the educational publishing industry.
“It was a perfect fit,” Westcott said. “I had the teaching background and it was exciting to be providing solutions for schools.”
Westcott balanced his day job with an outstanding curling career that include 42 appearances in provincial championships at the men’s, senior (ages 50 and over), masters (ages 60 and over), and mixed divisions. As skip, he won the 1999 Manitoba senior men’s title, four provincial masters men’s championships and the 2015 Canadian masters’ crown.
He was also a terrific softball player, winning a world masters’ (ages 35 and over) slo-pitch title in 2005. He still umpires fastball and is on a committee to establish an International Curling Centre of Excellence in Winnipeg.
Westcott and his wife, Flora, have three children, daughters Raunora and Shea, and son Brandy.
While he admits a busy life has kept him from maintaining a closer bond with the University, Westcott has attended some alumni events. He certainly hasn’t forgotten what BU meant to him.
“I think what you learn is much, much more than what’s in the books,” Westcott said. “You learn the social aspect, how to communicate. From a personality point of view it just helps your growth so much.”
Bill and Lana Myers also fondly remember their time at the school.
Bill was born and raised in Brandon, while Lana (née Kunyckyj) was born in Germany and, after stops in Australia and Ontario, relocated to Brandon as a teenager.
The Myers’ both graduated in 1965 from Brandon Collegiate Institute and began dating that summer. Both would attend Brandon College that fall, but they had different goals in mind.
Bill did two years of pre-med studies before heading to the University of Manitoba to complete his medical degree. Lana graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in 1968 and would go on to complete an Education degree at the U of M after the pair moved to Winnipeg.
Both found Brandon College a fun place to be.
“It was a fabulous class,” Lana said. “It was great. We had such a good time. I don’t know how we ever got any marks.”
She said there were lots of dances, and the Sigma Mu fraternity had many parties. After each formal event, there would be a “hail to the college,” class yells and even faculty yells.
Bill was also an active athlete, playing two seasons with the football team as a six-foot, 155-pound tight end. and also playing basketball. There wasn’t a formal football league, so the Caps would meet different squads in exhibition games.
He remembers playing a small American college team in their opponent’s home-coming game.
“We underwhelmed them 72-0,” Bill deadpans, noting the Caps had to stop at the hospital on their way out of town to pick up their starting and backup quarterbacks.
While Bill took mostly science classes, Lana concentrated on English and history classes.
She recalls taking a seminar-type History class with a dozen others.
“It was just fabulous because we just sat around a table and talked,” she said.
“(The professor) did some teaching but a lot of it was just discussions, and it was just terrific.”
The school changed from Brandon College to Brandon University in 1967, and the Class of 1968 had the option of choosing which institution would grant their degree. Most, including Lana, chose Brandon University.
The Myers’ returned to Brandon in 1978, and Bill worked as a surgeon for more than three decades. He retired from full-time surgery in 2011 and part-time work at the end of 2014. The couple has four children, Will, Christine, Peter and Melanie.
Lana would earn an Education degree from BU in 1991, with Will and Peter also finishing their schooling at BU.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Brandon University,” Bill said.
That’s apparent in their continued service.
Lana has volunteered with a wide range of local organizations and was involved with the BU Alumni Association for 17 years. She has also been a member of the Board of Governors and the Brandon University Foundation. Lana was named to the BU Order of Merit in 2009 and was the recipient of the BUAA Exceptional Service Award in 2014.
Bill has been a part of the BU Foundation board since 2011, and received the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser award in 2014.
All four graduates found their way at Brandon University on different paths that led to separate success.
Westcott said he loves when he drives into Brandon that he sees the same brick facades on the Clark and Original buildings he first encountered in the 1960s. The tradition is important to him, even if it doesn’t feel like he left 50 years ago.
“It just seems like yesterday that I was at Brandon University,” Westcott said. “Time flies.”