Nothing lasts forever, not even Larry Hopwo’s long tenure as president of the Chemainus & District Baseball Association.
Hopwo, 83, of Saltair started as president of the organization in 1970. Other than a brief interlude when Phil Simpson took over and a couple of times when someone else almost assumed the duties, he’s held the post ever since, essentially spanning some 52 years.
There’s seldom been a shortage of volunteers eager to help within the association, just no one wanted to be the president and Hopwo always came back to make sure baseball continued uninterrupted.
But Hopwo officially stepped down at the annual general meeting in September to clear the path for a new era. Ironically, though, he’s being replaced by his nephew JonAaron Hopwo to keep it all in the family.
“Larry has been such an integral part of the association for so long and his contributions have been many,” noted Vanessa Wright, the new vice president of the organization.
Larry Hopwo’s initial affiliation with baseball and softball in the region actually goes farther back than 1970 to his days as a player and coach.
The bantam boys team he played on won the B.C. championship in 1954 and he enjoyed many successes as a coach during the heyday in the region for baseball and softball. As a parent, Hopwo started volunteering because he had kids playing in the system but obviously continued way beyond that.
Coaching over the years that overlapped the presidency for a while brought its own rewards.
Bantam girls teams he coached along with Don Davis won two Vancouver Island championships in a row.
And then there were the individual personal achievements from coaching, in one case with his son Brett in 1981 and seeing some players blossom during a playoff championship run.
“Brett and I were coaching a Farm League team,” Hopwo recalled. “Dr. Hilton, his son, he wanted to quit. We kept talking to him. We were in the bottom of the league. When the playoffs came, we got in the final and he hit the ball and you should have seen the look on his face and his parents. When he hit the ball, he didn’t know whether to run or not. It went out into left field. That was my highlight, when you teach a kid who’d never played baseball before.”
Little did Hopwo realize when he accepted the presidency that his commitment on the administrative side would last so long.
“Ed Weir asked me because I was just coaching a girls team,” he recalled. “He wanted to retire.”
Hopwo didn’t get to retire until now, but he’ll still surely be around the ballpark at times and not disappearing from the scene completely. After all, there’s a tournament at the Chemainus Ball Park that bears his name every June and Hopwo can always be seen selling 50-50 tickets or chipping in to do some other task.
As much as being the president is always a tough task, “I had lots of help, though,” Hopwo said.
Year after year, he carried out his duties diligently and has long been a fixture around the Chemainus Ball Park, including the considerable time he spent umpiring.
“You don’t think about it, really,” Hopwo said. “Right after work, I’d buzz up there.”
He even had a hand in securing the building that now serves as the association’s clubhouse. It previously belonged to his former employer, MacMillan Bloedel.
“They were going to take it down,” Hopwo said.
He managed to secure it for $1. Of course, then it cost about $30,000 to put on a foundation and move it to the ball park but that’s still a small price compared to what it would have taken for a new building.
The many great people he met and worked with will always be important to him. “Lots of challenges,” he said, but all well worth it for the betterment of the community.
“I’d like to thank all my family, especially my wife Wendy,” Hopwo said. “And all the guys associated with me.”
Hopwo and Wendy have been married 55 years and have five kids, 11 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. Some of the next generation have become sporting standouts in their own right.
It wasn’t just baseball where Hopwo made his claim to fame. With his kids registered in figure skating and hockey, he naturally got involved and was president of both Fuller Lake Minor Hockey and the Figure Skating Club. He also played a part in the start-up of the Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey Capitals program.
On top of all that, Hopwo has been sharpening skates for some 40 years, starting at home before moving to his spot in the tunnel of Fuller Lake Arena. He said he plans to continue doing that for maybe another year, “just to pass the time along.”
Hopwo is a member of the North Cowichan/Duncan Sports Wall of Fame selection committee and a 2010 inductee. He also received a plaque in 2010 from B.C. Minor for his role with Chemainus baseball.
The new baseball board meets next Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the clubhouse.
“We have a strong board this year and a great opportunity to revitalize our association,” noted Wright.
Hopwo will be around in support and always have the best interests of the organization at heart.
And with JonAaron now in the president’s chair whom Hopwo obviously knows well, “he’ll be pretty good,” he said.
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