U of R students have “Friends” in high places – Cypress Hills to be exact

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: September 22, 2021 5:00 a.m.

The Johnson’s cottage in Cypress Hills that was sold to fund the Gerald and Joan Johnson Award
The Johnson’s cottage in Cypress Hills that was sold to fund the Gerald and Joan Johnson Award Photo: Gerald Gartner

University of Regina students pursuing their interest in astronomy, environmental studies or visual arts will be the beneficiaries of Cypress Hills Park residents Gerald and Joan Johnson’s generosity and passion for the same subjects. 

The generosity comes in the form of a $100,000 gift to fund the Gerald and Joan Johnson Award, which was established by the Friends of Cypress Hill Park, but named after the long-time residents of the Cypress Hills Park area. 

“To keep their dream alive or their legacy alive, I think we felt it was better if we recognized and put their names on the scholarship rather than the Friends,” said Gerald Gartner, CEO of Friends of Cypress Hills Park. 

U of R President Dr. Keshen,
U of R Vice-President (Research) Dr. McNutt
along with Friends Alvin and MaryAnne
Marshall on a tour of the Cypress Hills

The Johnson’s legacy has been in lockstep with the Friends of Cypress Hills Park’s mission, which is to, as a non-profit, enhance the educational, recreational, and interpretive programs and facilities in the park. Since 2002, the Friends have built a 5,000 square foot community centre, an observatory with a 60-seat classroom and 14’’ Celestron telescope as well as a playground, numerous memorial benches and interpretive signs. 

It wasn’t long after the Friends group was established in 2003 that Gerald and Joan approached them to see if they would be interested in taking the cottage they had lived in full time since the 1980s and use it to establish a retreat for artists, writers, pottery makers (among others) to work in the idyllic setting of the Cypress Hills. 

“You can bring an artist in but if there is no place for them to stay, they can’t do that much programming or work on their art much,” Gartner said. “This provided a vehicle for that kind of thing and it fit right in with one aspect of what the Friends were trying to do – trying to enhance the cultural aspect of the park.” 

The cottage served as a retreat from 2015 until 2020, when the Friends decided it would be better to sell the cottage and set up the award. 

The award was created to support students pursuing an undergraduate degree in the areas of visual arts, astronomy and environmental studies. Commencing in the fall of 2022, the U of R will present two awards to undergraduates in those areas of study, with preference to students from southwest Saskatchewan or those who have worked or volunteered in Cypress Hills Park. 

“The Department Of Visual Arts is thrilled by this gift from the Friends of Cypress Hills Park to support our students,” said David Garneau, Acting Department Head of the Visual Arts Department at the U of R. “The Visual Arts Department is a small but robust comprehensive program that attracts students from the region and around the world. Awards assist students in what can be a costly endeavor. The Department of Visual Arts appreciates this investment in our future visual artists.” 

“Although the U of R doesn't have an astronomy degree, this will help support students who are interested in research astronomy to find out if it is a good match for them, and to use as a springboard toward graduate work in astronomy,” said Samantha Lawler, assistant professor of astronomy with the Faculty of Science. 

“Having this award available to our students will allow them to show their potential in the field of environmental studies and allow them to concentrate on their environmental research instead of worrying about working four different jobs,” said Ulrike Hardenbicker, Department Head of Geography and Environmental Studies and Environmental Studies Program Coordinator. “This enhances the profile of the University and the profile of the department and it also shows that people care about education and the environment.”                                                          

Joan still lives in the Swift Current area but sadly Gerald passed away in 2017. 

“They always wanted to support students and they liked the idea of helping students through awards,” Gartner said. “When you get to that point and you’ve got some money that you want to do something with, why not put it into an award that will make a meaningful difference for many students for years to come?”