The impact Bill Ohlhausen had on the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) has left an impressive legacy.
A legacy that sees the KIJHL’s Okanagan Division renamed after him.
“This just caps it all as far as I’m concerned,” says Ohlhausen, who this summer was the recipient of B.C. Hockey’s Diamond Stick award for outstanding service to hockey for 10 or more years.
Ohlhausen and his wife Mary began volunteering with the KIJHL in 1995, and continued until 2018. He was president since 2002 and played a key role in growing the KIJHL from 12 to 20 teams, including expanding to the Okanagan, beginning with the Osoyoos Rebels in 1996.
“It feels great to be able to have worked hard to bring the league up to where it was and to be recognized nation-wide as a top junior B league in Canada,” says Ohlhausen, a retired government employee, who also volunteered with minor hockey.
The long-time president says most junior organizations in North America feel that the KIJHL is the best league to develop players.
When he started volunteering, the KIJHL had no stats, no media. He and Mary worked from their home and set up a media program to reach news outlets in B.C. and Alberta. After compiling stats on a 32-column pad, they developed a stats program. As the league grew, so did the number of people involved.
John Surovy is a former secretary/treasurer of the league and says Ohlhausen was easy to work with.
“Mary was his right-hand man,” adds Surovy. “He was very knowledgeable with B.C. Hockey and Hockey Canada rules. That was his life. That was their life.”
Surovy says Ohlhausen was up on all the rules and policy with B.C. Hockey and Hockey Canada.
One of his favourite memories volunteering with Ohlhausen was traveling to Medicine Hat for the 2005 Keystone Cup Western Canadian championship and watching the Osoyoos Storm win the title. He, Ohlhausen and Jim Harrington proudly watched the local team.
Ohlhausen enjoyed seeing the KIJHL expand and kids moving on.
“It’s a stepping stone for them. It kept a lot of the young people involved in the program where there was structure,” he says. “Hopefully they gained some life skills. That’s the way I looked at it.”
Now the Ohlhausens relax, spend time with friends and family, which includes the recent addition of a great granddaughter, as they have a son and two grandsons. They still follow the KIJHL, as Ohlhausen says, “it’s something you can’t walk away from.”
Terry Jones, coach of the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, calls Ohlhausen a great leader for the KIJHL.
“He really did a lot of work to try and build our league to what it has become. He did it as a volunteer. I think that just says so much about Bill,” says Jones. “Really, just the two of them were a dynamic team in our league. Putting in a lot of time and effort. I remember all the years of them receiving faxes of game sheets.”
Jones says renaming the Okanagan Division is a tremendous honour for the Ohlhausen name. Jones recalls Bill always conducting himself in a professional manner, especially while dealing with a lot of personalities, including the Nitehawks, joked Jones.
“In sometimes difficult moments, he was always a man with poise,” says Jones.
The expansion of the league brought more personalities, some from private ownership that combined with community-owned teams such as the Nitehawks.
“I give him a lot of credit. To be a volunteer, and to see through so many years of service is really amazing. You have to have nothing but respect for their efforts.”
KIJHL commissioner Larry Martel says Bill was always a steadying force.
“He was always very calm and collected. Never seemed to get riled,” says Martel, who has known the Ohlhausens for six years. “He was just a steady influence for everybody. It can be a fairly emotional league with the teams and everything that goes around with hockey. Bill never got wrapped up into that. He was always true to the course.”
Martel saw that Bill brought stability.
“He was almost like a father figure,” says Martel.
When talking about the Ohlhausens, Martel doesn’t think Mary earned the credit she deserved.
“She might have been the more emotional side of the two,” he says. “She definitely did a lot of work. She was an amazing contributor to where the league is today.”
The decision to rename the Okanagan Division comes from Martel who is a big believer in supporting alumni. When presented to the board, the decision was unanimous.
“When you are with junior teams, it’s a strong part of your team culture. I think the league is a team,” he says. “We always want to honour the people that got us to where we are. We have done that with the other three divisions. We hadn’t done that with the Okanagan division. He is such a great guy. He would take the shirt off his back for you. Honouring them in this small way, honouring the league’s legacy. I think that is important for the league to not forget who has been there before us. It was just a natural fit.”