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"Your Spirit Lives Within Our Souls Forever"
BJ Bodnar, the son and only child of Ken and Dr. Betty Ann (Balon) Bodnar, passed on to eternal peace on May 28, 2014 leaving his parents with the deepest love and profound grief. BJ was gifted to us on July 18, 1989 for 24+ years of sharing an incredible journey together. His life was rooted deeply in the prairies on acreages, farms and lakes that helped BJ develop a respect for nature, animals and a passion for the environment that served as the foundation for his strong sense of purpose, direction and cause in life. BJ was an old soul who lived with intensity and a tireless desire and commitment to make a difference by solving problems facing humanity and the environment. He led a complex, selfless life of devotion to activities that helped and engaged others to find solutions to issues and ideas to inspire future change. BJ dedicated his life to creating a movement of people changing their attitudes and lives toward the living things he cared about, loved so deeply and fought to sustain.
From birth, BJ found an immediate connection to everyone he met, radiating a smile, positive energy and a special bond that attracted people throughout his life. His communication skills developed early, along with amazing insights, knowledge and abilities that everyone commented were always decades beyond his years. Burying a little bird, feeding rabbits and sheep, nurturing new puppies, kittens and a colt, picking berries, planting gardens and caring for elderly and special-needs people built empathy and compassion that BJ would extend to every person and living thing. Books, music, soccer, t-ball, beavers, swimming, artwork, preschool, church, pets, farming, camping, weather and travelling shaped BJ's early interests. After winning the Regional Heritage Fair at age 9, BJ's focus quickly expanded beyond agriculture and sports to extensive reading, writing, speaking, presenting and awakening others on committees and at meetings to "the most influential and threatening issue facing our race and planet, climate change." BJ declared, "as a society we need to change socially, politically, idealistically and practically to avoid consequences that will undermine our own futures and the future of our planet. The decisions, choices and political policies that are being developed and implemented today will dictate the kind of future and the environmental state that our future generations will inherit." BJ found this cause from within and displayed the courage to dedicate one half of his short life to this issue. (Google BJ/BobbyJo Bodnar).
Being bright with an endearing personality, BJ treasured his mind, memory and body completely, though he felt constantly flooded with thoughts and seldom peace. BJ also lived with continuous physical pain in his thoracic spine, requiring hours of daily exercise to keep his joints functioning with relief. He also possessed an unusually great degree of empathy internalizing and feeling the same hurt of other people, animals or living things he was close to. Sitting for any length of time was extremely difficult and few people were ever aware of this condition or the daily challenges he experienced, especially as a student. Fitness with absolute respect for the health of his body was one of the few areas BJ honoured time for himself. BJ's life as a 14–17 year old student in an advanced high school program maintaining a mid-90 average was demanding, given his back discomfort and simultaneous global pursuits. He played goal in hockey for 10 years through university, was a member of the Saskatoon Scorpions Select Field Lacrosse Team for 6 years, winning Provincial Gold three times, National Silver twice, and competing in Vail, Colorado and Sonoma State University in San Francisco, while also coaching youth teams for 2 years. BJ played basketball for 2 years, was part of the Cross Country Track Club, winning City Finals in '06, and a member of the outdoor education and canoe club, adding kayaking for fitness and exploration of nature. After winning the drama award in grade 10, elocution and debate also became a focus. BJ held Gold in Provincial Team Debate competitions, received the A.E. Leslie 1st Place Speaker Provincially, placed 1st For Best Overall Delegation in Provincial Model United Nations, 1st in Model Youth Parliament and his team won the Saskatchewan Envirothon competition. BJ was grade 12 SRC rep, co-chair of Charity and on several committees, and was selected to Encounters With Canada in grade 12 at the Terry Fox Foundation. BJ was chosen co- valedictorian, an opportunity he used to inspire graduates and thousands of guests to value the difference their own life changes could make in society.
With recognition of BJ's mature talents and his indescribable, unique ability to captivate audiences as a person and speaker, BJ was selected at 14 as the youngest ever member of Saskatchewan's Provincial Youth Advisory Committee to advise provincial cabinet. This position initiated a myriad of broad environmental activities. BJ presented at Saskatchewan's Green Environmental Forums in all 5 cities, and was invited to be keynote speaker at the Provincial Launch of Saskatchewan's Green Strategy with then Premier Lorne Calvert. He was the youngest delegate to present at the Centennial Summit to shape the future of Saskatchewan; he received the Centennial Volunteerism Commemorative Award, was involved in the Premier's Gathering of Future Leaders, a member of the Provincial Education for Sustainable Development by 16, co-founded the Saskatchewan Youth Project Awards, was a founding member of the Centennial Legacy Trust Fund, was honoured to be Youth Ambassador to Sask. Energy's Youth Enviro-Action Symposium with Al Gore, and to present to cabinet and High School Youth Centennial Engagement Symposiums for many years, always amazing CBC, CTV and newspaper reporters with his influential talents. BJ did not receive any school course credit for hundreds of days of giving, only optimism and hope that he could bring about much needed change.
BJ valued every opportunity to try and make a difference. In 2006 he was chosen to represent Canada at the United Nations World Urban Youth Forum and Forum on Sustainability at 16, helping to formulate an international framework for climate policy. In 2009 at 19, he was again selected as an official delegate from Canada to the 15th Annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen. BJ saw this as, "a defining event in political, environmental and human history, as decisions and outcomes from the 2-week proceedings would have the capacity to shape global emission reductions and mitigate climate change strategies for decades to come." BJ's contributions were positive, constructive and influential in attempting to procure political will, yet he was most frustrated with several of Canada's outcomes. In this same time period, BJ conducted several research expeditions in some of the most remote places on the planet, including the Canadian High Arctic, The Polar Regions of Siberia, the Tierra Del Fuego Mountains and Antarctica. In 2009 he set an unofficial record as the youngest person to visit every polar region on earth. Returning from the Antarctic, BJ declared the Canadian High Arctic and Russian Arctic to be two of the most remote and challenging, but serene landscapes on earth. Being at the Ukrainian Antarctic Center for meteorology and scientific research, the Vernadsky Research Station on Galindez Island, was a memorable experience. After each expedition, still a student, himself, BJ made time to do speaking tours for elementary/high schools across Canada to inspire action. Students in Canadian provinces studying from the new science publication by McGraw-Hill Ryerson, ON Science 10, are able to read BJ's environmental story profiled in the text feature, Making a Difference on Climate Change.
BJ's dedicated work was recognized when Earth Day Canada awarded him the National Environmental Achievement Award and Scholarship presented by Dr. Suzuki OCC in 2007, along with an expedition to the Arctic for International Polar Year after he had received the Canadian Western Region Toyota Earth Day Scholarship. BJ received a National Millennium Scholarship for 4 years of university by Lt. Governor General Gordon Barnhart. Then Premier Lorne Calvert and Royal Highness Princess Anne awarded him one of five inaugural Saskatchewan Youth Awards. BJ was a National Weston Loran Finalist of the Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation and National Finalist for TD Canada Trust Community Award. He received the Remax Western Canadian Leadership Scholarship and an Honourable National Terry Fox Humanitarian Award. In 2008 at 18, BJ was humbled to receive recognition in the presence of Governor General Michaelle Jean as one of Canada's Top 20 Under the Age of 20. Youth in Motion also awarded BJ with a Canadian Environmental Leadership Impact Award from among the Top 20 recipients. Following, BJ contributed to Lt. Governor General Gordon Barnhart's Saskatchewan Leadership Forums each year. BJ carried the Olympic Torch, holding history in his hands, and more importantly chose to remain at City Hall in Prince Albert, SK as the only torch-bearing person to stay for hours in the cold, to share with and enable families to hold his torch for their own picture keepsakes.
BJ was predeceased by his farm uncle, Murray Potratz, his soul mate cousin-like- sister, Katie Potratz, and his very special baba, Anne Balon, all whom he honoured with eulogies and has now joined in eternal peace. BJ will be missed by grandparents, Mike and Toni Bodnar, his aunts, uncles and cousins, of the Bodnar, Balon, Potratz and Bergen families and Eva Miller who loved BJ as a grandson. BJ's pet dogs Dexter and Keesha, his horses Phoenix and Midnight, donkeys Bell and Petunia also greatly miss their beloved BJ. Thousands of friends who treasured BJ beyond words for embracing them as his extended family are stricken with grief and loss. Our love goes to all who shared BJ's life in Martensville, Wakaw, Candle and Emma Lakes, Saskatoon and Casa Rio, at his formal education at Nutana Creative Preschool, Dr. J.G. Egnatoff and Wakaw, Caswell (Program for Academically Talented) and Walter Murray Collegiate (Advanced System Program), the University of Saskatchewan and universities around the world. All who became BJ's family of friends from committees, conferences and forums, to environmental, political, research, athletic, diesel and business associations, to the media, Top 20 Under 20, National Millenium and Earth Day Families across Canada, Students on Ice families around the world, to BJ's dedicated coaches,mentors, teachers and people of all cultures, religions and ages he befriended while travelling the world will miss him. Those who taught and learned with and from BJ, creating lasting impressions in one another's lives, will miss the special feelings experienced when being with BJ and will cherish many wonderful memories of their time together.
BJ saw, "Our souls in the midst of an incredible struggle between the manufactured identity of our society and the true nature of life which can only come from acknowledging the deeper shared meaning of being alive as a part of the natural world." He, "wanted to help people see that their true path to peace in life is to love other living things, love the beauty of the natural/free things around them, and to learn to embrace both their potential and insignificance in life at the same time… a humbling thing to do. Being alive is not a uniquely human one to experience… to breathe fresh air, to wake up to a sunrise, to feel pain and love and sadness and peace… these things make life beautiful and valuable for all living things and people are in no way more entitled to owning the significance of them." The documentary Fire and Ashes – The BJ Bodnar Story - will be completed to honour these beliefs and the true nature of BJ's path in life. BJ's book will be completed and published. Through both we will "feel how fully and openly (I) lived, seeing parts of the world most people will never get the chance to, and doing things that exist in most peoples' dreams." We also hope to establish a memorial monument as part of a modern day pilgrimage to Grey Owl's Cabin at Lake Ajeewan with permission from National Parks Canada to honour BJ and this historical site that ignited his legacy while continuing to share his teachings with future generations.
BJ would want the world to remember him as he was. His true personality was to have fun, make people laugh and be happy. He tried to avoid complicated emotional matters that weigh one down in trying to influence masses of people. BJ taught us that, "all the answers to life's questions exist in nature and can be found by observing other living things… In wilderness lies the terrifying beauty of all that it means to be alive… to resist fragility, to survive without apology, and to forge an existence in a magnificently untamed universe… In wilderness, we find the centre of our soul, the heartbeat of our spirit." BJ left us having given and received a tremendous amount of love. While his life was not as long as we all wished and hoped it would be, BJ felt it was complete. When we miss BJ we need only to look to the things he loved and he will be there. BJ's "soul will live in every waterfall, in the deepest parts of the oldest forests, in the eyes of a newborn puppy, in the breath of a Mustang galloping in an open field and most of all his soul will exist in the heart of anyone who fights to save and protect the same things he loved and cared about." Each day when we experience nature and the beauty of life, love an animal, do something to respect our environment, or watch the power of a wolf or fire, we will be remembering BJ. We promised BJ that we would continue to carry his torch with all of your help, so that the flame of his life mission would continue to burn brightly. The potential inside each of us to do what BJ taught us, has the greatest power to ignite the future changes that his life represented while honouring his legacy.
Please join A Memorial Celebration of BJ's life on Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. at Elim Church, 419 Slimmon Road in Saskatoon
followed by a time of sharing in food and fellowship. Thank you for sharing on legacy.com or Park Funeral Chapel. Donations in memory of BJ
may be sent directly to wildlife rehabilitation programs in your own province. Entrusted to James Werezak of Park Funeral Chapel 306 244-2103.
Published in The Saskatoon StarPhoenix on June 21, 2014