Former Woolwich mayor Bill Strauss is one of this year’s recipients of regional council’s Jack Young Civic Award, recognizing his years of public service.
He was one of four people named at a special ceremony last week.
“It was an awesome, awesome experience for me. I’m so thankful for it,” said Strauss of the December 13 honour.
The civic award, named after the first chairman of the Region of Waterloo, is considered region’s highest honour. It goes out to individuals “who best exemplifies the high standards of political and civic life exhibited by Jack A. Young.”
“I think the group felt that Bill had put a lot of effort and personal time into supporting the community through his political involvement, both in Wellesley and in Woolwich township,” said regional Chair Ken Seiling.
“I think Bill was representative of a sort of quote and unquote folksy style of politician, who’s heart was always in the right place. [He] always felt he had a duty to represent the people that he served and I think took his work seriously,” he added.
Strauss served as a councillor for the Township of Wellesley from 1969 to 1974, and then councillor for Woolwich from 1985 to 1994. In 1997, he was elected as mayor of Woolwich, a position he held until 2010. During his 13 years as mayor, Strauss advocated the interests of the township at the region.
“Well, I tell you, I enjoyed everything about being in [politics]. I had good councils to work with, I had good staff to work with … I was very happy to serve the township that I was born in, raised in, worked in,” said Strauss.
Fittingly enough, the former Woolwich mayor was nominated by the current mayor Sandy Shantz, who has in some sense taken up Strauss’ mantle.
“I think that Bill was so very involved in everything in the community. I mean, I think he served on every committee that there ever was,” said Shantz with a laugh, adding, “That’s a little bit of an exaggeration.”
Only a little bit, because even after coming to the end of his term in public office in 2010, Strauss has maintained his commitment to bettering the community.
He just recently completed a six-year term as the chair of the Elmira Legion poppy campaign, which in previous years raised more than $20,000. Strauss also completed six years on the board of Elmira District Community Living, which provides homes to people with intellectual disabilities in the community. He served for several years at the Waterloo Regional Housing, and still sits on the Lake Erie Region Source Protection Committee.
“Right now I’m just resting, relaxing. I had a serious operation in October, but I’ve come through it and everything is in real good shape,” he said positively.
As a recipient of the Jack Young Civic Award, Strauss has the distinction of being named after the formative politician in the region. In 1972, Young was appointed by the province as the first regional chair, and charged with establishing the new Regional Municipality of Waterloo. That meant pulling in the disparate interest of rural and city communities into a single, working whole. Young passed away in 1999 at the age of 80, but his legacy lives on today.
“I knew Jack Young, well, quite seriously because as township councillor, we were involved with all the meetings of what was going to go into the new system,” said Strauss. “He got the region set up, let’s face it.
“I was on regional council when the region started giving this award out, and I never dreamed at that time that I’d be receiving one,” he added. “It’s a real honour.”
Strauss was born and raised in St. Jacobs, and lived much of his life in the region. He is a father of five, and a grandfather now to seven. In between raising children and tending to his constituents, Strauss also operated three businesses.
“My whole life has been blessed with good people working with me and for me, and my family supported me whole-heartedly. I have a lot of things to look at that we accomplished while out there as mayor and council,” he said.
The other recipients of this year’s Jack Young Award were former regional councillors Carl Zehr and Jane Brewer (posthumously), and retired regional police chief Larry Gravill.
Zehr was a representative of the city of Kitchener, becoming its longest serving mayor; after a lengthy political career, he announced in 2014 he would not seek another term. Brewer, who passed away this August, had acted on the regional council for 32 years. She was elected mayor of Cambridge in 1988, and continued to work for the residents of Cambridge until 2014 at age 90. Gravill was police chief from 1992 until his retirement in 2007.