Bob Neufeld is being remembered as a teacher, a Grande Prairie hockey legend, and a pillar of the Grande Prairie community. He passed away December 2nd at the age of 93.
Neufeld continuously gave back to the community as a high school physical education teacher, where he developed an outdoor education program that would be used by teachers across the province. He was also a hockey player and coach, a host and guardian of the Two Lakes Recreation Area, and a ski instructor, among many other community involvements.
Outside four years of post-secondary education at the University of Alberta and two years teaching in Germany for the Canadian Armed Forces, Neufeld spent most of his life in the Grande Prairie region. From an early age, hockey was the main part of Neufeld’s life, spending his spare time on the ice. In his teens, he was the “town crier” who would wear a sandwich board and ring a bell while walking up and down Grande Prairie’s main street promoting the upcoming game for the hometown team. He later graduated to “rink rat” scraping the ice in between periods and being a goal judge.
As a player he is described as unselfish with what others call “hockey sense”, giving him the ability to make clever plays on the ice and earning him a tryout with the Edmonton Athletic Club, one of Canada’s premier junior hockey teams at the time. Instead of following a career hockey path, Neufeld returned to Grande Prairie and played senior hockey while he finished school before moving on to the University of Alberta where he earned his Bachelor of Education and played for the U of A Golden Bears. After graduating from university he returned home as playing coach of the Grande Prairie Athletics, where he made the move on ice from playing left wing forward to defence playing for the Grande Prairie team in the ’50s and ’60s.
When Neufeld returned to Grande Prairie to start his teaching career he taught P.E. at the Grande Prairie High School, later the Grande Prairie Composite High School, where he spent the next 30 years. In that time, Neufeld made an impact provincially with programs he developed. He organized the High School Hockey League and developed the High School Hockey Curriculum when Grande Prairie didn’t have a junior hockey team and minor hockey was just starting in the community. The curriculum Neufeld developed was used throughout the province. He also developed an outdoor education curriculum that was adopted province-wide.
In 1963, Neufeld created Camp Wapiti. His love for the outdoors, youth education, and his faith was a large part of the summer camp’s creation, which has run almost every summer since its opening. For almost 59 years the camp has allowed youth to learn more about nature and the outdoor world they live in.
His enthusiasm for nature and the outdoors played a role in Neufeld’s post-retirement life. Neufeld was the host and guardian of the Two Lakes Provincial Recreation Area. He was known by those who visited the area as Ranger Bob. He also was the driving force in creating the Wild Kakwa Society and focused on securing protective status for the region. After he retired he continued his passion for teaching and combined it with his love for the outdoors by volunteering at Nitehawk Year-Round Adventure Park providing ski lessons for various ages.
Over his lifetime the Grande Prairie legend received several awards, including the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers in 2005, the Alberta Commercial Travelers Sportsman of the Year in 1968, and the Honor Medallion presented by the Canadian Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation in 1978. He was a pillar in the Grande Prairie faith community having attended the McLaurin Baptist Church his entire life.