By Angelica Ingram
For more than 20 years, Luke Schell has been a fixture in the downtown of Haliburton Village, and not just as the business owner of a specialty photo and framing shop.
For almost the same length of time he owned his business, Schell was a volunteer on the executive of the Haliburton Business Improvement Area (BIA).
However as Schell embarks on a new chapter, that being retirement, he is also bringing to an end his involvement with the BIA, which includes more then 15 years serving as chair of the executive.
Born in Haliburton, Schell has deep roots in the area, with ancestry that goes back multiple generations. However just after he was born, his family moved north of Sault Ste. Marie, and it was there where he lived until his teenage years, at which point he moved once again to Huntsville. He eventually made his way back to Haliburton when he was in his late teens.
He had a variety of careers throughout his life, but it was his photography skills that opened up opportunities at a local print business, one that he eventually purchased in 1995.
“When I was first bought my business I was invited to join in on a BIA meeting,” said Schell.
At that time, Schell was working long hours and had a young family, so he passed on the invitation but never lost interest.
He joined the volunteer committee in 2000 and served as a member for a few years before being promoted to vice-chair. Then a few years later he became chair of the executive, a position he took over from past chair Bob Park. He spent the next 15-16 years serving in that role.
“It’s not like anything I had ever done before,” said Schell. “But I’ve always been a people person. And that’s what this is.”
Schell’s love for people and Haliburton Village runs deep, and it was that combination that made him a perfect fit as BIA chair. He can think of various accomplishments during his time with the executive, however he points to the people he worked with and their dedication to the downtown as the one that stands out the most.
“One of my proudest achievements is the BIA committee and the cohesiveness of it,” said Schell. “I just feel like it’s this incredible committee where everyone gets along and everyone is interested in the same thing for the right reasons.”
Other BIA accomplishments Schell reflects on include the construction of the Skateboard Park, the downtown Streetscape, multiple successful events and helping to create a beautiful village.
Schell will miss hanging flower baskets and laughing with his committee members around a table, but he still plans on doing some volunteering with the group when he can.
Current BIA vice-chair David Zilstra will miss those lighthearted meetings and the way Schell brought people together.
“He kept things fun and his passion for the downtown was admirable,” says Zilstra. “It’s a committee that works together for the betterment of Haliburton and Luke is a big part of that. What I will miss most about him leaving is working alongside him on projects like hanging flower baskets and fall decorations. He was never afraid to pound the pavement.”
Similar sentiments are shared by other executive members, including Brandon Nimigon.
“Luke’s commitment to the community is something we should all strive for,” said Nimigon. “He’s passionate, dedicated and enthusiastic about everything Haliburton and its future. It’s hard to imagine a BIA meeting without him. He’ll be missed!”
Former BIA Administrator Gail Stelter worked alongside Schell for years at the BIA and reflects on his skills as a leader and the ability to make Haliburton feel like home.
“Luke’s leadership and quiet, sometimes even a little obscure, humour combined to make my years as the BIA administrator both fun and rewarding,” said Stelter. “His vision was clear and his commitment and dedication to the community were always an inspiration. Luke believes in a vibrant downtown and always demonstrated a genuine love for everything Haliburton Highlands. He is a gift to all, and I will miss his welcoming smile and presence in town. I wish him many wonderful life experiences ahead, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him and the other members of the BIA executive. There was no better way to feel at home in Haliburton.”
Mayor Murray Fearrey applauds Schell’s commitment to the BIA and the longevity of his tenure. “It’s one of the volunteer positions that takes a lot of time and advice, and Luke met that challenge,” he said.
Schell credits many people for his successful tenure at the BIA, most importantly his spouse Shelley and his family, which includes two daughters and three wonderful grandchildren. He says their love and support were instrumental in building his business and his passion for the downtown.
Looking ahead, Schell believes he is leaving the BIA in a healthy position, both financially and literally, with a strong nine member committee at the helm. If he had any parting words of wisdom to share to the next incoming chair, it would simply be this, “look after your people.”
“Don’t think that because you’re a leader of committee that it’s all about you,” said Schell. “The whole committee is what will keep the BIA healthy.”
The BIA’s Annual General Meeting is scheduled to take place Thursday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. in Dysart et al council chambers.
Schell’s final committee meeting with the executive took place on January 24th and he admits it was bittersweet.
“There was a couple of times I was feeling misty eyed,” he said. “It’s been incredibly satisfying … everyone around that table is trying to make things better around here for everybody. It’s so uplifting.”