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GRANDE-DIGUE – Of the ten most influential people in Francophone minority communities, Ronald Cormier is perhaps the least known. This Acadian from Grande-Digue is among the “2020 vintage” of influencers unveiled in early January by Francopresse. To obtain this recognition, “Pépère Boite à lunch”, his nickname taken from the charity of which he is the founder, was especially popular. For the past five years, the 66-year-old marathoner has used his endurance to raise funds to provide meals to students in the Southeastern region of New Brunswick.
“On January 4, Francopresse unveiled the list of the ten most influential Francophones in minority settings. Alongside Linda Cardinal in particular, or the Acadians Michel Doucet and Xavier Gould, you were on this list. What was your first reaction?
I was really touched, it’s quite an experience. At first, when the reporter contacted me to tell me, I thought it was a joke. I told him to email me because I wanted to check. I was really heartwarming.
The nine other people who were chosen, I knew them from the news. But to be next to Michel Doucet, this great defender of the French language, it does something.
Why did you create this association “Pépère Boite à lunch”, and what is its objective?
I am a member of the Knights of Columbus, and in 2016, I learned that some students arrive in the area in the morning at schools without having had breakfast and sometimes even arrive with an empty lunch box.
When I was preparing for my first marathon in New York, I learned that there was an immediate food need for the children at school in Grande-Digue. So I asked to run with a sweater visible enough to make me notice where the name of the organization was written. Besides that, we launched the fundraising campaign and raised $ 7,000 of money, then once there in New York, foreigners gave me donations of up to $ 750.
Did these fundraising initiatives continue?
Yes ! Even today, there are donations to allow children to have a meal. We even extended the initiative to five schools in the region last year, and currently, we are even proposing to go to ten schools. I must also say that the COVID-19 epidemic has surely played an important role in demand.
What do you mean ?
I recently spoke with the principal of the Grande-Digue school. There is a big increase in young people in need. Parents for multiple causes are financially deprived, and it is unfortunately the children who suffer the consequences.
How do you go about noticing a student who does not have enough to eat during the day?
Teachers usually spend their lunch hours with students, and they’ve been asked to be careful of what’s in the lunchboxes, or if there’s a lack of essential nutrition. If a lack is observed, the school administration communicates with the parents.
Hot dinners and snacks are then given very discreetly so that children in need are not singled out. We don’t want this youngster to be pointed out with problems.
Do you think that in addition to COVID-19, there are economic conditions conducive to these shortages?
Let’s say that in 2021, that shouldn’t be a question in Canada, such a rich country. It is a problem that is global and national. However, there is not enough pressure on politicians on the subject. It needs to be discussed in the education departments. Unfortunately, our policies do not try to find solutions.
To raise money, you use your legs as a marathon runner. But why the passion for marathons?
(Laughs). I bought my first pair of espadrilles when I was 58. My daughter asked me to join a running club. So I started running at the end of the year when I was 58 and then did my first marathon in Fredericton at 61. I finished it in 3 hours and 46 minutes. This performance allowed me to qualify for the Boston Marathon, in my age category, while also raising funds.
How are your training with COVID-19 going?
It’s difficult ! When I am currently running with people from my club, I am left behind, and I have to wear the mask. Sunday morning, I ran 17 kilometers with the mask, but it raises my pulse, and takes too much energy. To prepare for a marathon, however, you have to run 1,200 kilometers over at least four months. So you have to train as much as possible.
I am aiming for the next Boston marathon in the fall of 2021. It is in any case to this date that it was postponed. This would be my fourth Boston Marathon in a row. I would like to go again under four hours.
How do you manage to be identifiable while shopping, and get funds?
It is mainly thanks to my Facebook page, things are going very well, but there are also funeral homes in the region where we ask to make donations to “Pépère Boite à lunch”. Local newspapers also help a lot. The radios are also very receptive to our cause.
One day, for example, a tall bearded brunette arrived at my door. I was afraid to bring him in. He told me he wanted to donate, and took $ 100 straight out of his wallet. These kinds of things particularly touch me.
You are now retired. Did your career path reflect such a commitment?
Not really. I was first a jeweler, then I had a stroke in 2007 which forced me to be arrested for 18 months. The doctor asked me to change my life, otherwise I might quickly find myself horizontal. I decided to change my life and went back to school to work in civil technology. Sometimes bad luck in life can be luck.
We cannot do this interview without mentioning your Acadian identity. What does it represent for you?
This is of course very important. When I run my marathons, I do it with two flags on the jersey, the Canadian flag, and the Acadian flag.
In fact, I was a supporter of Acadian law much more in my second part of life. Previously, I was a little more ignorant of this subject, but I finally woke up to champion the cause of our ancestors.
I am married to one of Louis Robichaud’s nieces [premier ministre du Nouveau-Brunswick de 1960 à 1970]. After 45 years of marriage, it is impossible for me to forget the rights of Acadians. It was a very politicized family, with a great knowledge of Acadian values and law.
This Francophonie in Acadia, how is it evolving?
I am happy that great Acadians are fighting to continue our rights. If we don’t fight for our rights, we cannot be treated like the others. It is a constant struggle, especially with the recent change of government. The fight is getting harder and harder, and our rights must be preserved and that we be treated like our English-speaking colleagues.
Finally, tell us a bit about this village of Grande-Digue, where you live?
I love this question! I come from Sainte-Marie-de-Kent, which is a village with a similar mentality. I am just disappointed to find that Acadian history in schools is not taught enough today. We survived here in Acadia, just like our cousins in Louisiana, and in Quebec. We, Francophones, are a people who have not given up!
RONALD CORMIER’S KEY DATES:
1954: Born in Sainte-Marie-de-Kent (New Brunswick)
1972: Graduated from Clément-Cormier High School
2007: Victim of a stroke
2014 : To retire
2016: Foundation of the Pépère Boite à lunch organization, which will be designated a charitable organization by the Canada Revenue Agency in 2020
2021: Named by Francopresse among the ten most influential people in the Francophonie outside Quebec
Every weekend, ONFR + meets an actor on Francophone or political issues in Ontario and Canada.