Remembering Halvar Jonson

Former provincial representative for Ponoka region passes away, family recollects some fond memories

Halvar Jonson passed away Dec. 2. Jonson is best known for his work as an MLA for the province of Alberta with a career of many accomplishments. A unit at the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury was named after Jonson for his dedication to Alberta health.

To say that Halvar Jonson was involved in Alberta would be an understatement.

The former cabinet minister’s passing Dec. 2 was not unexpected due to struggles with early-onset Alzheimers, however, a look at his life shows a lasting legacy.

Wife Maxine and son Trent spoke with Ponoka News about Halvar, who was heavily involved in community efforts from the start; a precursor to his political career.

“We were married in 1963 and I think it was only two weeks before he started getting involved in what you would call the ATA (Alberta Teachers Association),” explained Maxine.

“In the beginning, he showed talent in the area of negotiation.”

Maxine says his actions and discourse with others were done with integrity.

Looking back at when Halvar started getting involved he was ATA president from 1966 to 1967 Maxine had no idea how far it would take him, although she joked that she should have seen it coming. “Our first date was a political rally.”

Even in her own family, there was political involvement.

“My dad ran four times as a Liberal candidate in Alberta,” she reminisced.

When Maxine and Halvar were first married, the two lived in Edmonton at the time and had little money to their name. Halvar was in his fourth year of university at the University of Alberta, where he eventually earned his Bachelor of Education.

Most residents know of Halvar’s involvement in Ponoka with a variety of projects. At one point, there was a bid to move the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury away from Ponoka and Halvar was a key part of the campaign to keep it. At the time, the units at the hospital were in serious need of improvements said Maxine.

There was some reluctance to get improvements made and it was Maxine who suggested that Halvar bring in then Premier Ralph Klein to tour the building. She suggested Halvar ask Klein if he would be willing to put his mother in to the hospital. “And that was the trigger.”

His name is now part of the hospital, which has a unit called the Halvar Jonson Centre for Brain Injury. The province made the change in recognition for his contribution to healthcare in the province. Halvar ended up becoming a patient at the centre due to the early-onset Alzheimer’s.

“I just think he was committed to the community. To Rimbey, to Ponoka,” said Maxine.

Halvar was also involved in the development of Ponoka’s beautiful river valley trails. A plaque is placed on a rock along the Diamond Willow Trail recognizing Halvar’s contributions to it. After the announcement of Halvar’s passing, Ponoka Secondary Campus placed its flag at half-mast in honour of his life.

Dealing with politics

Life wasn’t always easy with Halvar being involved in politics. Along with the mud-slinging that seems to happen every election, were fierce opponents and a vocal press core. Despite these ups and downs, Trent suggests whether people liked Halvar or not, they respected him.

For those who worked with him, Maxine says there has been a strong showing of support. One instance that caused Maxine to take a moment to pause, was from a lady who takes care of the plants in the Legislature. She posted on a Facebook that Halvar was a kind man who always smiled at her. “I never met her. I never knew who she was.”

One thing that stands out for Maxine, who did not like election time, was his sense of fair play.

“The thing that he did when election was announced, he’d go to everyone who was running against him. He would introduce himself, shake their hand. I think he probably wished them luck! He never criticized the individual,” said Maxine.

Halvar was a man of many hats

First elected to the legislature in 1982, Halvar was appointed as Minister of Education in 1992 and then the Minister of Health in 1996. He was re-elected in 1986, 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2001. These were not easy times for the province, and Halvar, who also served as principal of Ponoka Composite High School from 1980 to 1987, was charged with restructuring Alberta education where large cuts were made.

Halvar served on countless committees over the years and even helped with the planning to develop the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre many years ago. For Maxine, it has never been about status.

“There was a humbleness about Halvar. He never had any status.”

Trent added that Halvar was always the person who knew the names of everyone he worked with, no matter the class or position.

Dealing with Alzheimer’s

As Alzheimer’s started to take its toll on Halvar’s body, changes were needed to ensure he received proper care.

Halvar was at the Centennial Centre as well as at the Northcott Care Centre. “I am very thankful for the care he got here, including Dr. Bunting (the family doctor).”

He always had visitors from outpatients as well, and when Halvar was first diagnosed, Maxine says there were many visits from members of the Ponoka Rising Sun Clubhouse. “Many others avoided him.”

Halvar’s daughter Tamara worked at the Alzheimer’s Society in Edmonton when he was diagnosed and Maxine said the assessment was a challenge for the family as early onset is quite aggressive.

“Our earnestness for this is that they will find a cure for this disease because it’s affecting so many people,” added Maxine.

She has been involved with the Alzheimer’s Coffee Break to support the cause and to provide support for others dealing with the disease in their families.

A funeral service was held Dec. 9 at St. Mary’s Anglican Church while a lunch followed at the Ponoka Legion.