Reflections of Ponoka: For the love of community and clocks

The bright and comfortable retirement home of Gene and Marilyn Caouette over looks the tranquil Centennial Pond in Lucas Heights, and is delightfully decorated with countless photos, mementos and memories of cherished times and events spent with family and friends for close to 50 active years in Ponoka.

Gene and Marilyn Caouette poise beside a magnificent metal gizmo that Gene fondly calls a ‘Rube Goldberg’

The bright and comfortable retirement home of Gene and Marilyn Caouette over looks the tranquil Centennial Pond in Lucas Heights, and is delightfully decorated with countless photos, mementos and memories of cherished times and events spent with family and friends for close to 50 active years in Ponoka.

Another unique treasure found just past the welcome front doormat of their always-hospitable home is the amazing presence of over 200 clocks. These magnificent working time-pieces are intricate models of our past and present, they come in all sizes and shapes, each are made of finely polished materials, and feature their own exquisite lettering, design, movement, and musical time chimes. The oldest clock in Gene’s wonderful collection is classic weight driven model dating back to the 16th century.

This great display of the march of time through the years is also a tribute to the skills and craftsmanship of Gene Caouette, a very likeable gentleman who dedicated over 30 years to a community business and keen customer service venture as a jeweller and a master of watch and clock repairs. One can spend hours looking at every type of clock imaginable in Gene’s meticulous collection, including…. cuckoo clocks, digital, alarm, atomic, grand-father, electrical, spring driven, mechanical, weight driven, clock radios, a table that is a clock, as well as a few unbelievable surprises thrown in. Needless to say it is a pleasant experience joining Gene and Marilyn for coffee, but it is an even greater treat to pause and watch and listen to the magic when all those clocks strike the hour or half hour in every corner of the house.

It was a tragic fire that brought Gene Caouette to Ponoka in August of 1959, where he worked for O.T. Lyons’ Jewellery at 5017-50th Avenue while the store he was employed at in Edmonton was being repaired. Gene worked here for three years, opened a jewellery shop in Legal for a short time, but had become so impressed with Ponoka that he decided to establish his own business in this community. Gene’s Jewellery was officially opened on May 15, 1963 at 5023-50th Avenue (Chipman) in a building owned by Jim Trahan.

A chance meeting while going in opposite directions on the Banff Gondola chairlift would spark the earlier romance of Gene Caouette and Marilyn Schultz of Red Deer Lake, and the happy couple were married on June 17, 1961. Marilyn worked at the Alberta Hospital for a short time, and then joined her husband in organizing the new store. Together, with the support of a very dedicated staff they operated Gene’s Jewellery for over 30 years, while raising a family of three girls along the way. The Caouettes were also very active in all facets of this friendly community that they have always loved, and when Marilyn wasn’t playing and organizing shenanigans with the ladies’ fastball team that Gene sponsored for many years, they also enjoyed traveling, camping, and the ongoing fellowship of family and friends.

As well as staying active, Gene also enjoys tinkering in his immaculate downstairs workshop, surrounded by the intricate tools that are required to repair and clean the many antique clocks that are brought to him by friends and customers from far and wide. He loves to be surrounded by these ticking treasures and all sorts of various gizmos, as well as enjoying the opportunity to maintain his unique skills in the exclusive trade of clock repairs, where experts are now few and far between.

“I don’t fix watches anymore, simply because in 1992 there were some very drastic changes, especially in the watch industry,” Gene explained. “We are now in the buy a $10 watch society, where when it doesn’t work you can throw it away and buy a new one. “On the other hand we can still go out and purchase a $50,000 Patek Felipe, which is the Rolls Royce of wrist watches.”

Gene and Marilyn recalled some of the many highlights of over 30 years of business along Chipman Avenue in grand old downtown Ponoka.

*In the early days you could purchase a 10-karat gold wedding ring set for $6.50, and a complete overhaul on your watch was around $3.

*Among Gene and Marilyn’s fondest memories is a cherished engagement book, which contains photos of all the happy couples they sold rings to over three decades. They also have colourful samples of the fancy wrapping paper and ribbons that they used to dress up those hundreds of sparkling gifts that they sold.

*Unfortunately Gene’s Jewellery was not always about good times, as they were robbed once to the tune of $27,000, but the reliable town police recovered the loot and the culprits. The front of the store was also run into twice by wayward vehicles scooting along Chipman Avenue.

*Gene, who learned his trade and craftsmanship skills from his watchmaker uncle and cousins, later in his career would receive a Jeweller of the Year Award in 1980-81, as well as receiving the coveted appointment as a Canadian Clock Museum repairperson.

*The Caouettes once received a personal invitation from Hollywood television icon Ed Sullivan to attend a glitzy Boliva dealership show in California, but graciously declined.

They also paid tribute to their dedicated and congenial staff from May 1963 to September 1992; including: Marion Raugust, Linda Lauer, Dorothy Gardner, Gerda Nielsen, Penny and Wendy Schultz, Lylajean Nielsen, Marguerite Baumback, Debbie Cuell, Joan and Janet Staldecker, Connie Turner, Gwena Mabbott, Yvonne Jones, Jacquie-Lorie and Michelle Caouette, Teresa Saley, Krystal Webster, Maren MacNeill, Greta Rimmer, Brenda Rufiange; and of course their thousands of faithful customers.

Gene, 73, and Marilyn, 67 continue to enjoy visiting with family and friends, as well as sharing the great memories of life in Ponoka. Their daughter Jacqueline is married to Marty Hendrickson and they have one daughter Mariah, daughter Lorie is married to Dave Anderson, and daughter Michelle is a Professional Photographer and lives in Calgary with her husband John Ramberg. We wish Gene and Marilyn Caouette many more happy years of retirement and tinkering.

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