Technical Corner

Bill Vass - Mr. Refrigeration

May 2022

Past ORFA President, Bill Vass was ORFA’s first full-term president and a true ambassador of the organization. Anyone who has had the privilege to meet Bill, or be instructed by him, has had their lives changed for the better – this includes me. Bill was always eager to tell people he was from Thunder Bay. He was one of the first from the north (west) to assume a provincial role of leadership. One that was inherited during some turbulent transitional times of the Association as it transitioned from the Ontario Arenas Association to the ORFA. We could not have searched out a better leader for this task. Bill has to be one of the most calm, relaxed people in our industry – ever. Rarely was he flustered and if he was, he kept it under control. Now retired, Bill was a former manager at the Fort William Gardens in the City of Thunder Bay; which was the largest venue in the region. Doug Poulin was part of Bill’s team. Doug was in charge of the refrigeration plant and was a no-nonsense, old-school practitioner that learned to respect Bill’s ability to manage the operation. Doug was instructing Basic Refrigeration for the Association and as a need for new instructors was required, Doug tapped Bill to mentor for the role. It was a perfect match of two complete opposites that endures today.

I joined the Association as a board member as Bill was winding down his Presidency and was turning the gavel over to Kris Kullas from Timmins. I watched as Bill moved the Board through the three days of meetings – yes, 3-full days. The agenda would arrive by courier, no email, assembled by Executive Director, John Milton who purged little information – every correspondence or tid-bit impacting the industry was included. The Board would decide what they were passionate about, and the discussion would be on. It was not uncommon for all meals to be eaten at the Board table as we met late into the evenings. Bill would need to try and find some sense of direction that might make it into the minutes. Having a strategic plan in today’s operations has simplified the way we conduct business but back then, it was all put in the grinder to figure out what we should be focused on. Bill’s transition to Past-President was also an interesting journey to watch. Bill stepped away from the presidents Chair and quietly assumed the role of invited advisor at the table. He only offered opinion if called upon for advice or council. Even then, it was short, to the point and open ended. Not sure if it was respect to the new President or the wisdom of knowing if you showed interest, you got a task; probably a balance of both.

Bill was at the helm when the concept by the provincial recreation portfolio of that time decided that all sports and recreation organizations should be under one roof to avoid duplication of services and streamline funding opportunities. As the Association was approached by those tasked in making this concept a reality, it was Bill who delivered the message that the ORFA would remain outside the circle and function as a standalone organization. He along with the board of the time realized that this would most likely limit provincial funding opportunities which in fact caused the Association to be more proactive in its operational matters. Years later, when I became President, I was invited by the Minister’s lead support person to dinner, who asked if “I could explain how was it that ORFA was the only recreation organization that was not at their door for support”? The decision of the board of the day under Bill's leadership helped put ORFA on solid financial ground that we have built on each and every operating budget.

Most members would know Bill from their Basic Refrigeration class and his “black bag of death” which held the final course examinations. Bill was another old school practitioner – he was always impeccably dressed and groomed. The only real thing that could panic Bill was not finding an iron when he checked into his motel room before a course. Bill undertook the role of Chair for the ORFA Refrigeration Committee which brought together all BR instructors to update course materials and content, or what I would refer to as battle of the refrigeration alpha dogs. Having a balance of licensed refrigeration contractors and practitioners was at times like oil and water – they sure did not mix easily together. The growth of technical information in the Basic Refrigeration course grew to well beyond being “basic” refrigeration. Bill tried to channel the passion of all who were involved into some form of manageable format. Again, there may have been a select few who could have accomplished this role.

Bill put away his laser pointer for the last time as the pandemic grasped the world and instructing was more difficult and hazardous health wise. In the end Bill was recognized by the ORFA for his instructional contribution having taught Basic Refrigeration for 25 years to over 3,000 recreation facility professionals in Canada and the United States. Bill and his wife Cathy are packing their bags to head to the U.S. Ice Rink Association annual training event in Buffalo in May for one last time – not as an instructor, but to be recognized for his time assisting USIRA in their refrigeration educational efforts. Congratulations Bill,  well deserved! 

Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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