The Kaehn Family

Art Kaehn and his wife Leslie believe that bigger does not necessarily equal better when it comes to university education. Both attended smaller schools in their post-secondary years and felt they wanted the same for their children.

Back in the late 1980’s, when they heard about the push to get a university for the North, they immediately saw the advantage it could have for their children’s future.

“We were very fortunate to have gone to a small university, similar to UNBC,” says Art. “Others before us had made the sacrifices to have a full-time university in our community and of course when this opportunity came up it just made a lot of sense.”

From left, Art Kaehn, his daughters Sarah and Emily, and wife Leslie

Leslie remembers the days of UNBC’s foundation as exciting times. In 1987 the Interior University Society was incorporated, an organization that sought to drum up support for what would eventually become UNBC. The IUS commissioned a feasibility study, collected endorsements from public bodies and began a petition that people could sign for a $5-dollar fee. In the end 16,000 gave their signatures and money to support a Northern university, and the Kaehns were among t hem.

Leslie knew the price of not having a university nearby. Her parents had to move their family from Kitimat in the 1960s so their children could get an education.

“So many people supported it,” she says. “No one would have ever thought that it was going to take off like this. Five dollars was pretty minimal to contribute to see the end result as it is today.”

“It was a very exciting and momentous time for the North,” adds Art. “It was a game changer for the North altogether. It opened huge opportunities. Up to that point we were a very resource based community. UNBC allowed us to develop a knowledge base community.”

The Kaehns had two young daughters at the time, Sarah and Emily. Art says their motivation for signing the petition was so their daughters wouldn’t be forced to leave Northern BC for education, and they didn’t. Both Sarah and Emily became UNBC students.

“It was an amazing time,” says Leslie. “The community pulled together to ensure the people of the North had post-secondary education. That destination came to fruition, and our kids have benefited from it, both educationally and through athletics.”

Emily joined UNBC’s Timberwolves basketball team, and Leslie, a former university basketball player herself, enjoyed seeing her daughter constantly improve, eventually helping her team reach the national championships in Calgary. Leslie says it would have been harder to see Emily play if she had gone away for school. Timberwolves games became a bonding activity for the family and Leslie says it was a thrill to see the community support the team.

“That was really very exciting, and there were quite a few fans,” she says. “There are a couple of Wolf Club members, they go to just about every game, whether it’s away or at home. Sure enough they were there at the national finals. It was nice to see people in the community, people who don’t really have kids in the school but still support the basketball program. I think that was a big highlight for the team.”

For Sarah, the eldest, it was a great advantage to attend university just 45 minutes away from her hometown of Hixon. While she stayed in residence in Prince George, she came home for holidays, and whenever she needed family support.

“I was able to head home for all the long weekends, Christmas holidays, and just whenever I needed a break,” Sarah says. “It was a really great place to go and have that support and be able to tell them what’s going on, getting their feedback. It definitely meant the world.”

She was also able to maintain a relationship with her high school boyfriend, who also attended UNBC and eventually became her husband. Now that they have two young sons, Sarah says she’d like to see them become UNBC alumni as well.

“I definitely value that they’ll be able to do that, and be able to stay at home with us, because we live in Prince George, and we know how much the savings will be if they do that,” she says.

Two generations of the Kaehn family have become part of UNBC, and the next generation may join them as the university looks forward to another 25 years.  UNBC started as a community movement and over the years families like the Kaehns have become part of a UNBC community. 

“It keeps it grounded. It keeps it focused on the community around it,” says Art. “Getting back to community is a huge thing for our family and the families my wife and I were raised in. it’s been great being associated with a university with a small-town feeling and all those kind of values we treasure as a family.”

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