CORNER BROOK Watson Budden doesn’t think he’s any different than anyone else.
“I’m not popular,” said Budden, who will turn 96 this coming November.
But some people out there would disagree, and the proof came last week when it was announced that Budden, who spent most of his life living in Sop’s Arm, had been selected to receive a Seniors of Distinction Award.
He is among five seniors in the province who will be presented with awards in St. John’s on Oct. 2. The provincial government award program was launched in 2009 and is an initiative of the Provincial Healthy Aging Policy Framework.
Budden, who now lives in Corner Brook with the youngest of his nine children, Patricia Morrissey, earned the award primarily for his contribution to health care on the west coast.
The “Snowshoe Man,” as he is fondly known, has been making and selling miniature snowshoes for many years.
Budden’s father taught him to make full-size snowshoes as a young boy. In the 1980s he started making the miniature replicas. The first ones were sold as a fundraiser to help buy new siding for the church in Sop’s Arm.
At the time Budden had a sawmill and his wife Ethelyn, who died in 2006, had a store. Between them they raised $1,600 for the siding project.
A few years later Mrs. Budden started undergoing dialysis at Western Memorial Regional Hospital. To say thanks for the care she received, Mrs. Budden asked her husband to make some snowshoes for the doctors and nurses on the dialysis unit.
“I made 37 pair (to) give to the nurses and doctors,” said Budden.
That year the staff used their snowshoes to decorate a Christmas tree, which won a prize for best decorated tree. Budden laughs when he said they won for two or three years in a row with his snowshoes.
After that he decided he was going to make more snowshoes and sell them to raise money for the Western Regional Hospital Foundation. Always a determined and resourceful man, he paid no heed to those who said it wouldn’t work.
“It did work,” he said with conviction in his voice. “Man, they went over big.”
That was in February 2003 and since then he has raised a total of $24,242.55 for the foundation. About a month ago he presented the latest $500.
Each year the foundation uses the money donated by Budden to support its annual case for support. The foundation will announce its 2013-2014 case for support on Wednesday.
Budden sells the snowshoes for $5 a pair, but he admits some have gone for less as he’d never see someone go without them. Just recently he sent 100 pairs to the Janeway to be given out to children at the St. John’s hospital
“I’ve sold so many of them and I’ve give away thousands of them,” he said. His snowshoes can be found all over the world from Norway to Scotland and England and into the States.
Locally they are available at the foundation office and Barnes Sporting Goods.
When he started making the snowshoes Budden used to average about four pairs in eight hours. And while he doesn’t make the same amount now, he’s still going strong.
“I can’t make them as fast as I could one time,” he said.
But he can’t give them up.
“It’s a habit. It’s something to do and occupy my evil mind,” he said with a laugh. “There’s a lot of work to them snowshoes.”
He described the process from bending and shaping the wire, to covering it with hockey tape, filling in the snowshoe by weaving a pattern with needle and crochet thread and finally putting a tiny set of slings on each pair. The little table he works on is covered in supplies and tiny snowshoes at all stages of creation.
Budden’s granddaughter Denise Puddister nominated him for the Seniors of Distinction Award. Her package of information on her grandfather included letters of support from Dr. Tony Tavenor and Paul Barnes.
While his family thinks he’s a celebrity, Budden is modest and said he doesn’t want to be boastful.
“I’m no more than anybody else,” he said. “I only just did something that I thought was good.
“I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”