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The Insider: Learn From the Greats

Move Up Magazine would like to warmly welcome two new municipal partners:

The MD of Spirit River No. 133 and the Town of Spirit River.

Moving forward, Move Up will include stories and local content from within these municipalities, and—like all partnering municipalities—every mailing address within their boundaries will receive Move Up Magazine four times a year.

Again, welcome aboard.

The councils of the MD of Spirit River and the Town of Spirit River have worked together for decades. However, the current reeve and mayor find their councils are collaborating especially well in the last few years.

Meet MD of Spirit River Reeve Tony Van Rootselaar and Town of Spirit River Mayor Tammy Yaremko.

These two have several things in common. For starters, they were both born in Spirit River. They each grew up on farms outside of town. They are both 52 years old. And, they enjoy working together on goals that benefit region.

Brief background:

Tammy grew up on a farm near Eaglesham. Her and her husband, Carl, farm alongside her sister and brother-in-law. Each have full-time careers and they own an oilfield rental business. Their children are Rylan, Nolan and Tianna, and they are a hockey family.

Tammy has been an ambitious community volunteer since she was a teenager. She’s served on economic development, community service, agriculture, healthcare attraction, hockey, school and youth organizations that are too numerous to mention here. Many of her roles are treasurer positions.

Tony grew up on a farm six kilometres west of Spirit River, where he proudly still lives and where he operates a 3,000-acre grain farm. His girlfriend’s name is Dixie. Tony has served as a director for both the Prairie and the Alberta Oat Growers boards for many years.

For about 25 years, he has passionately run and volunteered as head instructor for the Kitakaze Martial Arts Club, where he teaches karate to local youth and adults. He also serves on numerous boards and committees including those for economic development, agriculture, healthcare, community services and more.

What drew you into politics?

Tammy: I got into local politics in 2017. At that time, all my children had left home, and I was looking to give back to my community.

Looking back, my dad had been in municipal politics while I was growing up. He was heavily involved in building the arena in Eaglesham.

Tony: A former reeve approached me to run. He showed up with the nomination paper signed already, but at that point I didn’t want to do it, so I passed. Then, lo and behold, four years later he shows up at my shop again with nominations papers signed. At that point, in 2013, I decided to do it.

Many things motivated me to want to get on council. They had already been working on getting a new medical clinic built, seniors were trying to get a new lodge, and I wanted to see some more economic development.

I was also bound and determined to see a new grain elevator in our area, which we were successful in getting. We’re not blessed like our neighbours who have lots of oil and gas, so we have to be more creative.

When did you find working together was a good idea?

Tammy: I’ve lived in Spirit River for over 30 years, and I knew of Tony because of his martial arts program, but I only got to know him during my current term on council after I became mayor.

Our two councils really began working together in November 2022 when AHS deemed our airport runway unsafe during winter, so we were shut down for fixed-wing air ambulance.

We worked together diligently, and in recognition of our efforts to make the airport a success, we received the Golden Runway Award from the Alberta Airports Management Association.

In general, it just made sense to work more closely together. The MD surrounds the Town. Our communities overlap and so do the needs of our residents. We even have ratepayers in common.

Tony: We’re all using the hospitals, medical clinics and stores. It just makes sense for us to work together. There are so many communities that don’t for whatever reason, but we’ve been really lucky.

Tammy: When I first became mayor our long time CAO was moving away, so it was tough at first. But, the MD’s CAO Dan Dibbelt helped us out a lot, so that helped build the relationship. And, our current CAO Steve Jack has a very good working relationship with everyone too.

Tony: From my perspective, the success of the Town is the success of the MD and vice versa. It goes both ways. If you can work together and celebrate each other’s successes, you can get a lot done.

Why has working together been successful?

Tammy: Well, both Tony and I genuinely want to see our communities do well.

Tony: The key is to have a vision. If you don’t, your community is going to be stagnant. I think with our two councils and our two CAOs, we have a shared vision. We know how we want to make things better, and we’re willing to take chances to accomplish our goals. We’re in a good moment, and our communities are benefiting.

They say we are what we repeatedly do. What are your success habits?

Tammy: Haha, no, I don’t have any routines like that. I keep myself busy. I think if you need something done, you ask a busy person, and that’s probably why I’m busy. I like to work and get things done.

Tony: At times it can be a character flaw, but for me, I often don’t know when to quit. Again, it’s not always a good thing, but it’s just an endless drive to see improvement.

My dad made a comment one time that I’m never satisfied. I always have the need to see things get better—to advance. I’m not one to stand still. He also told me when I started farming, “If you don’t take chances or if you’re scared of risk, you’ll never get anywhere.” I’ve really taken that philosophy to heart.

What mottos or rules of thumb do you live by?

Tammy: “We can only do the best we can with the information we have at the time.” I emphasize this at council.

Also, “It’s important to believe in yourself and to trust yourself.”

Tony: “Be a person of your word.” That’s one thing I live by. If your handshake doesn’t mean anything, you’re going the wrong direction in life.

I tell the kids at martial arts, “You’ll get as good as you want to become—though it may take a lot of hard work.”

I’ve had talented kids come through who knew they were talented, but maybe they didn’t want to develop a good work ethic. If nothing changes, they don’t get better. They eventually quit.

Meanwhile the other kid with the work ethic keeps going. Talent aside, you can go a very long way with just work ethic.

It’s cliché, but you must believe in yourself and believe that you can—and will—put in the hard work necessary. Then, it doesn’t matter what anybody else says. If you believe in yourself, you’ll get there.

What’s your approach to networking, collaborating and partnering?

Tammy: I’m a positive person, so I bring that to the table. I want to see our local communities thrive. I also really try to listen to people, so I can identify similar challenges or different strengths. It’s about finding common ground and figuring out how things could work better.

Tony: Find a common goal or a common need, and don’t make it all about yourself. Everybody needs to be a winner, and you can find that common ground where everybody comes out with a win.

This is why we’re so lucky to be able to work together. Whether it’s working on the senior’s centre or the new medical clinic or any number of projects we’ve worked on together, it benefits us all. We all win.

It takes the ability to have a vision beyond yourself and your municipality and think about the regional benefit.

I think we’re on the right path. We have an election coming up in a couple years, but hopefully we can set this path and keep collaborating.

What is your leadership style?

Tammy: I lead by example, by being upbeat and supportive. Integrity and communication are key.

At the council table, I encourage everyone to bring their point of view. We’re a diverse group. We come from different backgrounds, so I want to hear their ideas and opinions. It can lead us to decisions we wouldn’t have thought of on our own. For me, leadership is about how we come together.

Tony: I draw a lot from my experience with the martial arts club. Overall, my leadership style is that I’m a confident, disciplined risk taker. I’m not afraid to take the council in certain directions.

When I first started, we bought some land as an MD, and then we did it again, and we were lucky enough to attract another elevator. We had people question us when we made some big moves, but as a leader it’s about being able to bring people down a path and get them to believe that we can do it.

And, obviously, if people are participating, I really want their input.

What mistakes have you made that you’ve learned the most from?

Tony: Not from a municipal perspective but from a personal point of view, when I was younger there were a couple instances where I hesitated and missed an opportunity. They’ve been powerful lessons.

Tammy: I’ve made mistakes, but as you get older you look at life differently. When I look back, I’ve learned to trust my instincts and to have the confidence to put myself, and my ideas, forward.

Tony: I tend to work a lot. My uncle from the Netherlands told me one time, “Don’t forget to live.” It’s great to get a lot done and to work hard, but at some point, you’ve got to let go of trying to do everything.

Tammy: Absolutely, and it’s okay to say, “no.” That’s a shortcoming I have. I haven’t fully learned it yet, but I’m working on it for exactly the reason Tony explained.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Tammy: I would just like to thank both the Town’s CAO and the MD’s CAO because I feel they do recognize the importance and the benefits of working together. So, I give both Steve Jack and Dan Dibbelt a big shout out.

Tony: Yeah, I will echo that. For us, when we brought Dan onboard, we managed to change direction in a sense. It’s become a meeting of the minds where the administration and council are on the same page and pull in the same direction. We have that same vision.

Having Steve at the Town and having our two councils mirroring each other to a large degree, it’s really good.

So, for anybody moving into the area, or for anyone bringing your business here, it’s a huge plus for you.

Having two municipalities that work together so well, naturally benefits the taxpayers, businesses and the region. It’s a good place to be.


By Tormaigh Van Slyke

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