Kemptville College instructor of 27 years, Basil Wren, died Oct. 11. He was 83.
Wren, who grew up on a Renfrew County farm, near Douglas, died in a Barcelona hospital while on vacation in Spain.
Wren grew up on country fairs, yellow school buses and 4-H. He showed the grand champion steer at the Ottawa Winter Fair in 1953.
He felt a calling to agriculture, then to the priesthood. He enrolled in the MacDonald College agricultural program at McGill University. But he couldn’t resist the seminary and completed a theology program. Nine years later, with a couple of years teaching experience under his belt and having declined ordination, he found his way to Kemptville.
He taught at Kemptville College from 1967 to 1994 and obtained a master’s degree in counseling in 1972. He was the college head of social science and English sections. For most of those years he worked alongside instructor Terry Meagher, founder of Farmers Forum newspaper. He also worked with college secretary Audrey McClenaghan, who died last year. He suffered a heart attack in 1990, but returned to the college the next year.
While at Kemptville, Wren had the remarkable ability to pinpoint the farm location of almost every agricultural student, said friend and former colleague Terry Meagher. “He could also often tell you who their neighbours were.
“Basil was never critical, never unpleasant and always supportive,” Meagher said. “He was well-liked by students. He always had jokes. I remember when students asked him where he was born, he said, ‘close to my mother.’”
Basil was one of the best speakers at the college. “One of his greatest pleasures came when a graduate came to him and told him how much the communication and public speaking courses benefitted him,” Meagher said. “Many of the students achieved confidence through the courses and graduated to responsible positions in the Ontario farm community.”
Wren headed the student placement program and brought in many agri-businesses from across Ontario and Quebec to help students get summer and permanent jobs. He set up seminars on job interviews. Every year he noted that he could tell when a student had his first job interview. A haircut preceded it while also squeezing some of the rebel out of the student.
Wren lived for eight years at Waupoos farm, just south of urban Ottawa, boasting half as many cats as livestock. Waupoos — a native name for rabbit — was a farm vacation spot for Ottawa’s financially disadvantaged, who could not afford a get-away vacation. There were about six cottages.
His wife Kathy, used to say: “This is a place where people come together to love one another and live the Gospel. Waupoos is important because a lot of people we deal with have no place to go.”
Wren, who later moved into the city of Ottawa, was predeceased by his wife, Katherine Kelly, who died in 2008. He is survived by son Kelly and daughters Krista and Kathleen.