For Teeka Ferguson, there were two distinct traumatic events this year: learning her husband Alvin Dunic had disappeared, then finding out two months later that he’d been found in Crawford Creek.
“I’ve gotten the impression from some people in the community that they felt it was this continuous event, but for us as a family it was two really separate things — he was missing, then he was dead,” she told the Star.
“Sometimes I feel like I just need him to hug me, that’s the thing that could help get me through this, and that’s the thing I can’t have. It’s hard to wrap your mind around this idea of never again.”
Ferguson had been married to Dunic, a beloved Crawford Bay teacher with 35 years experience under his belt, for 17 years when his disappearance was first reported.
On May 29 he ventured out to find a suitable outdoor teaching spot for his class, and shortly later she found herself on the frontlines of a huge search that would ultimately conclude with his body being retrieved by search and rescue personnel.
She knows she’ll never be the same.
Citizen, teacher, father, friend
According to people who knew him, Dunic cared deeply about the people in his life and the communities of Nelson and Crawford Bay.
“I remember before I even met him, my aunt and uncle in Trail had heard of him because they had friends on the East Shore, and they said everybody knew Alvin Dunic. He was the kind of guy where if you needed a problem solved, he’d solve it,” Ferguson said.
So when neighbours were getting into disputes over garbage, or somebody was trying to fix an engine, it was him they thought to call. That’s what made him, in the words of fellow teacher Gerald Panio, a “remarkable citizen” — something he’ll be expressing in the eulogy for his friend.
“He really had a social, community conscience. There was this quote (I heard), ‘We do not need great leaders, we need great citizens’ — and that’s the most perfect line for Alvin I can imagine,” Panio said.
“He was charismatic and he was a leader, but ultimately he was a great citizen.”
Dunic was a volunteer fire fighter, and invested his personal time into a variety of local organizations. He was one of the founders of the Kootenay Review, which has since become the East Shore Mainstreet newspaper. But perhaps his proudest accomplishment was being a father, both to his step-daughter Dominique Muir and his daughters with Ferguson, Rajka and Jett.
“At some point he realized that he wanted a family and that was really important to him. And he was a wonderful father all around,” Panio said.
`I’ve never admired somebody so much’
One of Dunic’s unique strengths was reading a classroom, and tweaking his educational strategy to match his students’ needs. Ferguson said it was a role he relished.
“There were two things Alvin was completely focused on and passionate about: school and family. Everything else was quite secondary,” she said.
“He was also a super involved father, he was there at our daughters’ births and he was always attentive and happy to care for an infant. I have pictures of him with Jett as a toddler on his back, and he just carried those kids around like that for years.”
Seeing him in the classroom was a unique experience, she said.
“I’ve never admired somebody so much, as a professional. Most of us dream of having a career we really love, but Alvin was so passionate about teaching it really became who he was.”
According to Muir, her stepfather went out of his way to get involved in her life. When she was growing up he quit coaching Crawford Bay’s older boys’ basketball team so he could create one for her.
“He went from coaching these really successful boys to a bunch of newbie girls who had never dribbled a basketball before, and that was the first time Crawford Bay had a girl’s basketball team,” she said.
“I really struggled with math, but he would make up some song or game to help me wrap my head around it. He was this hugely influential teacher that touched a lot of lives, so it was like sharing my parent with all these other kids.”
But he always made time for her, even when they were living apart, which is why she travelled to the Kootenays to participate in the search when he went missing.
“I think the whole community assumed Alvin would be one of those guys in his 80s and 90s, still puttering around in the Kootenays, and thinking about what we lost … Now the real grieving can start, and when I reflect back I feel so lucky I had the time with him I did.”
Grieving as a community
The Yasodhara Ashram will be hosting a public memorial for Dunic on Oct. 14 at 1:30 p.m., and Ferguson feels that’s the perfect venue to bring the community together to grieve.
“Swami Lalitananda visited me at the search site, they sent me food twice a day the whole week we were there, I was brought a prayer shawl and they volunteered for any search stuff they could help with. Anything they could do for him and us, they did.”
That’s why she’s happy he’ll be remembered in the newly completed Temple of Light. As well, they’re in the beginning stages of organizing a fishing derby in the new year that will be a fundraiser to create a scholarship in his name.
“I’ve been getting messages from cashiers from Save-On-Foods, or people he just met on the street, and it just says so much about the kind of person he was. He was a light, he was certainly a light in my life and in the lives of so many others.”