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Four Okotokians chosen for artist in residence portraits

The inaugural Sheep River artist in residence, Tanya Zakarow, will be painting four Okotokians who have left a lasting impact on their community.

Four Okotoks citizens have been named to be painted by its first artist in residence.  

Following the announcement of Tanya Zakarow as the first-ever Sheep River artist in residence, the community was polled to nominate subjects for her to create portraits of during her residency.  

“All the people that have been nominated here tonight have had a substantial impact on this community and the lives of others,” said Zakarow. “They are so worthy of recognition and honour. 

Over 1,500 votes were cast for the 13 community members nominated, with a final decision being made by a committee based on votes, volunteerism, community involvement, and service to the public.

In a meet-and-greet event at the Okotoks Public Library on Sept. 6, three influential members of the community were announced: Ron Schreiber, Lori Chibry and Marg Cox. 

The portrait Zakarow kickstarted her project with, on display at the event, was that of the late Mayor Bill Robertson, who passed away in 2021.

“The completed piece you see here today is a man who dedicated over 20 years of his life to our community,” Zakarow said. “He helped establish the foundation of our community, of our town, and he definitely helped establish the community-driven spirit. His efforts deserve lasting recognition.” 

After learning she was chosen to be immortalized in a portrait, Cox took a moment to find her words. 

"It's a little overwhelming - I'm just so proud and humbled," said Cox at the event, holding back tears.  

Moving to Okotoks in 1980, Cox jumped right in, starting with the Town in 1983, where she worked until her retirement in April 2012

Most of that time was spent in recreation and events programming, during which she founded three annual events, including Light Up Okotoks.  

In 2017, she was presented the Heart of Okotoks award and inducted into the Okotoks Hall of Fame.

Despite the accomplishments attached to her name, Cox said she didn’t go it alone. 

“It's always about the people," she said. "You get good people, doing great things and I was just so fortunate I had many people trucking along beside me. 

“They always thought I was nuts, but I thought, ‘We can do it,’ and that’s the attitude of Okotoks: a can-do attitude.” 

What motivates someone to put in that kind of time and effort? 

“Because you love the community, and love the people in the community, and you just feel so hopeful for everyone,” Cox explained. “And all the little kids, I got some little kids in my neighbourhood, they’re the best in the world and I want them to have a great experience.” 

Schreiber was Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools chair and a longtime Okotoks resident until he passed away in 2021. In an obituary following his passing, then-Western Wheel editor Bruce Campbell described Schreiber as a champion for Catholic education. 

Serving six terms on the CTR board, he was described by the then-principal of St. Francis of Assisi Academy as a calm and experienced hand who always made time to be present. 

“Ron was present at all our parent council meetings, he always kept parents informed with happenings in Catholic education,” Diana Atkinson said to the Wheel in 2021. 

His son Peter described the grandfather of 20 as a family man through-and-through.  

“Words can’t express how amazing a man he was — he was the most phenomenal dad you could ever ask for,” Peter said. “He was the most fun-loving, adventurous grandfather you could ever ask for — ‘Pops’ we called him.  

Outside of his education career he also played guitar and lent his voice to the St. James Catholic Church choir. 

Chibry taught kindergarten at Big Rock School for several years before she passed away in 2022 following a battle with cancer. 

Following her passing, her obituary said, “Lori touched the lives of many, working as a teacher for more than 30 years. It was never a surprise to hear someone shout out “Mrs. C!” and then share news of their lives with her, no matter their current age. She had an everlasting impact on everyone who walked through her classroom door and will always be remembered.” 

A fourth subject was chosen by Zakarow and announced at the event: Mayor Tanya Thorn. 

“I’ve noticed the amount of time and energy and commitment in showing up at community events, investing in the arts, sports, local businesses, and furthering the maintenance and beauty of this town,” Zakarow said in reference to Thorn's community involvement. 

Zakarow will be working out of a studio set up at the Okotoks Art Gallery from Monday to Friday until Sept. 15, when she will relocate and work out of a room at the Okotoks Public Library. 

As a collaboration between the Town of Okotoks, the Okotoks Public Library and Okotoks Arts Council, the Sheep River Artist in Residence program will run through the month of September, and more information can be found at 

With files from Bruce Campbell

Note: At the time of initial posting, a Town of Okotoks media release indicated the decision was made solely on vote count, but a later correction from the Town indicated the final decision as made by a committee based on other criteria. - Edited 2023/09/08 

Brent Calver

About the Author: Brent Calver

Award-winning photojournalist for the Western Wheel newspaper covering Okotoks and the Foothills region.
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