July 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, so I had just finished watching the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon with residents of the Lakeside Manor Retirement Residence in Salmon Arm. This is where Bill Sim, one of the founding forces behind the Okanagan Science Centre, lived. He wasn't able to attend, and at the conclusion of the screening his daughter Roxi Hermsen arrived and announced to us all that Bill had passed away. Watching this particular documentary with his friends seemed a fitting activity to associate with Bill—this is a film filled with heroes and explorers of the early days of space travel; a film filled with determined individuals having a dream and then actually making it happen. A film of great humans, achieving great things.
You see, Bill Sim was also one of these great humans. At a time when nobody assumed a city the size of Vernon could support a science centre, Bill had a vision. He wanted science accessible to everyone. And he put in the hard work to make his vision a reality. In those early years, 28 years ago, the science centre was a room in the basement of the old Tolko building. It had no staff. All the work was completed by volunteers fueled with the love of science, like Bill. Bill and those other dedicated volunteers, including Bill’s wife Marg, worked hard and together they grew that vision. Not long after the science centre was finally able to hire its first staff member—Kevin Aschenmeier. Kevin has delivered science programming to generations of Okanagan children and is still at the science centre. And still Bill, Marg, and volunteers carried on with their work. A few years later the Science Centre moved out of the basement and into a whole building of its own - our current building—a former schoolhouse in Polson Park.
And still Bill’s dream continued to grow. From a room in a borrowed basement staffed by volunteers, the Okanagan Science Centre has grown to host over 25,000 visitors a year with planetarium shows, dinosaurs, and a range of exhibits we’ve designed and constructed ourselves, here at the science centre Bill built. On any given school day, we’ll have in excess of a hundred school children attending our programs. Each summer, hundreds more children attend our science camps. Tourists and visitors come from around the world to visit a Science Centre in a relatively small town in the north Okanagan.
Bill dreamed of science education for all our kids. Science accessible to everyone.
Bill Sim had a vision. His vision was other-oriented, to create a better world. And he put in the hard work to make his vision a reality. I can’t think of a better definition of greatness.
July 5, 2019
Executive Director, Okanagan Science Centre