Rena and Kerry Lalonde live an active lifestyle, caring for their beautiful sprawling acreage in the spring, going to rodeos, campfire sing alongs and campouts during the summer, playing their many musical instruments during the fall and spending quality time with their grandchildren all year long. In the winter though, the Lalondes reserve their time for Wolverines hockey!
Rena and Kerry have been billet parents since day 1 of the Wolverines Junior A hockey team rolling into town in 2012 and have no plans of stopping in the near future.
I met with the Lalonde’s on June 18th which also happened to be Father’s Day. It was a beautiful Sunday and when I pulled into the driveway of the Lalonde acreage, I couldn’t help but wonder if they might happen to have a spare room for me. The acreage is beautifully serene and peaceful and I could immediately picture myself sitting on the front porch as Rena does to have my morning tea with the birds. I didn’t ask Rena and Kerry if they’d take me in because I’m sure my husband and kids would start to miss me after a few hours but I’m positive that the Lalonde’s would never have turned me away.
We started chatting away on the front porch but eventually made our way into the kitchen where I could tell the Lalondes were excited to start telling me about “their boys”. My first question was why they wanted to become billets. Kerry said that the Wolverines Billet Co-Ordinator, Kelly Shears approached them about the idea and Rena expressed that they wanted to “help the kids fulfill their dreams” and that she felt it was important to give the players a chance.
We spoke about the players that have graced their home and though they spoke about each and every player with kind and thoughtful words, I could tell there were two players that had completely stole their hearts. This is probably because those two players have spent the most time with the Lalondes and their family. Dalton Olson was the Lalonde’s first billet and I heard many stories of Dalton and Dalton’s family coming to stay for the weekends to watch the Wolverines play. The second player is their current billet, Kellen Cornelis, whom is currently on the Wolverines roster and just happened to be MVP this past season.
I caught up with Kellan via text after I left and asked him what he could tell me about his billet parents and he came back with a very positive review, saying, “They are the best billets anyone could ask for! For the past 3 years they’ve been my second home and home is exactly what it feels like. They’re there for me no matter what I need, always going out of their way to support me and help me in any way possible.” It was clear that the Lalonde acreage was a much sought out destination as far as billet homes go.
Getting to know the Lalonde’s more throughout the hour, we talked about their love for music, playing cards, especially crib, and what they hoped to get out of billeting. The Lalonde’s are caring people and their single goal for billeting is to give back as much as they can to the players that live in their home. Rena said that her biggest fear is that one of her billets would get hurt. She’s had to deal with a few injuries and as she puts it, “Kellan doesn’t get hurt often, but when he does, he does it big.” Rena mentions having IV bags hanging from her chandelier like it’s an everyday normal activity but for her and Kerry, it’s just what you do for your sons.
8 years ago Rena and Kerry received the most devastating news that one could receive. Their son Matt, his fiancé Brittany and Matt’s son Tyson, were in a horrific car accident that took the lives of Matt and Brittany. Tyson survived the accident with only a few scrapes and bruises but he was left without his father at the age of 3. Sitting in the kitchen, Rena mentions their sons name a few times but it took a while before I felt brave enough to ask questions regarding Matt and Brittany. Eventually after many mentions of his name and Rena showing me pictures of him hanging in their living room, I asked the Lalondes a few questions. My first question was if it was ok to talk about him in this article and they assured me that it helps to talk and hear other people talk about him. I then asked what impact billeting has had on their healing.
Rena explained that billeting has had an immense effect on their healing process. She was quick to say that none of her billets have ever erased the loss of her son and that they have not and could not take his place but the boys have filled their hearts in other ways. They’ve filled in some missing pieces in the Lalonde home. The boys have brought comic relief back into their home, whether it be midnight snacking on Kerry’s lunch for the next day or Rena driving up the driveway to find the ugliest and funniest snowman she’s ever seen, the side splitting laughter is back. They’ve also provided some muscle. Rena and Kerry both laugh as they talk about the boys coming home after a good snow to find shovels with their names written on them. True to their hardworking characters, the boys quickly shoveled the drive and walkways.
The players have also played an enormous role in the lives of Rena and Kerry’s grandchildren. Rena and Kerry told stories of automatic sprinklers, personalized jerseys, video games and hockey practices. After my visit with the Lalondes, it was undeniable that both the players and the Lalondes have all taken something valuable away from the billeting experience and best of all, they have transformed from strangers into family.
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