Brief History of 259 Panther RCACS

Under the command of Flight Lieutenant Claude Bell, 259 Panther squadron was formed, February 1943. The squadron operated at the Penticton High School until the end of WW II. 70 cadets were on strength with a large waiting list. After the war, the squadron operated independently of the high school, but still used their facilities.

Around 1947, the squadron was inactive due to lack of quarters, eventually moving into the new armouries, known Nanaimo Hall – 91E Nanaimo Ave.

During the 1950’s, the squadron strength slowly grew back up to 50 cadets. After Annual Inspections, the cadets would go flying in the CO aircraft. Annual Inspections were typically held at the Airport, if weather was poor it was held in the arena. Pressure was applied to the Kiwanis Club to find a new CO and Mr. A. F. Day was appointed Commanding Officer in September 1951.

The parent’s sponsoring committee was formed in 1952 as well as a flight of female Cadettes was added to the squadron. The girls took different training then the boys which later lead to their downfall in 1955, as the squadron did not have the staff to operate the two different training programs.

In 1955, the squadron acquired a building, which was moved onto property at the Penticton Airport. Its original use was to house the link trainer, but over the years, other rooms were added for training and storage.

Disbandment was a threat in 1960. It was not until Mr. Lou Hohenadel took over as Sponsoring Committee chairperson that the squadron flourished and had a bright future ahead.

Flight Lieutenant A.F. Day stepped down as CO, and was replaced by Flight Lieutenant G. Leigh in 1963, through Flight Lieutenant Day still remained active with the squadron.

In 1970, C Squadron BC Dragoon was disbanded and crown assets put the armouries up for sale. The three cadet units were given until mid May to vacate. In November 1970, the city announced renaming of the armouries to Nanaimo Hall.  A visit of the Royal Family to Penticton in May was the occasion for the Oliver, Keremeos and Penticton Squadrons to parade together to from an Honour Guard and line the route for the Royal party. Mr. Hohenadel retired as Chairman of the Sponsoring committee after 12 years.

In 1971, the female Cadettes flight was reformed with 15 young women who took the same training as the male cadets.

Squadron logbooks were not kept up, and its history is not well known between the 70’s & 80’s. What is known is that Keith Foster and Mike Pilon were appointed Commanding Officers.

Gerry Pash took over as CO from Mike Pilon in May 1988 until Oct 1991  The squadron grew from 35 cadets to 140 and moved from the bottom of the heap to near the top in the province.

In 1990, Lieutenant David Kerr was appointed Commanding Officer for the next 5 years. Captain Craig Ralph succeeded him, with Mrs. Maryellen Height as the Sponsoring Committee chair.

In 1999, Captain Kerr was appointed CO again. Mr. Richard Hellyer, a former 259 cadet, and officer, took over as Sponsoring Chairperson when Mrs. Height retired her gavel.

2002 witnessed a few firsts for 259; Top Urban Squadron for the Okanagan Wing and including the D. R. McLaren Trophy for Top Urban Squadron in BC. First female CO, Captain Linda Vandale.

2003 brought more female energy with Captain Romy Ralph taking on the CO position, where she served for her full tenure. Mr. Nathan Davies took over as Chairperson of the Sponsoring Committee.

Upon stepping down in 2007, Capt. Ralph passed over the CO’s position to Capt. Dale Mowry. Along with this CO duty, Capt. Mowry was tasked with finding a new facility, as the City of Penticton closed Nanaimo Hall doors after 60 years of partnership with 259 Panther Squadron.

Over the next few months, the squadron underwent a few changes, first with a newly elected John Swanson as the Sponsoring Committee Chairman in Sept. 2007, and a new CO, Lieutenant Richard Hellyer March 2008.  In addition, the squadron moved a total of 3 times to finally, in April 2008, with the help of the squadron alumni, settled in the north annex of Penticton First Baptist church.

2008/09 September brought a new Chairman Albert Mahon and in partnership with Capt. Richard Hellyer, the squadron grew leaps and bounds.  Introducing the Flight Simulators into the complementary training program.

2009/10 Mr Gerry Lalonde was elected as Squadron Sponsoring committee Chairman.  December, 259 hosted a South Okanagan Mess dinner with Flt Lt. Day as the guest speaker.  Bringing together cadets and officers from Oliver to West Kelowna.  the squadron won Okanagan Small Drill Team & Top Drill Commander.

2010/11 – 259 Panther, Under the leadership of Captain Richard Hellyer, was awarded Bronze in the Cadet Population Growth Initiative (CPGI) bringing the squadron to over 60 cadets.The cadet & officers participated in a citizenship trip to Silver Star Mountain, where they participated in skiing, snowboarding and tubing. In April, 27 cadets & officers participated in the annual Vancouver 10K SunRun, with 5 of the runners crossing the finish line in under 1 hrs. Spring of 2011, the squadron won the Okanagan Small Drill Team Competition, along with Top Drill Commander to WO 2nd class Nicholas Swanson.  With an overall Small Drill Team win for the province.  Annual Inspection was held at the Penticton Curing Arena.

2011/12 Mrs. Linda Leibel was elected Chairperson of the Sponsoring Committee.   WO1 Class Nicholas Swanson  has a very successful year; squadron Commander., awarded Gold in the Duke of Edinburgh program, and takes his drill team to Gold in Okanagan Drill Competition and is awarded Top Drill Team Commander.   The squadron toured the nations capital on a 5 day citizenship trip.  Major Brett Deck was the Reviewing Officer for the 70th Annual Ceremonial Review, held outside of the Penticton Curing Arena.

2012/13 – After serving 4-years as Commanding Officer, Capt. Richard Hellyer turned over the squadron to Capt. Karen Hellyer, the 3rd female to command 259.  The squadron continued to flourish, under WO 2nd class Deborah Clarke as squadron commander, the squadron participated and won  many Okanagan competitions; Drill Team, Okanagan Sports weekend, First Aid Team, and Effective Speaking.  Sgt Savannah Groot of 259, awarded the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, was the first cadet in the Okanagan to win the provincial Effective Speaking competition, taking her to compete in the National competition in Prince Edward Island.  The cadets enjoyed a Citizenship trip to Comox and Victoria, BC, touring CFB bases of Comox and Esquimalt.   Annual Inspection was held in HNZ Topflight | Canadian Helicopters at the Penticton airport, resided over by Mr. Bob Burkinshaw as the Reviewing Officer

2013/14 – the squadron continues to be successful under the partnership of Capt Karen Hellyer, Commanding Officer and Mrs Linda Leibel, Squadron Sponsoring Committee Chair.  WO 2nd Class Savannah Groot awarded Silver in the Duke of Edinburgh Program.   8 cadets & 1 officer attended the RCSU Prairie region Skills Competition as a pilot project.  WO 1st class Brett Lang & 2nd Class Liam Cole awarded continued flying scholarships. With WO 1st Class Brett Lang, squadron commander, 259 continues to dominate inter-squadron competitions; Busted volleyball, Okanagan sports weekend, First Aid, Band, Effective Speaking, Drill Team, & Marksmanship.


Over time we will also be updating our Facebook page’s timeline with significant historical events.