Leah Blain photo Johnny Purdaby at his work calling bingo games at Chances Salmon Arm.

Column: A lifetime of calling bingo numbers

By Leah Blain, Observer contributor

“Under the B – 5…under the G – 55, five, five..”

Johnny Purdaby is quick to smile when he’s at work. It would be hard to imagine anyone more suited to be a bingo caller. He’s been a caller for 30 years, and he’s only 39.

The numbers come up on the screens around the room. The room is separated by a glass wall but the sounds of music, rings, and animated conversation wafts in from the casino.

Somebody calls “bingo”. After it’s verified, Johnny offers congratulations.

“The next game is a block of nine. Game 17 should be on the olive card,” he says in his melodic voice. “Good luck everybody. Here we go…”

Some people play on the computer, others use paper cards, and some do a combination. As his co-workers walk by they turn and wave to him and he gives them a wave and big smile back. Just after 6 p.m. he tells the players he will is taking a break and will be back at 7 p.m.

“I just got hired last year,” he says with a smile that lights up his whole face. “I love bingo calling. I tried for a whole two years to get on here.”

In the meantime he was working at Mica dam but when things slowed down, he tried for this job again, and he wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer.

“I brought my resume here once a week for a month. I kept bugging them,” he says breaking into a laugh. “Now I’ve been here just over a year.”

His resume would show he had a lot of experience, as a caller and a worker.

“I started young at the bingo hall at Pierre’s Point. I was seven or eight when I collected the garbage on the tables. My grandma, Caroline Johnny, would pay me a can of pop and a bag of chips. Then it moved up to a can of pop, a bag of chips, and a chocolate bar. Then it went up to $5.”

When he was nine-years-old, they needed a bingo caller and he was ready to take on the job.

“My mom would come looking for me. She couldn’t see me because the bingo machine was so high. She could hear me but she couldn’t see me.”

His voice and personality were perfect for the job, and he was instantly popular.

“I like making people laugh. They loved my calling and I loved making them smile and sending them home with money.”

Over the years he has had other jobs, including several years at Mica dam, doing everything from janitorial and housekeeping to dishwashing. But these physical jobs were harder for him because he has rheumatoid arthritis that has already necessitated two hip replacements. This job is much easier physically, and it allows him to be home every night with his wife, Shelly, and their children, Lola-Ann, Johnny Jr., and Owen.

“And we’ve got one on the way, the baby is due December 20.”

Their house is usually busy because they foster as well. He likes it that way, and he likes to be busy when he goes to work.

“I like calling for big crowds. I just love giving these big pots away. I like seeing a lot of people gathered and enjoying everybody’s company. It’s one big happy family, that’s how I look it it.”

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