Sounds right

For Christine Feige, a life of helping people hear better is a wonderful thing indeed

When the name Feige is mentioned, especially in Sarnia-Lambton, chances are it’s in connection with the third-generation family of denturists that continue to serve the community.

But there’s another Feige and her name is Christine.

She’s the owner of ActivEars, located on Christina Street in a building she once shared with her brother, Ron, the denturist now located on Lambton Mall Road at Exmouth Street.

How Christine found herself heading in a different direction than her father, Horst, and his father, Reinhold, is a story that deserves telling, particularly since the only girl in a family of four has found a way of extending a heritage of service that the Feige family has built over the years.

Our story begins in Niagara Falls, where Christine was born but moved to Sarnia in 1972, the denture business run by her father taking shape in a building that once stood at the southeast corner of Christina Street and London Road (where a 7/11 convenience store/gas bar now stands).

Growing up, and particularly (she tells us) being the only girl in a European family, Christine took the advice of her Dad: “You’ve got to work 10 times as hard and be 10 times as smart.”

“I just think what he really meant was you have to surround yourself with good people,” she says.

For a young Christine, hard work at least initially took shape in various restaurants, where she spent a lot of time waitressing and even had thoughts of opening her own restaurant some day.

What actually took place was her heading to George Brown College, where she took a program in dental office administration, followed by a period where she worked for a group of dentists in Brampton.

It wasn’t long, however, before Christine found the idea of spending a lifetime in a dental office not quite what she was looking for.

What happened next was one of those serendipitous events that occurs from time to time.

Someone in the hearing field had connected with her Dad, suggesting that he could come into the office and test the hearing of all the staff members, an invitation that was quickly accepted.

During that one-week visit, Christine was hooked on the idea that this could very well be the career she was looking for.

A little further investigation and she found herself heading back to George Brown, which in the early 1990s was offering one of the first programs of its kind in Ontario, with Christine becoming one of the first students to attend the program, taught by seasoned professionals ready to share their decades of experience.

“It was their first time they were able to formally share those skills with another generation,” says Christine.

But securing her license (she graduated in 1993) first meant serving for 1,000 hours in a clinic, which Christine did in London, travelling back and forth from Sarnia.

Her ambition, however, and one that she’s since seen come to fruition, was the opening of hearing clinics in communities where her denturist family was already operating, including Owen Sound, Hanover and Durham, in addition to Sarnia.

“I was very lucky to to be able to provide opportunities for people already working with my Dad’s offices and he was able to support our growth in the early years,” she added.

Over the years Christine has been serving the community through ActivEars, she’s heard countless stories and seen the effect of people who suddenly become aware of sounds around them that they’ve missed for years, like the notes on a piano or the sounds of birds that had been hidden from them.

“And of course, it makes a big difference when you can hear people talking. A huge difference,” said Christine.

What’s a key part of her mission that she’s wrapped around ActivEars is being able to help people discover the state of their hearing, something that isn’t always obvious to someone who may, in fact, be needing the kind of help a hearing specialist can provide, whether that’s some sort of hearing aid or just to remove wax from their ears as a first step in an ongoing program of maintenance.

“People don’t necessarily realize all that’s required and the word ‘test’ may be a scary word, but it’s what we need to give us a baseline. Honestly, we’d rather people not be scared, but the more parts of the brain that we can check out, the more people will have a baseline that we can work with.”

Looking forward, what Christine is keenly aware of is the need for more staff, the people who will help her make a real difference in the lives of her clients, now and in the future.

There’s also an ongoing challenge, which Christine became aware of early in her career as a hearing specialist, that being reducing the stigma associated with people who need hearing aids.

“The fact is, with the technology that continues to advance, and the idea that some people may even have been misdiagnosed as suffering from dementia when it might be related to their hearing, those kinds of issues are very important to me,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Lambton Shield magazine.

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