Mary Agnes Celebrates 100 Years

Until the day of her birth, the world was a relatively stable place.

Mary Agnes standing at head table with Constable Pankratz and Mayor Armitage
Mary Agnes standing at head table with Constable Pankratz and Mayor Armitage

People pretty much trusted their government to get things right and to keep them safe. Communication systems were not as sophisticated as today and when there were contentious issues in other parts of the country, most people were blithely unaware. They needed to focus on earning a livelihood and raising large families.

On August 4,1914, the day Mary Agnes Roberts was born, the conflagration we know as WW I erupted. From that point on, change accelerated and the globe seemed to shrink.

Mary Agnes was the first to ride a bicycle (wood rims) on her block. Her family owned the first radio. Music was played on a hand turned gramophone. Ladies wore pantaloons for swimming.

She was still a pre-teen when Henry Ford introduced his revolutionary Model T in 1924, and then the more advanced Model A.

As a young woman of 25 she fell in love and married George Roberts. They were like-minded in many ways and had almost 26 years together. Their happy marriage ended abruptly when he suffered a heart attack and passed away. This made it necessary for Mary Agnes to develop the character and strength to carry on, in a time when society did not yet have an advanced network of supports for women living without a mate. She did not feel entirely bereft, however. “My husband gave me two wonderful children,” she said. “They have been a great support to me all these years.” In spite of having lost her husband, she was determined to make a difference, especially in her family.

Until a few days before her birthday, one of the remaining items on her “bucket list”, was to ride on a motorcycle. Grandson Tim Roberts has a bike and was delighted to make this wish a reality. Once she had mounted the passenger seat, with the help of 2 men, she expected they would go in a straight line. She was startled when Tim turned the bike around to return to their starting point. Although they stayed on the parking lot of the longterm care residence, she was pleased

At the August 2nd birthday celebration, it was noted that she had made the first financial contribution to the One Way Adventure Foundation. This organization, established to work with troubled teens, was founded by her son Len, and daughter-in-law Jean.

Nearly 100 friends and family members came to the party.Constable Anthony Pankratz, a 6 foot 8 inch Mountie wearing the traditional Red Serge and Stetson, held her left arm as she walked with careful steps to the front of the Baptist church in Princeton. On her right side was Princeton Mayor, Frank Armitage. During the program, messages were read from the Queen, the Governor General of Canada, Premier Christie Clark, John Horrigan, Leader of the Opposition, and other dignitaries.

Toward the end of the celebration, Len invited guests to speak briefly of experiences with Mary Agnes. Several grandchildren expressed appreciation for her many prayers for them. They said, “ this has made a positive difference in our lives”.

Mary Agnes was a member of the generation that contributed significantly to the creation of Canada as we know our nation today. In her personal life she was sustained by her faith in God, the support of her family, and her determination to not stray from the good path she had chosen many years ago. She is inwardly strong, wonderfully resilient, and she possesses a great clarity of purpose.

By her words and example, she has pointed her family and many of us to a path that promises a life of significance and hope. Congratulation Mary Agnes, on 100 productive years!


The Impact Of Walter Paetkau

It was a sunny afternoon and Matsqui Institution’s Citizens

Walter Paetkau in retirement, MSA Community Services photo
Walter Paetkau in retirement, MSA Community Services photo

Advisory Committee was on a tour of the prison’s skills training shops. Walter Paetkau, Executive Director of what was then MSA Community Services was walking with me. I respected Walter and his organization highly. He had my immediate attention when he said, “we are getting a government grant to do some projects in the community. You could apply if you’re interested.” Two weeks later I was working for Community Services.

When Walter assigned me to work on a project with seniors, I wasn’t excited initially. For several months I had a partner. Joan was a fun loving red head who laughed easily. She had the looks and personality to be on stage. We organized two town hall meetings that stirred considerable interest among seniors. They liked us and were ecstatic that Community Services was taking an interest in them. When we asked if they would like to have a centre where they could drink coffee, play games and meet people, they quickly said “yes.”

We enlisted several seniors to work on the idea of creating a centre. When we learned there might be money available from the provincial government, I took three senior ladies along to Vancouver to talk with the official who had the power to provide funding. The ladies loved the excursion. One of them insisted on buying my lunch.

We named the centre Friendship House and to my amazement, the seniors persuaded family and friends to donate all the furniture, including a piano. I could plunk a little and Joan had a good voice. For several months we visited the centre once each week. I played the piano and Joan, with her uplifting personality and strong voice quickly created an atmosphere of excitement. The people loved it and I learned that it’s possible to grow old and still be enthusiastic about life.

Knowing I had an interest in writing, Walter began asking me to accompany him to meetings about issues important to the work of the organization. He had a growing vision and the ability to attract people to it. Personal media attention seemed unimportant to him. However, he understood that the media could play a critical role in alerting the community to needs and issues that required attention. In pursuing goals he could be relentless, but he was also able to work patiently at putting pieces in place.

Walter accepted two capable Matsqui Institution inmates as volunteers. One had been successful in a Vancouver radio station until a judge sentenced him to prison for murder. Several individuals on social assistance made a substantive contribution through participation in a work experience program. Walter was able to discern the potential in people, even if their track record was dismal. Observing the blossoming of some of these individuals, I came to realize that through encouragement, guidance and support, a life of failure can be turned into a life of productivity and fulfilment.

Unfortunately, one of the inmates fell in love with a young female volunteer. Desperate to be with her, he persuaded her to run away to Mexico with him. He had concocted a clever scheme to gain control of some Community Services funds. He used the money to finance this poorly thought through plan. His girlfriend returned after a week. He phoned the prison a few days later to say he was coming back. For him it meant no more temporary absences.

The media created a huge uproar and the government withdrew funding for some projects, including the one I was working on. Fortunately, I had learned a lot and felt ready to move on.

Looking back now, I realize it was a stroke of ultimate good fortune to begin this phase of my work life in a position to observe Walter in action. The Community Services experience and the personal influence of Walter Paetkau altered my attitude, outlook and thinking. Walter’s unassuming but forceful leadership style, his values, compassion and perseverance continue to impact my life to this time.