Duane Fritchie, Aquabike World Champion

Mary & Duane Fritchie

I suspect a lot of macho males have cast envious glances at Duane Fritchie’s Triathlon sculpted physique. It’s the type of body men’s magazines delight in featuring on their front cover. When I first saw him, for a fleeting moment I actually wondered what I would need to do to achieve that trim waist and V shaped torso.

Linda and I met Duane, a World Champion Triathlon competitor, and his wife Mary in Hedley last week. They had driven from Lee’s Summit, Missouri so he could compete in the prestigious 2017 Penticton ITU (International Triathlon Union) Multisport World Championships this past weekend. We liked them immediately and invited them to our home.

Duane began his triathlon adventure after watching a man from his community compete in a race. “I felt it was something I could do,” he said. “I was already riding my bike and running. I wasn’t a good swimmer though, and at age 31 it was a bit late to become great. Fortunately the swimming coach at the high school where I was a teacher offered to help.”

Now 67, Duane’s rigorous commitment has produced gratifying results. “My first triathlon was in Hawaii in 1982,” he told us. “At that time you didn’t have to qualify. Since then I’ve participated in about 200 competitions in places like Australia, New Zealand, England, the U.S. and Canada.” In response to my prodding he said, “In 2001 I won the World Triathlon Championship in Edmonton. My whole family was there. It was fantastic.”

I asked about his training regimen. “When Mary joined Weight Watchers,” he said, “I noticed she was shedding pounds. Following her eating pattern, I cut back on carbohydrates and added protein, mostly lean meat. My mental preparation includes visualization. I mentally see myself doing the swimming strokes just right. I set goals. I try to stay positive and always believe I’ll do well.”

In regard to what he hoped to achieve in the weekend event he said, “ My goal in the Penticton race is to place first overall, not just in my age category. I know it’s a long shot, but I’m strong in windy conditions. If there is wind, it’s not impossible.” He is definitely a believer, but also pragmatic. “I’ll still be pleased if I finish in the top 3 in my category.”

Until recently, Duane raced mostly in triathlons. With the introduction of the aquabike event, 3 km swimming and 120 km cycling, he dropped the running. “Aquabike is geared to individuals 50 and over,” he explained. “A lot of men aren’t eager to run after hitting 50. It’s hard on the joints. Aquabike makes it easier to continue competing. This event in Penticton is the first World Championship in Aquabike.”

Talking about his bike, Duane said, “Competitive racers use deep dish wheels. They’re designed to shed wind. These wheels alone cost $4,000. I have about $10,000 invested in this bike.” I observed with chagrin that the wheels on my old mountain bike bear little resemblance to the wheels on his bike.

Duane Fritchie showing the Cervelo P5 bike he rode to become the 2017 World Champion in Aquabike in his age category.

“A good bike is essential,” Duane said, “but you need people to support you. Mary is my greatest source of encouragement. When I’m riding with others, she drives the support vehicle. Also, our 3 daughters urge me to train with them. I ride 200 to 400 miles a week. Along the route, I watch for places to swim.”

For Duane and Mary, their efforts are not just about being fit, racing, or winning world championships.

“We hope our example will persuade young people and older ones to believe for more,” they agreed. “And,” Mary added, “we’re involved in enabling people with MS to ride.”

The MS involvement began when Les Gatrel, a champion wrestler and businessman, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “The wrestlers supported him and we worked together to get Les on a bike,” Duane said. “Initially he rode tandem with me. Now he rides his own bike, 4,000 miles in the last 3 years. Along the way, Wrestling MS was established. Now the organization provides MS patients with bikes, hope and support to help them regain balance, strength and freedom. All at no cost to them.

When we talked with Duane and Mary last Wednesday, their close bond was evident. On Saturday he finished strong overall and captured first place in his age category. We are proud to have had these world champion partners in our community.

 

Harry Explains Evolution To A Skeptic

Evolution of Man
sapientiaexamino.wordpress.com

When I met Harry in the Penticton library 3 years ago, I couldn’t avoid noticing that he possessed some of the physical attributes of a Sumo wrestler. In time I would conclude he didn’t have the aggressive thinking required for that sport. He was actually a wonderfully gentle soul. At one time a science lecturer in a small Saskatchewan college, when his third wife walked out for the final time, he had needed a diversion. After migrating to Penticton and settling into a cheap one bedroom apartment, he took up the study of evolution, something he had long wanted to do.

When Harry realized I lacked enthusiasm for his new pursuit, he quickly deemed it his responsibility to enlighten me. In spite of his zeal for the subject, he was patient. I liked Harry and decided to let him teach me, and also do my own research. On my infrequent trips to Penticton, we met for coffee at the Shades On Main restaurant. He was always waiting for me at the most remote table. This allowed us to eat the 4 Tim Hortons donuts he invariably brought in a brown paper bag.

Harry began without the usual pleasantries the first time we met. I could tell he had been totally immersed in the subject, probably rarely straying from his tiny apartment except for trips to the library. Eager to share his new found knowledge, he said, “Evolution happened over many millions of years. Natural selection is a key aspect of Darwin’s concept. It takes place slowly, by accumulating slight, successive, favourable variations. Darwin said no sudden modifications are possible.” I sensed he had memorized this for my benefit. Pausing to add more sugar and milk to his already enriched coffee, he continued, “In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says natural selection is the only workable alternative to chance that has ever been suggested.”

That week I checked into this and learned about the “Cambrian Explosion” which scientists believe happened approximately 600 million years ago. During this event major groups of animals, called phyla, appeared suddenly in the fossil record. Darwin knew the fossil record failed to support his Tree of Life concept which predicts a long history of gradual divergences from a common ancestor, with the differences slowly increasing.

I felt considerable puzzlement at this. When Harry came to Hedley a few weeks later, over lunch in the sun room of our home, I asked him if evolutionary scientists have a credible response. Waving a hand as though it wasn’t a reason for concern, he said, “Darwin hoped that future fossil discoveries would explain this. To this time that hasn’t happened but the research is continuing. If I learn anything more I’ll let you know.”

At our next meeting Harry showed up with his brown bag as usual. I sensed his excitement immediately. He had come across the 2001 U.S. Public Broadcasting System’s 7 part series, Evolution. “At the end of the program,” he announced with evangelistic conviction, “they said all known scientific evidence supports evolution. They also said virtually every reputable scientist in the world believes this is true.” He leaned toward me, smiling with anticipation and waiting for my response, certain I couldn’t disagree with so many scientific heavy weights on his side. I felt the heat of his massive body.

I knew he was trying to be helpful and I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. “That’s pretty impressive Harry,” I said. “I’ll definitely continue with my research.”

That week I unearthed a 2 page advertisement in the The Weekly Standard, published on October 1, 2001. One hundred scientists, many of them highly regarded professors with doctorates from prestigious universities like Cambridge, Stanford, Yale and Rutgers, had issued a response to the PBS program. Entitled A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, it said in part, “We are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

Over the next year, Harry several times countered my reservations about evolution by asking, “If there is a Designer, what is his or her origin?” Certainly both Evolution and Intelligent Design pose significant questions for which neither science or religion have satisfactory answers. Several months ago Harry fell in love again and returned to Saskatchewan. In spite of his sincere efforts, concerning evolution, I remain a skeptic.

Nickel Plate Reunion In Hedley

Former residents of Nickel Plate townsite.

This past weekend Hedley was the scene of a pretty unique reunion. Participants came from various points in the province. With the exception of one individual, as children they had all lived at the Nickel Plate townsite, high on the mountain overlooking Hedley. Their parents worked for the Kelowna Exploration Company, the entity which operated the highly lucrative Nickel Plate Mine.

The mine ceased operations in 1955, so these people are now seniors. Although they’ve had several reunions previously, some had not connected since the mining days. Bob Richards of Penticton, whose father was a foreman at the mine, largely organized the event. Now age 74, he has worked in mines himself and has also earned his living as a wrestler. Like the others, he spoke fondly of his childhood years living in the Nickel Plate community.

Bob Richards

I was one when my parents moved up,” he said. “We left when I was 12. Those were good years. The mine provided a bowling alley and a skating rink. It helped us create a ski run, and much more. I attended school up there until grade 6.”

Patsy (Williams) Ehlbeck

Patsy Ehlbeck (nee Williams), spoke of her father (known by miners as Dibbs) who was mine superintendent during the family’s years at the town site. Her parents had given the Museum a painting of the family home on the mountain. This was of particular interest to Patsy.

Garnet Graham

Garnet Graham, now living in Prince George, said “There were about 40 families up there, plus singles. My dad worked in the mine and is mentioned in Mines of the Eagle Country. It was a great place to be a kid. We had lots of freedom. Sometimes we rode our bikes to Nickel Plate Lake. I have awesome memories of that time.”

Ore was sent down the tram line in skips (ore cars) to the Stamp Mill on the periphery of Hedley. The skips were controlled by the Hoist Man at Central Station part way up the line. “There was one house at Central, and this is where our family lived,” said Carl Lofroth, now of Terrace. For this reason he didn’t have as much interaction with the children of the Nickel Plate community. Even so, there are plenty of great memories. “We had Disney movies,” he said, “and there were Chinese dinners. We went camping together and had picnics.” He doesn’t recall any quarreling. When he was 6, his family moved down into Hedley where he attended school.

Jim Munro

Jim Munro lived at Nickel Plate from age 9 to 14. His dad was the camp administrator. “Kids had the run of the town,” he recalled, “but we couldn’t get too far out of line. Everyone knew who your parents were. It was like having 40 moms and 40 dads.”

Carl Lafroth

During the open mike session, there were a number of references to riding the skip down to Hedley. “People would ride the skip down and do their shopping,” Carl Lafroth explained. “On the way down, we sat on the ore. This allowed us to have a great view of the valley. On the return trip up the mountain, the skip would be empty. We’d be lower and couldn’t see much.”

Don Armstrong provided 2 cakes. This one had a photo of the stamp mill. The other showed the trestle bridge crossing the Similkameen river.

After many laughs, the reunion group was joined by locals for an outdoor roast beef dinner hosted by Don Armstrong and assisted by Judy Turner, Sharon Sund and others, all of Hedley. In the evening the Black Birds provided music for a street dance.

Collaborating For Better Health Care

Nienke Klaver & Ed Staples

Thirty six acres straddling the Tulameen River several miles from Princeton seems an unlikely, overly serene retirement setting for a couple that has traveled, worked and lived in diverse places around the globe. For Ed Staples and Nienke Klaver though, it’s just right. Their wide ranging experiences had prepared them to take a leadership role in striving for better health care in the Similkameen valley.

Sitting in our sun room with a cup of steaming coffee in hand, Ed said, “our time in other countries made us more compassionate. In Chile we watched a young boy playing with an old, deflated soccer ball. I bought a new ball. When I handed it to him, his expression of gratitude and wonderment was life changing. What we experienced helps us understand how fortunate we are in Canada.”

Nienke nodded and said, “One day in Lhasa, Tibet we were walking in a circle, participating in a ceremony. An elderly woman grasped my hand and walked beside me. We didn’t understand each other but we smiled a lot. The needs and wants of people are very similar.”

Nienke came to Canada in 1981 to visit her sister and pursue a masters degree at the University of Victoria. Ed had recently returned from 3 years of teaching in Saudi Arabia. They met one evening when Nienke and her friend Gwen ran out of gas a block from Ed’s home. Gwen knew him so she asked if he had gas. He did and gave it to them. A few days later Ed accompanied them to a Doug and the Slugs concert. He and Nienke sat side by side and it was the beginning of a romance that blossomed into marriage and a life long adventurous partnership.

They traveled extensively and have memories that still influence their thinking and values. “Some roads in Paraguay were so bad I didn’t take the Toyota out of first gear,” Ed said. Tibet provided aunique experience. Two Buddhist monks invited them to their monastery. Here they were granted a rare private audience with the Rinpoche, a highly revered religious leader who had trained with the Dalai Lama. In Japan, where they lived 10 years, Ed taught music at the American School in Japan and Nienke taught violin. She has played with symphony orchestras in Amsterdam, Victoria and Edmonton.

Upon returning from Japan they bought the acreage outside Princeton. “Traveling and living in other countries gave us a greater appreciation for what we have in Canada,” Ed said. “It helped us understand more fully that people need to accept responsibility for the well being of their community. It doesn’t just happen.” He recalled his father’s words, “if you want things to change, you need to get involved and help bring about the change.”

We became aware of a gradual erosion of health care in our community,” Nienke remembers. “We had only one doctor on call. Then there was an announcement that the Emergency Ward in our hospital would be closed 4 nights each week.”

When Nienke began circulating a petition on behalf of health care in the area, Ed was initially reluctant. Seeing people were concerned and were signing the petition, he too became active. “At first people didn’t believe anything would change. Nienke isn’t afraid to try things though,” he observed. “She persevered in spite of the pessimism.” The petition collected 3,600 names and public officials took notice.

Ed and Nienke are grateful for the support and help they received from others. Brad Hope (Area H Regional Director at that time) and his wife June were knowledgeable and helpful. “Also,” Ed said, “we received good advice from Walter Despot, former mayor of Keremeos. He gave us a tour of the South Similkameen Health Centre and advised us to work constructively with Interior Health. There we met Susan Brown. Without her, nothing would have happened. Dr Monro of Princeton has provided great ideas. She’s a firecracker! We became collaborative, not confrontational.”

They developed Support our Health Care (SOHC), a local grassroots organization dedicated to the improvement of Princeton’s model of healthcare. It has joined the B.C. Health Coalition. SOHC has begun working with similar organizations in other rural communities.

We now have visiting specialists, and Princeton and Keremeos have Community Paramedicine programs,” Nienke said at the end. Ed added, “we can’t claim the credit, but our group has developed fertile ground for improvements in health care.”

Good Bye To Dwight And Spook

Dwight & Spook and the loaded 1928 Chrysler coupe.

Moving out of a home inevitably entails considerable planning and work. Our neighbour Dwight (Whitey) has been moving out for at least 2 weeks. It’s taking that long because not only does he have a house full of the usual belongings, his double car garage has been crowded with quite an array of “toys”.

At one time there was a sporty little convertible in there. He must have sold it to make space for other items. I haven’t seen it for some time. A 1928 Chrysler coupe needing a lot of work took its place. In time, he and his friend Leroy turned it into a dazzlingly pretty hot rod, with a chopped roof. A real peppy little job with a 1979 Chev 350 motor. He also has a regular “family” type car, plus a heavy duty pickup. Not that he has a family living with him.

1928 Chrysler, photo taken June, 2015.

Several years ago he bought a motor home, about 27 feet long. It’s been gone for about 2 weeks, so I think he found a place to park it until he settles in somewhere.

Other than the hot rod coupe, it’s the Harley that has attracted most attention in our quiet little community. Some people in town think he must be a Hell’s Angel. I’ve never seen any indication of that. They certainly haven’t stopped by to chat.

There used to be parties in the back yard on his side of the hedge that separates our properties. Dwight is pretty generous with his beer and at times the music, talk and laughing made it necessary to close our bedroom windows at night. I think Kim, our neighbour across the street may have paid him a visit to discuss that. In the past year there have been fewer people and the noise level has been negligible. I suppose its his biker image, his congeniality, and his willingness to share the beer that have drawn a seemingly continuous stream of people to him.

Recently he casually informed me he has a girlfriend in Alberta. He said she was coming out shortly to spend a week with him and he’d introduce me. Shelly did indeed show up and I found her to be an attractive lady with a lively personality. She’s likeable and easy to converse with.

I understand now why he changed his mind about where he’d settle. Initially he thought it might be Salmon Arm. Now it’s definitely a small community not far from Edmonton. He told me the land around there is swampy and infested with mosquitoes. I asked why he’d leave Hedley for a place with an abundance of creatures eager to torment him. “It’s for the love of a woman,” he said. I’m going to miss Dwight and his faithful companion, Spook.

Chief Holmes of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band

Chief Rick Holmes at the entrance to the Snaza’ist Centre

Rick Holmes, Chief of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, doesn’t attempt to impress people with the position. In preparation for an on-stage interview at the Hedley Canada Day celebration, I asked how I should introduce him. “You can introduce me as Chief,” he said, “then call me Rick. It’s only a title.”

In a subsequent conversation with him in our home, Linda and I sensed his thinking extends comfortably well beyond Reserve boundaries. There is an evident openness to interactions with the Similkameen community and the world beyond.

He attributes much of his shaping to being placed in a foster home in Alberta at the beginning of grade 4. “I think my mom agreed to it because she thought I’d have a chance at a better education,” he told us. “I see it as a positive. During that time I lived in the homes of 2 different families. I still stay in touch. This June I went to Alberta to visit them.”

He says observing his foster parents shaped his values. “When I ran for Chief last year,” he said, “I told the band I bring fairness and honesty.”

Rick first sought the position of Chief in 1990, but lost to Slim Allison. Elections take place on a 2 year cycle and in 1992 he won. He says Slim Allison gave him a piece of wise advice. “Some people will holler and scream at you, but don’t do the same.”

The band, which now has about 210 members, doesn’t provide a salary, he said, but he does receive an honorarium. He works at the Copper Mountain Mine, operating a crusher. Three of his five children also work there. “My daughter Rosie drives a haul truck,” he said. “The tires are huge. They cost about $30,000 each.” He is obviously pleased that his children are gainfully employed.

Jobs and band prosperity are high on my list of priorities. It’s a big thing for me that our people should not have to depend on the band for a job. Quite a few band members work at the mine.” Doing a quick mental count he said there are 14 to 18 including spouses. “We have several small contracts with the mine. I’d like to see this increased, but we don’t use the band to bully anyone to get work. We listen and try to get a foot in the door.”

We have a logging operation in the Princeton area,” he said. “It has a crew of 7 men. In the past it was one of the biggest in the southern interior. We have our own equipment, a feller/buncher, 2 skidders, a cat and loader and processors.”

Wanting to clear up a common misconception, he said “we get the same deductions from our cheques as others. We pay income tax. Also, our homes are not given to us. We have to buy them.”

Chief Rick Holmes beside a display in the Snaza’ist Centre

He told us the band office receives daily inquiries concerning the popular mine tours. “There is work needing to be done up there. We’re still looking at the idea of a gondola, but that’s for the future.” The band is also considering re-starting the Princeton Pow Wow. When I asked if band members attend the Ashnola Pow Wow, he said, “I believe they all do.”

Rick understands that as a leader he needs to give attention to his health. He walks along the highway morning and evening (“when I can”), a total of almost 8 miles. He also plays slow pitch ball. “We have a family team. I used to play short stop but now one of my sons is better, so I’ve moved to third base. I’m still a pretty decent ball player.” He has three sons. Two are mirror image identical twins and both are power hitters.

When he’s invited to functions outside the band, he attends if his schedule permits. When possible, he attends district School Board meetings. Teachers at times ask him to come and read to students. He enjoys doing this.

Rick understands the importance of a relationship with the larger Similkameen community. “We can work together on some issues and help each other.” He cited the example of Hedley’s Fire Department fighting the grass fire on reserve land recently. “We very much appreciate the efforts of the fire fighters, band members and everyone who came to help.”

It seems there are possibilities for increased cooperation and positive interactions between the band and its neighbours.

Hedley Citizens Clean Cenotaph

(clockwise) Bill Day on ladder, Peggy Terry, Andy English, Linda Martens, Margaret Skaar

Carrying buckets of water, soft brushes and toothbrushes, six enthusiastic Hedley citizens showed up at 9 am this past Sunday to thoroughly clean the Hedley cenotaph. Restored recently, with the help of fundraising and a matching grant from the federal government, the cenotaph will be rededicated at 1:00 pm on August 26th. The impetus for the refurbishing came from local researchers Jennifer Douglass and Andy English. From early issues of the Princeton Star and the Hedley Gazette, and conversations with descendants of service men named on the cenotaph, Douglass and English gleaned considerable information that might have been lost without their efforts. Their research brought to light 2 new names that needed to be added. According to English, the cenotaph may have been the first in Canada. Its location marks a point where 17 local recruits assembled in August 1915, prior to departing for Penticton where they enlisted. They were given a rousing send off with a marching band, a large banner and much applause and cheering.

Bill Day observing Jennifer Douglass meticulously cleaning with a toothbrush.
Peggy Terry, Terry Sawiuk & Andy English coming up with a plan to repair the cement floor. (The repair has since been successfully completed by Terry Sawiuk & Bill Day).

Tim Roberts, Enthusiastic About Community Paramedicine

Tim Roberts, Community Paramedic

I know the name of every person represented by a white cross along the highway,” Tim Roberts told Linda and me last week. As a paramedic, he has been called to the scene of numerous tragic accidents in the Similkameen Valley. When he arrived at our home, he was wearing a uniform representing Community Paramedicine, a new service being offered to local citizens.

Tim and I came to know each other when we worked together in a program for emotionally disturbed youths at the One Way Adventure Foundation in Hedley. After that our paths intersected only occasionally. I was interested in hearing how life circumstances had prepared him for his current challenging role.

Tim Roberts

The work in Hedley gave me an opportunity to acquire leadership experience and a better understanding of people,” he said. “By observing one administrator, I learned about management. From a program coordinator I learned about developing relationships. When I made mistakes, I tried to not repeat them. In 1990 I married Vera and at age 26 I became administrator of the organization’s Ashnola Campus, now the site of Ashnola Crossing. I ran a residential program for 10 young probationers. I wanted staff to become involved with our students and help them learn to make wise choices.” Making appropriate choices would become a theme for him in later assignments.

When the government discontinued that program,” he said “we provided activities for groups seeking wilderness adventure and experience. Vera was head wrangler.”

While they developed new strategies to remain financially afloat, Tim worked nights as a custodian for the Keremeos school district. Then, back at the Camp, after a few hours sleep he would rise early to help in the kitchen. Tim and Vera did facility upgrading, including painting. They cleaned toilets and did whatever was required.

After several years of unstinting commitment and effort on their part, the organization leaders decided the Ashnola Campus must be sold. By then the school district knew of Tim’s experience in working with youth and invited him to apply to become a behavioral counselor. “I did sessions on substance abuse and making smart choices. I confessed I at one time had a 2 pack a day cigarette habit. By choosing to butt out, I was able to save enough money so Vera and I could go to Fiji for our honeymoon. I wanted them to understand often there are alternative more beneficial choices.”

Now Unit Head with the Keremeos Ambulance Service, Tim is enthusiastic about the Community Paramedicine program recently introduced in both Keremeos and Princeton. “With an aging population,” he observed, “our medical system needs to deal with more chronic health issues. The Paramedicine program helps people of all ages better self manage their health and stay in their home longer.”

I asked Tim how the new system works. “My partner, Tom Robins and I are each assigned to the program 2 days a week,” he said. “A doctor or community nurse can assign a person to us. If the individual has foot problems, we can arrange an appointment with a specialist in this field.” He paused, then added, “if it’s a falling issue, we check for proper banisters, electrical cords on the floor, poor lighting, carpeted floors, shuffling due to inappropriate slippers.”

Tim emphasized they don’t tell the individual what to do. “We inquire about their health goals. If we think diet may be an issue, we don’t tell them what to eat. We ask if they would eat other foods if this didn’t entail additional expense. We can refer them to a dietitian. We have great resources in the Similkameen valley.”

Tim’s voice and facial expressions conveyed his enthusiasm for the potential benefits of the program. “In the past I challenged youths to examine their life choices,” he said. “In this program we invite people to examine their health and lifestyle choices. The program reduces financial stress on our medical system by dealing with issues before they become serious. Most important, it offers people the possibility of better health and greater enjoyment of life at any time, including the senior years.”

I sensed in Tim a compelling desire to help people live more complete lives. It seems built into his marrow. As a regular paramedic, there will still be white crosses. In Community Paramedicine, he can help people extend their lives.

For a referral to this program, consult your family doctor or other health care professional.

Mennonite Metis On A Harley

Andrea Dan on her Harley

When Andrea Dan pulled into the gathering of cousins in Kelowna, the low growl of her Harley attracted my attention. I knew of her but we had never talked. Her chaotic lifestyle had permitted only limited contact with family. The motorcycle and her demeanor suggested an independent spirit.

The occasion was an annual event hosted by my Aunt Nettie, her effort to keep the family together. I don’t recall Andrea ever attending previously. During a brief conversation, she agreed to meet with Linda and me in Abbotsford a few days hence.

Andrea was the offspring of a man of French descent and an indigenous woman. She was placed in foster care at 6 months. In her fourth year, Social Services placed her and 2 sisters temporarily with my Uncle Peter and Aunt Nettie, who already had 4 sons and a daughter. Ten days later at the court hearing, the mother didn’t show up. The girls were left with my uncle and aunt, who attended a Mennonite church and practised a simple, conservative lifestyle.

I was a rebel from an early age,” Andrea admitted. “I didn’t like the family rules and I refused to obey them. There were turbulent scenes.”

Although she brought almost continuous havoc into the home, she came to think of her foster parents as mom and dad. “It got really out of hand when I stole Mom’s engagement ring. She was deeply hurt and told me I’d have to live elsewhere until I was ready to respect the home.”

For 3 years she lived with foster parents in 100 Mile House, then returned home, pregnant and in need of support. “Mom and Dad loved me and helped me through that time,” she said. “I wasn’t ready to settle down though. I was still a rebel. I still wanted freedom from rules.”

There were 5 marriages. I walked away from the first 3. My third husband tried to kill me in an automobile accident. I spent months in a trauma unit. Mom and Dad urged me to come home. They nursed me back to health. They saved my life.”

Although she returned to her chaotic lifestyle after each disaster, she stayed in touch with the family.

My fourth husband walked out on me. That was painful. The fifth marriage lasted 15 years, but only because I was too scared to leave. My husband was completely controlling. He told me when I could work and when I couldn’t. It was always a huge fight when I wanted to visit family. I wasn’t allowed to go out. I had no friends. Drugs and alcohol became my escape.” Her desperate desire for freedom had brought her almost complete bondage.

She didn’t want to be a mother. Even so, she had 3 children. “My sister Jean was more of a mother to them those years,” she said.

Andrea’s expression became serious. “Dad was my hero. When he became ill I managed to get away to see him in the hospital at the very end. He was already unresponsive, but when I greeted him he opened his eyes and recognized me. He gave me a big smile. The next day he died.” She could not quite control the tears.

Eight years ago Andrea bought the Harley and rode across Canada with her husband. On the bike she felt free. A few months ago she found the courage to leave the controlling husband. “I waited for good weather. When it came, I jumped on the bike and rode from Vanderhoof to my sister Jean’s home at the Coast.”

Now liberated to ride as she chooses, she told us “I prefer to ride alone, and very fast. Other bikes don’t pass me.”

She rides a Harley, but she’s also a lady.

Reflecting on her life Andrea said, “I made bad choices. I don’t blame anyone. Now my strength comes from my family. They kept me alive. They prayed for me and helped me see there was hope. Mom became my best friend when I had my third child. My sisters are very important too. I love my children and grandchildren. Since leaving my marriage, the drugs and alcohol have dropped away. When people ask who I am, I tell them I’m a Mennonite Metis.”

Before mounting the Harley to leave she said, “I’m not bitter. My choices brought the trouble. Now I just want to live a good life.” The Harley growled and she was gone, free at last.

Aunt Mary’s Commitment Shaped Lives

Aunt Mary celebrating her 90th birthday.

I wasn’t really surprised there was no mention in the national, or even the local Manitoba media, of the recent passing of my 98 year old Aunt Mary. She had not battled for social justice like Supreme Court Judge Bertha Wilson. Nor did she have Emily Carr’s remarkable ability to create inspiring scenes on canvas. What she did have was an understanding of the importance of commitment. Especially a commitment to living in a manner that positively impacts the thinking and actions of the next generation. In my opinion, she lived in a way that is as beneficial to our country as the lives of more well known citizens.

Working with young offenders in Hedley, I saw repeatedly the unfortunate results of careless, self-indulgent, neglectful parenting. Almost without exception, the youths sent to us came from shattered, dysfunctional families. The parents seemed to not understand that their values and attitudes were exacting a toll on the future of their children. Apparently it did not occur to them that without constructive examples to observe and learn from, their offspring would be ill-equipped to participate productively in the life of our nation.

When Aunt Mary’s husband, David, lost a battle with cancer, she could have become immersed in self pity. David had been a strong man, physically, mentally and emotionally. He had brought order and stability, as well as a sense of humour. At age 46, with 2 young sons still at home, she now needed to be the one who was strong for them.

For many years I had not had much contact with Aunt Mary. To learn more of her life, I called each of her 3 older offspring, all living in Manitoba. Sara, the youngest of the 3 said “mom loved to be with people and to serve them. She was very thankful, and she knew how to laugh. She lived on the 6th floor in a residence for seniors. When a group came to provide music, she always went down to the entrance to open the door for the guests and welcome them. She would often say ‘we should be thankful for people who come to sing.’” Sara also said, “I did everything I could for her. I’m so grateful for that.” She had been inspired by her mother’s example of service to others.

Elsie, the eldest, said their mom walked a lot until she was 95. “If it’s not raining,” she would say, “I’m walking.”

As long as she could walk,” Elsie said, “she volunteered in a care home for the elderly. Often she pushed people in their wheelchairs. When there was a potluck in her residence, if someone wasn’t well enough to attend, she would bring them a tray laden with food.”

Ed said, “Mom often wanted to visit relatives in Barkfield and Gruenthal. These relationships were important to her, so I would take her there. Sometimes there were functions in her church that involved a meal. When she finished eating, she’d get up and help with clearing tables.”

In the Fernwood residence where she lived, people place a yellow card on the outside of their entry door before retiring at night. In the morning, by 10 am, they take it back in. “For many years Mom would walk the halls on all the floors, checking for cards,” Ed said. “If there was a card after 10 am, she would knock on the door and inquire if there was a problem. She was still doing this in her nineties.”

Aunt Mary did all she could to foster strong relationships in her family. “Toward the end of her days,” Ed told me, “she encouraged us to always love one another.”

Having received only a rudimentary education in a remote one room rural school, Aunt Mary never achieved the renown of Canadian icons like Bertha Wilson and Emily Carr. After listening to members of her family and others though, I decided her commitment to service had positively shaped thinking and actions in her limited sphere of influence. She encouraged people with her smile, a cheery greeting, sometimes by noticing they had a need. Aunt Mary demonstrated that if we are alert and willing, there are many little actions that can bring a ray of sunlight and a reminder someone cares. Fortunately she isn’t the only one doing this. Our country needs many more.