Strathcona teachers do not quit when they retire

By Emma Lien
President: 1988-1990
Membership Chair: 2004-2007

Strathcona teachers do not quit when they retire: they just find new paths to follow, new tasks to challenge them, and new pastimes to keep them young. The Strathcona Retired Teachers’ Association has provided them with a variety of outlets for their energy.

Two of our charter members were perfect illustrations: Mary Warnock and Edith Sawchuk kept busy and attended meetings until well past their hundredth years, and Frances Harcourt, at the age of 102 joins us regularly. Also an inspiration to us all are executive members like Henry Unrau and John Takahashi, who have served as treasurer and secretary for most of SCRTA’s existence.

SCRTA ‘s top priority when it was formed in 1987 was recruitment. The first president, Ron Mundell , with his executive of Bud Baker, Doris Corbin and Ena Campbell, set out to gather together like-minded individuals with the three goals of sharing fellowship, improving member-welfare, and being actively involved in the group and in the community. By 1990, Rosaline Hupfer proudly announced a membership of 104; and Mary Thompson, who had taught for years at the very first Salisbury School, received an award for becoming the 100th member. Present membership is 216.

Communication is an essential element of fellowship, and a quarterly newsletter originally created, printed and mailed by Rosaline Hupfer, has become a tradition, announcing meetings, advising on committee progress, reporting ARTA news and sharing items of local interest. Trudy Tienkamp also deserves special mention for her years as newsletter editor, together with the committee who took over licking stamps and doing the mailing. Today most newsletters are sent via e-mail, and the personal touch is provided by the phoning committee, long chaired by Natalie Labatiuk and Peggy Melmock. They keep members informed, making sure all retirees are advised of upcoming events and told how they can join in.

From its earliest years, SCRTA has relied on lively and creative entertainment committees to give members opportunities to meet and interact. First in the fall was the ‘To Hell with the Bell’ Breakfast, held on the day Strathcona’s schools opened. In recent years it has been followed by a golf tournament. Later in the fall, a picnic was held at Edna Bowick’s Kawtikh Resort, and the annual Christmas Luncheon boasted great food and lively entertainment sometimes provided by Joe Berlando and his band. The Spring Tea, held at the Salisbury Greenhouse is always popular as well.

A successful organization requires operating capital, and when membership fees (minimal) proved insufficient to provide for entertainers’ honoraria and hosting school officials, the group turned to its first fund raiser, the publication in 1990 of “Our Favorite Recipes Cookbook.” Sales were so good that a second printing of 200 books had to be ordered, and the final profit from the project exceeded $1900.

Reaching out to the wider community, several members of the executive joined the local Heritage Society in its attempt to establish a museum and archives in Sherwood Park. Urged on by Superintendent Gordon Welch, SCRTA set up a History and Archives Committee to collect, organize and store school artifacts, historical material and related information. Marg Williston was a passionate promoter of the project; and after her death George Milner continued her work. The collection is now found in the museum, which officially opened on July 12, 1997. Ron Mundell was a special guest at the opening as the Society paid tribute to SCRTA for their dedication to the project.

When Ralph Klein announced in 1994 that changes to educational boundaries would reduce the number of school jurisdictions from 140 to 60, an interesting conversation took place at a Board of Education function. A souvenir booklet stated in part that “History …will show the dedication and commitment of the employees of Strathcona County Council and the Board of Education….” SCRTA member Bill Labatiuk commented to Superintendent Terry Gunderson that “history won’t record anything unless somebody writes it.” And from that comment came SCRTA’s next and greatest project, the writing of a history of local schools, from the first one-room school districts formed in 1887 to the final day of Strathcona’s school system on January 12, 1995.

The work was supported and partly funded by a grant from the final Strathcona Board. The museum allowed space for Rosaline Hupfer and other members of the committee to store materials, hold meetings and interviews, and finally to tackle creation of the final product. SCRTA members by the dozens contributed articles, pictures and memories to fill over 300 pages of history. In 1999, the result, a hard-cover, illustrated book, was celebrated by a book launch held in the headquarters of the school system now known as Elk Island Public Schools. Titled “The Schools of Strathcona – A Success Story” and edited by Emma Lien, it became a resounding success, realizing sales of $12,642 by the time of the February, 2000 treasurer’s report. Sales of both histories and cookbooks continue to be added to the account.

In 2002 SCRTA donated $2,000 to the Fort Saskatchewan Historical Society, $2,000 to Sherwood Park’s Heritage Mile, $2315 to the Strathcona County Museum and $200 to the Volunteer Sculpture Project. In this way, the teachers who have been for years a part of the community have had a share in enriching its future.