Porch Views: remarkable Madawaska Valley women

Mark-Woermke-Porch-ViewsOn March 8, I started a Facebook post recognizing International Women’s Day. Before clicking “share” I realized it had potential as a Porch Views column, so I deleted it and started creating a list of remarkable Madawaska Valley women. My list grew until it had far too many names for a column, so I’ve narrowed it down to three community builders and role models.

Thank you to these women’s family members and friends whose generosity made it possible for me to share these stories with my readers.

Zita Glofcheskie

Zita Glofcheskie was a life-long learner. In 1975, she obtained her B.A. from the University of Ottawa graduating magna cum laude. (Photo submitted)

Zita Shalla was born in Barry’s Bay in 1923. Known to her family and friends as “Zip” because of her energy and enthusiasm, Zita attended St. Joseph’s for elementary and secondary school. Her father’s death during the Great Depression left a lasting impression on a 12-year-old Zita. Her mother was a teacher but had to stay home with her young family, so she did laundry for the men at Omanique’s Mill. Experiences such as this inspired Zita to live a life of service.

After attending the North Bay Normal School, Zita embarked on a teaching career which took her to Griffith, Arnprior, Wilno and Barry’s Bay. Zita was known for welcoming all students – even the difficult ones.

There is no such thing as a bad child, she would say. It’s the world that makes them that way.

She served her colleagues through union work (she was a delegate to the 1948 Catholic Teachers convention); by organizing professional development opportunities, and by acting as principal for the off-campus University of Ottawa courses which were offered in Barry’s Bay in the 1970s so teachers could obtain university degrees. A life-long learner herself, Zita participated in the Christopher leadership course and completed her Bachelor of Arts, graduating magna cum laude from the University of Ottawa 1975.

Zita served her parish, St. Hedwig’s, in the Sacred Heart League, through sacramental preparation, as a choir member and organist, and a parish councillor. In terms of the wider community, she left her mark in a number of significant ways. She was a charter member and president of the St. Francis Memorial Hospital Auxiliary. As a director of the board that established Madawaska Valley District High School, Zita worked with people from throughout the area to improve access to education. Zita was also the first president of the organization that would become known as the Madawaska Valley Association for Community Living.

Zita married Bronis Glofcheskie in 1948. Raising a family and teaching full time was a challenge, but Zita was fortunate to have a supportive husband. There was no separation between a man’s work and a woman’s work in the Glofcheskie home. It was not unusual for Bronis to make supper while Zita shovelled the driveway. After her retirement, she compiled scrapbooks of mementoes, articles and pictures of her family and community. According to her son Michael,

Zita followed anyone that she ever knew or taught. She was part of many people’s lives; but they were, also, always part of hers.

Zita died in 2009 surrounded by her six surviving children, their spouses and grandchildren. Zita’s daughter Mary Blank reflects on her mother’s influence:

As I got older, in my work and family, I began to understand all of the things she was teaching us, and they began to come through in me.

Bernadette Plebon

As a young wife and mother, Bernadette Plebon worked alongside her husband to manage two businesses. (Photo submitted)

Bernadette Chippior was born in Wilno in 1919, the ynoungest of six children. Her father died in a lumber camp when the children were young and her mother who was a midwife provided for her family by working as a seamstress, planting big gardens and raising chickens. Bernadette left home at fourteen to work as a housekeeper in Ottawa for a dentist and his family. At 26, she married Ambrose Plebon and they settled in the Bay. Family was their priority, and Bernadette and Ambrose worked together to build prosperous businesses — Lakeside Pavilion and A.J. Plebon Well Tile. When Ambrose was killed in 1967, Bernadette was left alone to provide for her four children and did her best to maintain the family businesses. When she realized she couldn’t manage any longer, she did not despair: she went to work for others, first at The Kamaniskeg Style Shop and then at The Mayflower.

Bernadette’s faith was her source of strength throughout her life, and one of the ways she gave back was through service to her parish. She worked at the annual St Hedwig’s Parish picnics, and until her death she was a member of the Sacred Heart League. She was also active in the broader Madawaska Valley community. Bernadette was an active member of the PTA and the auxiliaries of the Royal Canadian Legion, Valley Manor and St. Francis Memorial Hospital. Bernadette was instrumental in starting a developmental unit at Sherwood Public School which evolved into the Madawaska Valley Association for Community Living.

Community involvement was very important to Bernadette, and her daughter, former Madawaska Valley councillor Linda Neuman, speaking on behalf of herself and her sisters, explains their mom’s legacy:
Mom instilled in us the importance of family and community and how to give back. As her daughters, we knew that we could survive and do what we had to for ourselves and our families no matter the situation.

If Mom could do it, so could we. She was our inspiration!

Although family was very important to Bernadette, she always said she would never live with any of her children as she did not want to be a burden. She was determined to be very independent. When it was time to leave her home beside the old pavilion, Bernadette moved into an apartment in The Golden Age Chateau where, following a brief illness, she died in 2016.

Dorothy Waddington

Dorothy Waddington taught school in Hybla, Pleasant Valley, Bell’s Rapids and Purdy before going into business. (Photo submitted)

Dorothy Jenkins was born in Monteagle Township, Hastings County in 1931 and attended Greenview School and North Hastings High School in Bancroft. After graduation, she taught in one-room schools in Hybla and Pleasant Valley. After completing a one-year commercial course in 1948, she went to Toronto and got a job as an investigator for a finance company on Adelaide Street. In the early 1950s, she worked in the office at the Lanning Hat Factory in Belleville.

While working a summer job waiting tables at The Sunset Inn owned by the widow of the late Captain Hudson, Dorothy met Mrs. Hudson’s nephew Cameron Waddington. They went together for five years before being married in 1954. Dorothy taught school for a few years in Bell’s Rapids and Purdy, but she had other plans. In 1961 she opened The Dot Shop in Barry’s Bay on Opeongo Road selling ladies wear, crystal, china, and other giftware. In 1969, she became the Simpsons-Sears catalogue sales agent for the area.

During her time in business, Dorothy helped establish the Madawaska Valley Regional Tourist Council and the Chamber of Commerce. Through these organisations, she helped bring a number of events to the area including the London-Brighton auto tour which held its evening reception at the old Pavilion, and Gordie Tapp and his touring show in the late 1960s. Dot was also a charter member of the Lionettes.

Dorothy had a supportive husband and family who shared her desire to give back to the community. Cam was very good to help with their children Kent and Susie and often had supper on the table when Dot got home. Frequently, she had evening meetings with the Chamber of Commerce, Lionettes, Tourist Council, St. Paul’s Anglican Church or some other community initiative. Kent Waddington considers his mom a pioneer of sorts:

In an era where women were expected to be at home, Mom was busy running a business, and helping to found service groups in our communities and trying to help the less fortunate.

Dorothy died in 1987 at St. Francis Memorial Hospital and was buried in St. Paul’s Anglican Cemetery in Combermere. Her long-time friend, Bernice Boehme who roomed with Dot in Belleville and later worked at The Dot Shop remembers her as a person who loved her family and community and served as a good role model:

She was a professional-type person who had a strong work ethic. She never expected others to do work she was not willing to do herself.

Three of thousands

Zita, Bernadette and Dot were three remarkable ladies whose strength, example and leadership helped build our community and whose stories continue to inspire us. There are thousands of others, living and dead, well-known or obscure who have enriched all of our lives in the Madawaska Valley.

I started this piece with a list of all the deceased ladies who helped me become the man I am today. It was a moving experience of recognition and gratitude. I highly recommend the exercise to my readers, and if any Porch Viewers would like to share a story about a remarkable Madawaska Valley woman, please leave a comment on the Madawaska Valley Current site.

12 Comments

  1. Lynne Yantha

    Well done Mark! 3 remarkable women who formed our community into the great at place it is today! Dot was certainly a big part of my life. I recall learning to help prepare supper while my Mom, Bernice, worked at Sears part-time! I’m sure it wasn’t as difficult a task as it seemed at the time!

  2. Linda Neuman

    Thanks Mark! A great article. Zita Glofcheskie was my grade 4 teacher and I remember it so we’ll. I also sang in the choir at St. Hedwig’s church under her direction. She was strict, demanded attention when she was teaching but she also had a very caring side that you felt as a child. Dot Waddington was my first employer. My first summer job was at the Dot Shop when I was 15. I remember having to keep the glass shelves dusted…moving china cups and saucers on glass shelves was not an easy task…so afraid of breaking something. But, I didn’t. It was a great experience! Thanks to these two great ladies for their contribution. And then there is my mother!💙

  3. Joanne Olsen

    Thank you Mark for reminding us of these inspirational women. My life was impacted most by my maternal grandmother, Tessie O’Grady, who was the ultimate in customer service Avon lady and my great Aunt, Stasia Dunnigan who, as owner of the Balmoral Hotel, made every guest’s experience memorable.

  4. Gil Glofcheskie

    I remember these ladies very well .
    They were all amazing . Thank you for jogging my memory .
    Great article Mark .
    You have written some great stories.
    Looking forward to reading more.
    Cheers

  5. Linda Shulist

    Well done Mark. Sister Rosenda Brady deserves to be mentioned amongst the strong women who helped to build our local community. Her service to St. Francis Memorial Hospital and Valley Manor are two of her more well-known accomplishments. Hats off to you Sister Rosenda!

  6. Johanna Zomers

    I love that you are recognizing these women in your column! The valley is full of strong women of faith, conviction and determination who were quiet trailblazers in their communities-while keeping their households running smoothly…often as you point out, in true collaborative partnership with their spouses.
    I immediately think also of women like Sister Rosenda, Catherine Doherty, Gwen Foster, Bernice Billings and your very own feisty mother, Gwen Woermke.
    I really look forward to reading your Porch Views! Keep up the good work.

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