KAGAWONG—Friends, family and neighbours gathered at the Park Centre on Sunday evening to recognize Billings Township’s Senior of the Year Jacquie Gordon.
Her five grown children Peter, Rory, Janyn, Todd and Skye, their spouses and many of her 11 grandchildren and five great grandchildren were in attendance to pay tribute.
Sharon Alkenbrack, deputy mayor for Billings Township, welcomed everyone to the Park Centre to celebrate Ms. Gordon’s distinction in the community. “I promised Jacquie this wasn’t a roast,” she teased. Ms. Alkenbrack invited everyone to sign a guest book at the back of the room and enjoy a piece of cake following the presentation and speeches.
Ms. Gordon’s youngest son Todd, who admits volunteering for the job of speaking on behalf of his family, laughed saying “it’s pretty long.” His speech was heartfelt and sprinkled with reminiscences of his mother’s early teaching days, questionable driving skills and her love and devotion to family and community.
Mr. Gordon began the tribute to his mom by saying “she will respond to Jackie, Jacquie, Ja or his personal favourite Mrs. G, anything but ‘miss’.”
His mother’s “ultimate life challenge,” Mr. Gordon joked, was her late husband Stan, whom she married in 1952.
After attending art school, followed by teacher’s college, Ms. Gordon taught in no less than five rural elementary schools between 1957 and 1969. She was everyone’s art teacher (this reporter included) at Manitoulin Secondary School from 1969 until 1987 when she retired from teaching. She has now been retired the same number of years as she taught: 30.
During and since her years teaching Mrs. G was active in her church, singing in the choir, taking on the role of lay minister and holding many executive positions and visited Japan through the Mindemoya United Church Pastoral Charge. She lad Explorers (which this writer was a member of), Girl Guides and CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training).
One of the organizations near and dear to her heart is Community Living Manitoulin. What began as the Flower of Hope School (Gore Bay), then Hope Farm (Mindemoya) and now CLM. Its early beginnings and the challenges faced by people like John Lane and Renie Noble did not deter Ms. Gordon from her role in reaching the goal of inclusion for adults with developmental handicaps.
Mr. Gordon shared his mother’s sense of style which includes her ever present earrings, fashion sense (some homemade or hand knit) including eye glasses, and her “all there” attitude. What else would you expect from someone who taught art for close to 30 years?
Anyone who may have waited for a ride with Ms. Gordon to attend a church function or other meeting could attest to her driving skills. Mr. Gordon admitted he has not ridden with his mom since he was 16-years-old. Recalling the time she took both hands off the wheel to reach into the back seat to retrieve an object from a bag, all while travelling at 100 km per hour, remains a vivid memory to this day.
Ms. Gordon, share her son, has a “special relationship” with the township’s public works foreman Floyd Becks, who asked Mr. Gordon if his mom had moved out of town as he “hadn’t pulled her out of the ditch all winter.”
Mr. Gordon spent the last few weeks interviewing his mom to gather information to include in his speech to honour her. He came away with a list of themes one of which is ‘sometimes you just have to go with your gut.’ Mr. Gordon shares the story of the chosen location for the meeting to sign funding papers for the Flower of Hope School: the only place that was open at the late hour turned out to be the Anchor Inn in Little Current.
Another theme was ‘community is difficult.’ Ms. Gordon believed “success always involved compromise.” In 1988 when the community’s Orange Hall burned to the ground, the decision to rebuild or make use of an existing building (Old Mill) was brought forward to the citizens. A new community hall was built and the Old Mill now holds an art gallery, municipal offices and museum.
“Both have been valuable and well used ever since,” he said. It is possible, noted Ms. Gordon, “to work with and respect people you don’t like and still have a successful outcome.”
‘Never let politics stand in your way’ is another theme, again relating to the barriers that stood before her to get Hope Farm off the ground. Ms. Gordon’s friend John Lane, who was the Algoma-Manitoulin MPP for the Conservative Party, was instrumental in its ultimate success.
One final comment Mrs. G shared with her son during their interview sessions was that “it’s really nice to have a party in your honour before you die.”
Ms. Gordon’s daughter Janyn Towns shared a poem written by fellow teacher Marion Seabrook that was presented when Ms. Gordon retired from MSS.
Son-in-law Greg Towns, who admits he’s artistically limited to drawing a ‘mean stick figure,’ recognized Ms. Gordon as “anything but senior” and shared that he hopes he has her energy when he reaches her age.
Mayor Aus Hunt presented Ms. Gordon with two letters of tribute to Ms. Gordon from MP Mike Mantha and MPP Carol Hughes.
Ms. Gordon was last to speak, thanking everyone for their kind words and stating she would not have been able to do it without the help of her family and support of her late husband Stan.
“The kids took over when I wasn’t around,” Ms. Gordon said. “They each had a list. Stan was on Janyn’s list.”
Ms. Gordon shared the story of a spaghetti dinner gone bad when Stan was in charge of making dinner. “It was awful.”
“I am going to miss Kagawong,” stated Ms. Gordon, who will soon be moving to Mindemoya, “but you’ll see me around. Thank you very much for the honour.”