Community celebrates Jean McLennan’s 100th birthday

A cake befitting a centenarian.

MANITOWANING—The Assiginack Curling Club was bursting at the seams with well-wishers and family members last Saturday, July 21 to help fete Manitowaning’s own Jean McLennan on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

Ms. McLennan was seated at the centre of the hall she had so lovingly helped to create and has cared for since its inception. She was sitting beside her Sandfield cousin, Andy Watson, age 101.

Granddaughter Melanie Carr was the emcee for the event and thanked everyone for coming to celebrate “this huge milestone for this very wonderful lady, my grandmother.”

Ms. Carr also thanked the curling club for hosting the event in a place that’s so special to Ms. McLennan and the entire family, and thanking the Knox United Church Women for catering their third event on that busy Summerfest day.

People know her as an advisor, friend and problem solver, Ms. Carr said of her grandmother, “with a heart full of love and kindness.”

The running theme of the afternoon is Ms. McLennan’s well-known penchant for getting things done, with no messing around. Small talk doesn’t aid in seeing a task accomplished.

Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes was on hand for the birthday party and noted Ms. McLennan’s century of “building community.”

“You’ve done so much; we look up to you and can only hope for that kind of life,” Ms. Hughes said. “The amount of people here is a testament to you. Happy century!”

Fellow Assiginack Historical Society board member Dave Smith also gave his birthday wishes from the board, known locally, he joked, as the ‘Assiginack Hysterical Society.’

“Jean was one of the founding members but she was a mere 37 when it was founded in 1955,” Mr. Smith recounted. “Even then, she was one of the movers and shakers of this community, and for all these years, like Mel said, we all jump when we get a call from Jean.”

Mr. Smith noted the curling club, golf course, arena, museum and Knox United Church have all been projects that Ms. McLennan has had a major part in.

“Jean has been an ardent supporter (of the museum) since she helped to start it 67 years ago,” he continued. “I could always count on Jean’s support; and we’re almost always on the same page.”

He recalled a meeting where Ms. McLennan announced that she had just purchased a new piano for the Society so they could host barn dances with live music. The committee was horrified as they only had $67 to their name. Bev Maguire, treasurer, told Ms. McLennan there would be no piano; the order must be cancelled. “To this day the old barn remains piano-less.”

“She also took a great interest in Michael’s Bay,” Mr. Smith continued, sharing the story of travelling annually to the historic townsite by horse and buggy with Ms. McLennan to place name markers on gravesites.

For this work, and so much more, Mr. Smith announced that a bench in Ms. McLennan’s name would be placed on the museum grounds “in recognition of the time and expertise she gives, and still gives.”

“Her attitude is always to give to community,” Mr. Smith added. “I challenge young people to be a Jean McLennan; that is the greatest birthday gift you could give to Jean.”

Former Assiginack reeve and Manitowaning businessman Dave Ham has sat on many a committee with Ms. McLennan and also spoke to her community mindedness.

“My goodness,” Mr. Ham began, “Jean has always had a project or two, or three, or four, all at the same time.”

He told the story of a fire that razed the old Manitowaning arena in 1960 “on a cold January night; a devastating thing for the community. Who jumped up to get it back but Jean, working with council,” he shared.

“She got together a gang of volunteers to erect the steel building that was shipped from Montreal and, by golly, it went up.” By late 1962 the new arena was in operation.

“I’m looking for people like you to come and work for me,” he chuckled, addressing the centenarian.

Mr. Ham noted her work with the curling club, organizing many a volunteer event all while running a successful insurance brokerage.

“She’s a lifelong member of Knox Church, also organizing volunteers as well as building additions,” he added.

He said he always made sure to help Jean as you never know when you might need that help to be reciprocated. A case-in-point was the US Air Force commanding officer Ms. McLennan just happened to know who helped make the opening of the Manitoulin East Municipal Airport a splashy affair with plenty of impressive US aircraft on hand.

“Jean calls me regularly, three to four times a day, and I appreciate that,” Mr. Ham continued, “and she hasn’t even thought of retirement yet.”

Graham Lloyd, a retired officer with the OPP and long-time Manitowaning resident, also spoke at the birthday function.

“What a lady,” he said. “I just can’t say enough about her.”

Mr. Graham shared the story of the curling club hall and how it came to fruition under Ms. McLennan’s vision and guidance.

“It’s unbelievable what this lady can do,” he said. “She and Leona are life members, meaning they don’t pay a fee to work at this club.”

“Jean lives and eats for this place; she loves this place, and the one before it,” Mr. Graham concluded, sharing that Ms. McLennan still attends the Halloween dance and remarked on her costumes each year.

Mr. Graham shared a dance with Ms. McLennan before letting the band get to work to entertain the masses.

A CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION––Jean McLennan accepts a dance from Graham Lloyd on the occasion of her 100th birthday party held Saturday at the Assiginack Curling Club. photos by Alicia McCutcheon

Happy birthday, Jean, and thanks for helping generate news for quite some time!