Haweater earns Canada’s highest volunteer honour

Haweater Thelma Bousfield (Nevills), who now lives in Milton, displays the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers she has been awarded.

MILTON—Haweater Thelma Bousfield (Nevills) was surprised when she was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, Canada’s highest honour for volunteer service. “I didn’t even know anyone was working on the nomination for the award,” Ms. Bousfield told The Expositor last week. The medal ‘recognizes the exceptional volunteer achievements of Canadians from across the country in a wide range of fields and pays tribute to the dedication and commitment of volunteers.’ Ms. Bousfield was born and raised just outside of Mindemoya and has lived for many years in Milton, west of Toronto.

“My grandma has given selflessly to her community for more than 75 years,” wrote Laura Istead in her nomination letter. “It is because of her lifetime of service, her inspiring effort and her commitment to making the community and life of those around her better.”

“My grandma was born just days before the stock market crash in 1929,” Ms. Istead wrote. “She has told me that they didn’t know they were poor as everyone else was the same as them. Everyone helped everyone in their small community. That’s just what they did.”

“She received the medal the day she turned 92,” said her daughter, Pat Istead. Ms. Istead lives in Calgary and was in Milton with her mother on October 25 when she received the actual medal. Ms. Bousfield was notified by letter in June that she was to receive the medal but enough time had passed that she thought they’d changed their minds.

The honoree is originally from the Mindemoya area but left when she was 14 years old. Ms. Bousfield is the daughter of William “Bill” H. Nevills and Ethel L. White. “She is 92 years old now and still has a lot of friends and family on the Island,” stated Pat Istead. If all goes well, Ms. Bousfield hopes to attend an annual family reunion on Manitoulin Island next summer.

Ms. Bousfield began volunteering as a young mother to Doug, Pat and Bruce in the 1950s, when she volunteered in the nursery at St. Paul’s United Church in Milton. She continued this commitment for another 20 years, as well as being an active member of the Women’s Auxiliary of the United Church (later the United Church Women) from approximately 1953 to 1974.

An avid supporter of the agricultural community, Ms. Bousfield joined the Milton Fair Board in the 1960s and was president of the Ladies Section in 1965 and 1966. “In the fall of 2019, I had the opportunity to take her to the fair,” wrote her granddaughter. “She was so pleased to see that the tradition of crafts and baking continues. Fall would see her making pies and cooking roast beef for the ladies of the fair board, which would be served under the grandstand during the steam era show.” Ms. Bousfield was also famous for her butter tarts.

Her commitment to seniors began early in 1960s after a friend from the fair board was moved to the Halton Centennial Manor. The friend didn’t like how staff were washing her stockings, so Ms. Bousfield would pick up her up weekly to wash her stockings at Ms. Bousfield’s home.

“It went from there to adding ladies who wanted curls in their hair,” said Ms. Istead. “She soon realized it was company they were wanting more than anything. For as long as I can remember, Grandma has volunteered with and been a passionate advocate for seniors in Milton. She petitioned to have the crosswalk light time extended so the elderly residents of a nearby apartment building could safely cross the busy Ontario Street to do their shopping.”

Ms. Bousfield volunteered at Halton Manor until 1994, when the current Allendale Manor was built, and continued to volunteer there as time allowed. “I’ve seen her wash and set hair, provide socialization, support for meals, call bingo, dance, clean, feed and care deeply for the seniors in her care,” added her granddaughter. “She treats everyone with tremendous respect and dignity, regardless of their age or circumstances. She called bingo for many years at the seniors apartment building at the corner of Pine and Ontario streets, walking from home in all weather.”

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Ms. Bousfield and her husband Jack were active in the local square dance community, hosting dances, organizing events and callers, holding potlucks and coordinating lessons.

As snowbirds, both Bousfields volunteered in Florida state parks from 1990 to 2005, contributing to the parks at Hillsborough River, Koreshan, Collier-Seminole, Lake Manatee, Payne’s Prairie and Rainbow Springs. “My grandma volunteered hundreds of hours as a campsite host, welcoming guests and getting them settled, supporting the park rangers, removing loads of exotic plants, educating guests, helping to document park history, planning events, organizing other volunteers and cleaning campsites,” Ms. Istead wrote.

When the Milton Seniors Group started up at the local Legion, Ms. Bousfield was active in getting it up and running, helping to organize the first line dancing, clogging and other recreational activities. At the height of her volunteering, Ms. Bousfield was calling bingo multiple times a week at both the seniors centre and at Allendale Manor, even enlisting her husband and others to help make large cards that were suitable for shaky hands and poor eyesight.

After moving to a seniors apartment herself in 2011, Ms. Bousfield helped start an exercise group, organized a monthly birthday club, euchre and poker clubs and helped with the bingo club. She continues to take care of her community with regular meals, games, crafts and laughter, her granddaughter noted.

“She has given selflessly to her community for more than 75 years. Volunteering has given her purpose, community and kept her vibrant into her 90s. She would say that this isn’t anything special, just something you’re supposed to do. Many have benefitted from her time, talent, energy and sense of humour, none more so than the senior population. She has made so many lives better for her efforts and ensured that for many folks, their remaining time was full of love, dignity, connection and care. It is by her example that we are a family of volunteers both here in Canada and abroad, contributing our time at food banks, service clubs, Girl Guides of Canada, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, international development projects, schools and so much more. In our family, it’s a way of life, modeled to us by the best volunteer we know,” Ms. Istead concluded.

This wasn’t the first time Ms. Bousfield has received an award. In 2008, she was presented with an Ontario award (through the senior centre) and in 2010 received a certificate for caregiver recognition.