Madeleine Charlton receives the Vivian Levensohn Community Volunteer Award

Madeleine Charlton is presented with the Vivian Levensohn Community Volunteer Award by last year’s recipient Liala Kiviaho. photo by Michael Erskine

SHEGUIANDAH—Madeleine Charlton loves a good community dinner, so it was relatively easy for her friends and colleagues to lure her into the Sheguiandah Seniors’ Hall to receive her Vivian Levensohn Award without her suspecting a thing.

The Vivian Levensohn Community Volunteer Award is given out annually to a member of the Island community who personifies the qualities of a volunteer: selfless and generous, giving of their time, and ready to help out when needed.

“I am truly surprised,” laughed Ms. Charlton. “I didn’t even get dressed up.” The dinner was touted as a casual affair so as not to provide any incentive to the honouree to back out.

Walking into the dinner, Ms. Charlton was greeted with a rousing rendition of ‘For She’s a Real Cool Lady’ sung to the tune of ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’

Ms. Charlton was selected for the Vivian Levensohn Award by former recipient Laila Kiviaho, who acted as emcee for the evening’s events.

The opening remarks of the dinner were delivered by long-time friend of Ms. Charlton’s family Dave Jaggard. Mr. Jaggard kept the gathering in stitches with his comedic rendition of memories, but there were serious undertones when he noted the important role she and her husband played in the lives of the four children the couple adopted.

Former Howland (and Northeast Town) mayor Ken Ferguson was among the three pre-dinner speakers. “I thought this would be an easy task to put together a short speech,” he said, but the many ways Ms. Charlton impacted her community made keeping it short a bigger challenge. “They were always ready to help any of their neighbours and made sure that their children had every opportunity,” he noted. “I just picked on a few,” he said, “otherwise I would be here all night.”

Mr. Ferguson pointed out that Ms. Charlton was instrumental in the building of the Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah and noted that she appears in the photograph of the grand opening, prompting Ms. Charlton to note “I think I am the only one living that was at the opening.” Among the many fundraising efforts was the selling of 1,000 cookbooks at one dollar apiece.

Friend and neighbour June McConnell first met Ms. Charlton when she was delivering eggs to her house. “My children knew her as the egg lady,” she laughed. They grew to be close friends over the years and Ms. McConnell recalled an expedition to collect “chestnuts,” which turned out to be walnuts. It was late in the day when they arrived at the site. “The tree was located in a graveyard,” noted Ms. McConnell. “It became dark and we were stumbling about trying to find the walnuts.” Later, as they headed home, the pair managed to lose their way. “We drove around the back roads of Spring Bay for an hour,” laughed Ms. McConnell.

Grace was provided by Pastor Wes Leeson, and the attendees dug into a delicious turkey dinner fittingly prepared by the Sheguiandah Seniors’ Hall volunteers.

A book of congratulations circulated the hall as folks ate and people were encouraged to write short anecdotes about their relationship to Ms. Charlton.

Pastor Leeson also spoke following the meal, focussing on Ms. Charlton’s pastoral work. He noted the way Ms. Charlton lived her faith deeply, and credited her with stepping up to keep the Little Current Community of Christ Church open when it was threatened with closure. True to form, Ms. Charlton protested that others were as much involved in keeping the church doors open.“When you were most needed, you stepped up,” said Pastor Leeson. “You were their for families in need, you ministry to folks in the Manor was great. You have been a faithful servant and your volunteerism has brought joy to many and you were there for everyone.”

Gertrude Cooper, a fellow traveller in the Island’s palliative care organization, elaborated on Ms. Charlton’s work. “It has been my pleasure to have known Madeleine all of my life,” she recalled. Having especially gotten to know her when she moved to the school in Sheguiandah from 10-Mile Point to complete her upper grades. “I hesitate to mention that was 70 years ago,” she said.

“She is a kind, genuine and caring lady,” said Ms. Cooper, “an excellent example of the Golden Rule.” Ms. Cooper cited Ms. Charlton’s dedication to sick and dying people. “She is so very worthy of the Vivian Levensohn Award.”

Elaine Moore was unable to attend the dinner, but she sent her regards and comments by way of letter, read by Ms. Kiviaho. Ms. Charlton, she noted, never pushed herself on people, but had a caring and open way of asking what she could do for them—when she was done, she departed as quietly as she had entered. “Madeleine was a good advocate for the patient,” she recalled. “When you receive your crown in heaven, it will have stars on it.”

Marilee Hore, who spoke on behalf of the Manitoulin Health Centre hospital auxiliary, noted that the dinner was “a great way to end the weekend.”

“Madeleine has belonged to the auxiliary for 40 years,” said Ms. Hore, prompting a response from Ms. Charlton “20-some!” that elicited laughter from the crowd. Ms. Hore noted that since 1971 the honouree had played many roles in the organization, helping to improve its efficiency and efficacy and performing every task ever asked of her, from selling raffle tickets to serving in a leadership role with a ready and friendly smile.

Northeast Town Councillor Dawn Orr, a family friend of Ms. Charlton, was taken off guard when called to speak, but noted that despite the surprise “it is great to have been invited to speak.”

“I knew Vivian Levensohn having served on committees with her,” said Ms. Orr. “She would have been very pleased to see this award going to you Madeleine. You epitomize everything the award stands for.”

Ms. Orr noted that Ms. Charlton, in addition to her own volunteerism, had “a very (emphasized) persuasive way of getting other people to volunteer,” pointing to her work on the board of Little Current Place. “She is an incredible lady—it has been a pleasure to have been dragged along with your enthusiasm.”

Co-worker Shirley Valliant shared some remembrances of working in the hospital laundry with Ms. Charlton. “I liked to tell her shocking stories,” she recalled, “but she was shock-proof.”

Sharon Aelick recalled that Ms. Charlton was known as the “fix-it lady,” adept with needle and thread.

Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin congratulated Ms. Charlton on behalf of the municipality, presenting a certificate of recognition. “It is very humbling to be present at an event like this where someone is being recognized by colleagues and peers,” he said. “Our community has been very enriched by your being here.”

Certificates were presented to Ms. Charlton from the MP and MPP, who sent regrets. Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes was undergoing ankle surgery, while Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha was unable to get away from the business of the legislature to attend.

Ms. Kiviaho then concluded the remarks from friends and colleagues and presented Ms. Charlton with the award plaque before Ms. Charlton had an opportunity to respond.

“This has been quite the evening,” noted the honouree, “I think I recognize all of you. Thank you for coming.”

“I don’t feel very worthy,” she said to a chorus of protests.

“I have enjoyed doing volunteer work,” said Ms. Charlton, noting that she was fortified in her palliative care work in having lost her own husband. Ms. Charlton thanked everyone “for the wonderful things you have said. I hope I can live up to half of them. I shall never forget this.”