TEHKUMMAH—Mary Johnston is almost a fixture at the Tehkummah Community Hall. When she’s not acting as secretary for the Tehkummah Triangle Seniors Club or calling bingo or taking her turn hosting the monthly birthday parties, she’s helping in the kitchen at UCW dinners and teas or organizing the Christmas in Tehkummah market and lunch at the hall, an event she started about five years ago.
Mary landed here on her 59th birthday, driving from Cape Breton Island to Manitoulin Island with two dogs and a cat. Her husband Raymond was already here. She wasn’t ready to participate during her first year, but Raymond wouldn’t let her remain idle. “He was very gregarious,” Mary said. “He loved people. He loved being involved. He liked to help people. Anyway, he got me involved over here (Seniors Club) and that was the start of it.”
Both Mary and Raymond were on the executive until Raymond became ill. For two years, Mary looked after Raymond until he passed away. They were living in Sandfield then but it was getting too hard to run the house on her own. An apartment became available in Tehkummah, right across from the hall. “So of course I was right back at it,” she laughed. She’s on the call list, and does “the goodwill.” “That’s sending out cards and stuff,” she explained. “I don’t visit because I don’t have wheels. I’m the secretary. I call bingo on Monday nights. I do whatever. I’m not on the kitchen committee but I help when I can.”
Mary spends a lot of time at the club. “It keeps me busy,” she explained. “It gives me something to do. And I feel like I’m giving back, because when Raymond was sick they had a benefit over here.” That benefit paid all those little expenses that weren’t covered. “So I kind of felt that I should be giving back, which is why I started doing what I was doing. But then I just kind of enjoyed it.”
Mary also sits on the Tehkummah library board. “I volunteered for the library because I use the library.” She gestured to a stack of books in the corner. “Can you tell? I read all the time, that’s my recreation.”
She started Christmas in Tehkummah five years ago because there was no local venue for Tehkummah artists, crafters and small businesses to showcase their wares or services. “We had to go to Mindemoya or Gore Bay or Kagawong, so I started that here,” she explained. “I don’t charge much for tables, just to cover the rent.” The soup lunch she added after the second year does make a small profit that she donates to a Tehkummah organization such as the library or the Senior UCW.
Mary doesn’t think what she does is unique or special. “Most people around here, my age and up, we volunteer,” she said. “We all do our bit. We do what we can do. We’re not getting any of the younger ones coming out though. Right now, our membership list at the hall doesn’t look too bad. But those who are actually able to do anything—there’s not that many of us. And many of the UCW members belong to the seniors club, so you get the same ones doing everything.”
Mary’s going to keep on helping out wherever and whenever she can. “I don’t mind staying put,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed my life. I’m quite content to sit in the village of Tehkummah and not do a heck of a lot. Except volunteer.”