A Woman for All Seasons – a Rock of Ages - Go Nellie!

…by Laura Tutlies

Nellie Danwich will be having a peaceful Mothers Day (May 2009). The kids and grandkids will likely send flowers but otherwise she has no special plans. She lives alone on a property next door to one of her sons near Traverse Bay Corner. This spot has been hers for over seventy years. She is well looked after by home care workers who come every day to help her with meals, some cleaning and her personal needs. She says “I am content. I see others carrying the load for me and that’s Nellie Danwichgood. I’ve got good kids who work hard, eat good – even my boys can cook – (her soft grey eyes sparkle as she says this) and they take responsibility for themselves. I don’t need to worry about them”.

Still, she has a story about a Christmas not long ago when all the kids, grandkids and great grandchildren were coming to her house for dinner. Because she had a broken arm, her family assured her “no worries, Mom – we’ll do it all” and they did, except they forgot about how the giant turkey would get to the oven. So there she was alone with this big bird that needed to be cooked for Christmas dinner. “The dressing was no problem.” Nellie said, “I stuffed the bird at one end of the counter and then pushed the roaster with my good arm down to the other end, by the stove. The bird was so heavy that I wanted to be sure not to break the oven door so I piled up a bunch of pillows right beside the stove and shoved the roaster off the counter onto the pillows. Then with my free hand I pushed it into the rack in the oven.” She and I laughed together at this little vignette of a full life. Her story certainly revealed the courage and ingenuity that are the hallmarks of her life.

Nellie Danwich has experienced every type of storm and every good sunny day that the book of life could throw at her. Today she says "I've had a good life, I would not change a thing." Yet hearing her say this, you know that she is still ready to tackle current issues. Although in her ninety-third year, this feisty woman does not step back from the frontline of change. She is passionate about her community, her family and politics in the area. That is only a small part of her story.

Raised in the Interlake, north of Inwood, Nellie (nee) Dziadek is a second generation Canadian of Ukrainian ancestry. She was born in Meleb, Manitoba smack dab during the middle of World War I. She was only two in 1918 when her father died. She, three siblings, and their mother, were left alone to fend for themselves on their isolated farm 100 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Her grandparents lived only a mile away and they and their neighbours were a great help to the young widow. Times were never easy but eventually her mother remarried, raised a second family and ran the Meleb post office.

Nellie grew up knowing not only the value of hard work, but also the joys of a family knit together by special circumstance. "We had a very pleasant home", she says. Her most vivid recollection of great fun as a child, was during harvest time on the farm. One would have thought a girl, especially one who loves to cook, would be in the kitchen but, in fact, it was her job to feed the fire that generated the machinery used to stook the grain. She loved the horses and the trashing machines, her life in the country and those fires in the fall.

She comes by her work ethic and perhaps her attitude toward life thanks to her mother. When Nellie was only twelve she was “sworn in” by the Post Office commissioner so that she could help her Mother who was not well at the time. She says, “We had to do this quietly because, you were supposed to be fourteen before you were legal to work. So, I kept my age a secret. It was a good thing I had this experience because much later in my life when the Post Office in Albert Beach closed down, I said I would do the mail at my place in Traverse Bay."

Nellie was in Grade 8 when her formal education ended. In those days, few went beyond that level of tutoring. Her school had one teacher and one room with about sixty students. She worked on the family farm until she was eighteen when she married Leon Danwich and moved from Meleb to Traverse Bay. She remembers fondly their courting days when the Moonlight Express cost her only 50 cents when she came to meet her beau at the dance pavilion at Grand Beach or 75 cents if they travelled all the way up to the soft sands of Victoria Beach.

Nellie recalls that, "to get back to the city, you had to be on that train twelve midnight sharp or you missed your ride." She goes on to tell, "The highways 59 and 11 weren't even built until after I moved here. While the roads were being built, I was the cook for the men on the work crew and even after they were built some of the men would come back and say 'Nellie I just had to have some of your good cooking'. You know," she says, "I just love it here!"

Certainly, Nellie is passionate about anything concerning the East Beaches and Traverse Bay Corner where she has made her home since her wedding in 1935. She was pregnant fourteen times and had twelve children survive infancy - six boys and six girls. All but one son, who died accidentally, live near her or in Winnipeg. When I quizzed her how many grandchildren and great grand children she had, she laughed at me and said, "Too many to count."

When Nellie Danwich told me how many body parts she has had fixed or replaced, I asked her if she was the “bionic woman”. She laughed at me and said “Not yet, but I might be”. One of her great-grandsons is hoping to become a physician. He said to her recently “Its OK Granny, if you need anything replaced, I will learn how to do it”. Nellie says “He better hurry up!”.

Community involvement has always been a huge part of Nellie's life. She is an original “Merry Maker”, a group that preceded the current Senior Scene in Victoria Beach, of which she is a founding member. In the early days, the ladies of the area would make perogies, cook pies and cookies or whatever they thought people might buy including needlework and knitting or other handicrafts. They set up bazaar tables at the gates of the Victoria Beach development and sold their wares to the cottagers when they came out to collect their cars. On summer weekends they would also go into the restricted area and carry out their commerce there.

When Leon died suddenly in 1964, Nellie became the matriarch of her large family. She had no desire to remarry and concentrated her efforts on raising her children, running 'Nellie's Snack Bar' and eventually the Traverse Bay post office. Always she played a key role in community activities. While Leon was still alive they had helped to build the Victoria Beach Sports Club where they curled and their children skated. After his death Nellie stayed as involved as ever and is well respected for her volunteer work in the community.

The stories that Nellie can tell along with those relayed by her friends, neighbours and family would fill a book. Her opinion is greatly valued and her contributions to her community are unmatched. Should she live to be a hundred, her reputation will only increase. She is held in high esteem throughout the East Beaches and history will record her as a pioneer and a legend of Traverse Bay. For now, Happy Mothers Day Nellie Danwich.

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