A century of inspiration As 100th birthday nears, the grand dame of Notre Dame is a legend in the kitchen, quick of wit and 'has a bit of a lead foot'

COVID-19 has been spoiling parties ever since it arrived in Manitoba, but it’s especially heart-breaking when the birthday girl is poised to turn 100.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/01/2021 (685 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

COVID-19 has been spoiling parties ever since it arrived in Manitoba, but it’s especially heart-breaking when the birthday girl is poised to turn 100.

Friends and family had been planning to rent the community hall in Notre Dame de Lourdes for a huge celebration to mark beloved resident Martha Sala hitting the century mark on Feb. 2.

Along with having five children, 19 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren, Martha is renowned for being a tireless volunteer in the small community 120 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, driving the “older ladies” to Bingo — even though they’re all younger than her — possessing an irrepressible sense of humour, and having more energy than people half her age.

SUPPLIED Five generations: Martha Sala (right), who is turning 100, is joined by grandson Kelly Rudnicki (from left), great granddaughter Alexis Rudnicki, with great-great grandson Bentley, and daughter Charlotte Rudnicki.

With plans for the 100th birthday party on ice, her granddaughter is appealing for Manitobans to pay tribute to this inspiring centenarian, who was orphaned along with her nine siblings as a child, with an old-school “Friendly Manitoba” gesture — sending birthday cards and greetings.

“I would like as many people as possible to send her birthday cards. With COVID-19, we can’t buy cards, but send a greeting or have your kids make a card and pop it in the mail. My grandmother will absolutely love that and appreciate the effort,” Josée Sala-Giesbrecht said.

(You can send cards and notes to Mrs. Martha Sala, PO Box 257, Notre Dame de Lourdes, MB, R0G 1M0.)

Sala-Giesbrecht, who lives in Winnipeg, posted her appeal on Facebook, where it has been shared more than 200 times already. The cards and notes are already starting to trickle in, she noted.

“My grandmother is a total social butterfly,” she said. “It (the pandemic) has been hard for her because she hasn’t had the family visits and the friend visits. I think the cards will give her a sense of being loved and people thinking about her. She didn’t have that all her life so it’s really important for her to know how much she’s loved and appreciated.”

Martha was born Feb. 2, 1921, in Ashern, and she and her nine siblings spent their early years in an orphanage after their mother died young and their father was unable to care for them. They were eventually split up and bounced around foster homes until, at the age of 12, Martha was placed in Notre Dame with Alphonse and Leoncie Badiou.

SUPPLIED Martha married Charles Sala on May 14, 1940.

“That was her last and best foster home,” Sala-Giesbrecht recalled. “They taught her about love, trust, family values and hard work. I don’t know where she would be without those people.”

In her late teens, Martha married the love of her life, Charles, and the couple raised five children on a family farm just west of the community. Her husband died at the age of 53, but Martha remained on the farm for 80 years until moving into the local retirement home last summer.

Along the way, she became a local legend, famed for her skills in the kitchen, prowess with knitting needles, and being a tireless volunteer for the 4H Club, the local newspaper, and the Golden Age Club, to name just a few.

“She has volunteered countless hours,” her granddaughter said. “For quite a few years she was Mrs. Claus for the kids in school. If she finds out someone has broken a hip, she’s always there when they get home to bring them meals and help them get dressed.

“When she goes out, she chats everybody up and she’s always telling jokes. She’s very quick-witted. That’s how she’s gotten out of a few speeding tickets. She has a bit of a lead foot.”

Sala-Giesbrecht laughingly recalled riding with her grandmother a few years ago when they were pulled over by a local constable for exceeding the speed limit.

SUPPLIED Martha Sala lived on this farm west of Notre Dame des Lourdes for 80 years.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the officer asked, politely.

Which prompted this impish reply from Martha: “It must be my good looks.”

Friend Edith Hague, a retired schoolteacher, said everyone in town knows and loves this kind-hearted woman, who is still driving on the cusp of becoming a centenarian.

“She has an 80-year-old son in town,” Hague noted. “Imagine you’re 80 years old and your 100-year-old mother is still driving around town.”

In a telephone interview from her retirement home, Martha conceded it was a bit disheartening to have plans for her big party put on hold by the pandemic.

SUPPLIED Josée Sala-Giesbrecht is hoping for a flood of cards and well-wishes for her grandmother, Martha Sala, who turns 100 on Feb. 2.

“I can’t even celebrate,” she said, laughing. “It (Feb. 2) is Groundhog Day, of course … We planned a big bash, you know. But we’ll have it later on, even if I’m 105. As soon as it (COVID-19) goes away, we’re going to have a big party.”

Cards and letters for her big day have started to arrive, and she trots down to the post office to fetch them. “I just went out to the mail,” she said. “I had 13 cards on Saturday. I got them from people I don’t even know. I love to help people and do things for them. Even though I’m turning 100, I’m healthier than they are.”

Martha said she’s not going to let something as small as a global pandemic slow her down.

“Every day I go for a big walk,” she noted. “I lost five pounds doing that and I’m not a big person. I even danced last year, too, but I’m getting a bit stiffer now; not enough exercise.”

She’s not fond of sitting alone in her room or wearing a face mask, but she still knits, bakes and keeps up on current events.

“I just finished knitting a sweater for my little great-great grandson. I like to watch TV,” she said. “I like the news. I watched Trump getting beat. Oh, I loved that! I didn’t like him. He’s not my type.”

SUPPLIED Martha Sala with great-granddaughter Gabby.

Asked her secret to a long, happy life, Martha laughed and replied: “I don’t know if I should tell you. You don’t think about getting old. You take it a day at a time and try not to be alone too much. I’ve had a lot of problems in my life, a lot of sadness, but you have to forget and start anew.”

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
Columnist

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

History

Updated on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 7:08 AM CST: changes font style

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