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This article was published 31/8/2019 (550 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The death of a dedicated and passionate volunteer has left a huge hole at St. Amant, but Margaret Guertin’s legacy will live on at the non-profit resource for Manitobans who have developmental disabilities and autism.
Guertin died July 13 at St. Boniface Hospital at the age of 87.
A stroke three years ago had slowed Guertin’s fundraising efforts but could not stop her, St. Amant director Juliette Mucha said.
"It didn’t stop her wanting me to visit, reporting on her scholarship, what the interest rate did to how much money was going to be able to be put in the scholarship," she said.
"She was a force to be reckoned with," Mucha said.
"Even though she was soft-spoken, she was a force… I’m going to miss my time with Margaret."
She described Margaret as an "influencer" who was never afraid to open her Rolodex and ask for whatever St. Amant needed, starting in 2007 when she and her husband, Ed, helped solicit a major donation for the John and Bonnie Bueller Reflective Gardens.
She was sophisticated, gracious and funny. She had a sharp business mind.
"Very astute in business, she was an accountant by trade, she helped my dad along for many years," son Michael Guertin said.
"Customers would always say: my dad had the heart but my mom had the brains. She was the numbers girl. She was never wrong."
Margaret grew up on a sugar beet farm in Fort Whyte and helped her dad with the books after studying accounting. She worked at Maple Leaf Construction before marrying and joining her husband at Guertin Equipment.
"She was a leader, she was strong-minded and clear about her direction and what to do and how to do things," Michael said.
When the Guertins built a home on McNulty Cove in the 1980s, St. Amant was visible through the trees. After finishing a term on the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation board, Ed Guertin was asked to sit on the St. Amant board.
"He kind of fell in love with the place and the people who worked there and the clients for sure, and he started helping," Michael said.
Ed Guertin died in 2007.
"After my dad died, my mom kind of stepped into my father’s shoes," he said. "My mom just carried on."
"She was never far behind," Mucha said. "Even though Ed was always on the board, she was always willing to lend a hand."
After seeing the importance of St. Amant’s dedicated volunteers, the Guertins searched for a way to encourage young people to get involved.
The result: the Ed & Margaret Guertin Scholarship, which offers $1,000 for post-secondary studies for volunteers. In 10 years, 10 volunteers have been supported this way, Mucha said.
Margaret co-chaired the Free the Spirit festival — St. Amant’s biggest annual fundraiser — in 2013 and 2014.
But when they needed to raise $1 million for the St. Amant Spirit Cottage, Mucha was wowed by Guertin’s commitment.
"She goes, ‘Maybe there’s a little bit more I can do.’ She made a few calls and made sure that million dollars was raised to be able to build this 2,400-square-foot cottage."
The cottage, which has a heated outdoor pool, provides an accessible getaway for St. Amant clients and families.
Through the Kiwanis, Michael is continuing to raise nearly $100,000 a year for St. Amant, he said.
"My mom and dad were quite taken aback by the work that was accomplished at St. Amant," he said. "For me, to continue to assist the way that we do, well, it’s not that hard for me to do and it’s fun for me to do, and it continues the legacy that my folks started."
Mucha said that speaks to the strong values Margaret and Ed instilled in their family.
"They’ve passed that on to the next generation," she said. "She instilled that in her children and grandchildren because to this day, they now support St. Amant Foundation."
In 2018, St. Amant honoured Margaret’s work by giving her the Together Award, which recognizes a volunteer who goes above and beyond.
She had lost some mobility at that point, so St. Amant sent an accessible van to pick her up to make sure she could be there to receive it.
"It was a very touching moment," Mucha said.
"Even though she was a dear volunteer she was a true friend as well.... To have such an individual, in the community, believe what we do to that point — it’s truly heartwarming. And it was truly infectious as well."
Mucha said Margaret always looked picture-perfect, ready with hair and makeup done, lipstick at the ready.
"In her final days… she would ask that lipstick be put on, so in case her husband came and got her, she would look good for him" in the afterlife, Mucha said.
"That’s just how she is. She really wanted to be there for everyone, and be ready for them."