Imagine growing up in a lively, vibrant home bustling with the non-stop activity of seven children, a parade of dogs and cats and an open door to neighbours and friends.
At the centre of this household, beloved for its kindness, humour and stories, was Anne Orlikow, mother, nurse and wife.
"Mom’s ability to manage things was a super power and to this day I’ll never know how she did it all," says daughter Nancy Orlikow. "We were a handful — five boys and two girls with only 10 years between the oldest and the youngest."
Orlikow, 88, died peacefully at home June 25, with her children by her side. She is pre-deceased by husband Lionel; sons Daniel and David; sister Rosemary (Harry); brother Peter; and parents Stella (née Gordon) and Reginald Slavin.
She is survived by her children, Gordon, Peter, Nancy (Paul), John (Silvia) and Kate (Clayton), many nieces and nephews, and 14 grandchildren.
Sonya Wright met Orlikow in Grade 7. They grew up together, had same-aged schoolchildren, and for decades their families remained connected.
Wright remembers thinking she’d found a perfect match for her friend while attending university.
"There I met a guy named Lionel Orlikow, a fun person," says Wright. "He was different, unique, very smart, interested in athletics. I thought about Anne. Anne was outstanding. She was very smart; she saw the funny side of anything and everything. She was one of a kind. I thought they would hit it off, and they did."
Wright introduced them, and the pair remained together forever after.
Lionel, a prominent Winnipeg educator, died in 2008 at 76. Committed to helping improve people’s lives through education, he taught at Kelvin High School, served as a school trustee and helped develop the first adult education centre in the province while working for Manitoba Education.
Lifelong Winnipeggers, the couple were dedicated to the service of others; Anne in health care as a registered nurse in emergency and community nursing.
Orlikow avoided the spotlight, instead supporting others around her, especially her husband and children, while always making time for community. In the 1970s, she and a friend conceived the program "school without walls," reflecting the values she shared with her husband about exposure to and learning from different experiences as an enhancement to traditional classroom learning.
"When our dad lost his deputy minister of education position in 1977, she stood by him," Nancy says. "When most people faced with unemployment and seven children and St. Bernard dogs and other pets to feed would prudently ration out the severance package, our parents loaded us into the family station wagon and we set off on one of our infamous road trips.
"We wound up being on the road for six weeks and travelled throughout the United States all the way down to San Diego and back."
Upon their return, Lionel took to the road and did educational consulting throughout Canada and the U.S., helping to set up university and education programs in such places as the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, while Anne kept things together at home.
"For a period, it seemed like dad was gone more than he was home — it wasn’t unusual for people to call the house and we wouldn’t know whether he was home or away," Nancy jokes.
The couple’s unique connection kept them committed and passionate in their daily lives.
"They would sometimes say as they headed off to work — Dad would say, "I’m off to save the children of Manitoba," and Mom would say "I’m off to save lives"... It was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but it was where their hearts were. They were from very different backgrounds but their differences created a fuller and richer life for us kids."
Known for her great laugh and dry wit, wisdom and intuition, Orlikow’s sense of adventure and humour were valued especially in what was such an active life. She smoked Cuban cigars while dancing barefoot in silk dresses at family weddings.
"As she got older, she would occasionally punctuate her opinions with well-placed f-bombs that were hilarious coming out of this lapsed Catholic woman in her 80s. She was the backbone of our household. Happy to be out of the spotlight, which was usually shining on our dad or other family members — she was running everything behind the scenes," says Nancy.
John Orlikow remembers the large dinners every Sunday, his mom’s laugh and the days and days spent blueberry-picking, which weren’t always his favourite then but now return as fond memories.
"My parents lived a life in which no one was better than anyone else, giving was something you did not for reward but because it was the right thing to do and principles matter," he says.
"They both cared for anyone regardless of their background, and service to the community is something we all should do. While they were different in many ways they shared the same core principles and worked together as a team."
John recalls growing up with two high-profile parents as fun, wild, invariably interesting and full of laughter.
"There were always adventures going to the North End with my dad or the cabin for the summer with my mom. She would let you make mistakes; let you know when you were wrong but always would support you."
Amidst all the busyness of life at the Orlikow household, Anne somehow found the time to create an inviting home. The family’s three-storey house was warmly decorated with her handmade creations, particularly her weavings, hooked rugs and wall-hangings.
Driven by kindness, and instilling that kindness in her children, Orlikow’s example inspired those around her. She never sought recognition but her legacy will have an enduring impact.
She was the heart of the home and everyone in it.
St. Boniface community correspondent
Janine LeGal is a community correspondent for St. Boniface who also writes the These Old Houses column for our Community Homes section.