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California dreamin’ in Winnipeg
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California dreamin’ in Winnipeg

You really couldn’t blame Winnipeggers for humming the tune California Dreamin’ over the last little while – and maybe Stephanie Gemmel was one of them.

In case you don’t know, here are some of the lyrics of the Mamas and the Papas’ classic:   

All the leaves are brown,
And the sky is gray.
I’ve been on a walk
On a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.
California dreamin’
On such a winter’s day.

Stephanie, who died recently, grew up with 13 siblings in a small California city just east of Los Angeles. She never dreamed of leaving the warmth and sunshine of the West Coast for Winnipeg’s cold climate.

But then, when Stephanie was barely out of her teens, she met Bruce. They fell in love, got married, and next thing she knew, Stephanie was living in Winnipeg.

You can definitely imagine a former California girl singing the song during a grey winter day in Winnipeg.

While Stephanie was in a different climate than she was raised in, she never lost her love for getting outside. She was the driving force to get her family out camping and she would go outside to garden and to run - she even ran the Manitoba Marathon in 1993. When she was outside and heard the mournful call of a loon, she would say, “this is why I came to Canada.”

Stephanie went to school here, receiving an undergraduate degree in women’s studies and religion, then a Master of Social Work.

Armed with these degrees, Stephanie took up social work, contributing at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba and the Health Sciences Centre. She also taught at both the University of Manitoba and Booth College.

Perhaps Stephanie had the drive to help others because she herself needed assistance at times. Her family says she showed courage with her own mental illness; she had bipolar disorder.

Stephanie will be remembered by two sons, three grandchildren and her surviving brothers and sisters.

Read more about Stephanie.

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason, Reporter

Kevin Rollason

How They Lived

Clif Evans was the mayor of Riverton before being elected NDP MLA for Interlake in 1990.

But Clif, who was 74 when he died on May 6, was best known for something he didn’t do: the vote splitting scandal.

His seat was the one targeted by the 1990s scandal. An inquiry later determined a group of Tories secretly funded an Indigenous independent candidate in the hopes he would siphon enough votes away from the NDP to allow a PC victory.

It didn’t work — Clif was re-elected. 

Read more about Clif.


 

Barbara Granger was an occupational therapist who worked with the World Health Organization for years, including working at a leper colony.

When Barbara came to Winnipeg with her son in 1964, she developed the occupational therapy program at Children’s Hospital. She then headed to St. Boniface Hospital’s OT department until she retired.

Barbara didn’t stop helping. She continued to travel north to communities to assess patients and, through her volunteering with Altrusa International service organization, she ran the toy lending library for special needs kids at the Rehabilitation Centre for Children.

Barbara died on May 5 at age 93.

Read more about Barbara.


 

Michael Dawson and his brother were abandoned by their family with physical injuries and neurological damage 59 years ago.

But Michael, who was born Michael Keesick in Red Lake, was lucky.

The medical foster family who took him in later adopted him and he grew up to recover, go to special education at school, go on many family vacations, work at Pallister Furniture, and compete in bowling with Special Olympics. And, of course, to be loved.  Michael died on April 19.

Read more about Michael.


 

Gunvor Larsson was born in Sweden and came here in 1958. But she didn’t leave her Swedish roots behind — they grew stronger here.

Gunvor, who died on May 14 at 98, owned the Scandinavian Import Boutique, taught Swedish at Kelvin High School for 40 years, and she founded the Scandinavian Folk Dancing Group with her husband.

Gunvor even helped found Folklorama’s Scandinavian pavilion, served as its mayor in 1984, and contributed articles to the country’s only Swedish newspaper The Swedish Press. She also compiled cookbooks, including a final one last year.

Read more about Gunvor.


 

Bill Welligan picked up a lacrosse stick when he was a kid. After that, if you were a goalie, you didn’t want to see him with the ball in front of you.

That’s because Bill, who died on May 3 at 91, was a hall of fame caliber player.

He won the midget city championship with Isaac Brock Community Centre in 1947. He won the juvenile championship with the West End Memorials in 1949. He was on the 1951 provincial All-Star team which beat the BC All-Stars for the Minto Cup Western Play Downs - he scored the winning goal.

During one memorable game against the Elmwood team in 1954, he singlehandedly scored three goals against 10 future hall of famers.

Because of this, Bill was inducted twice in the Manitoba Lacrosse Hall of Fame - once individually and the other as part of the 1951 All-Star team.

Read more about Bill.


 

A Life’s Story

Irene Hunka died Sept. 10, 2021, at age 95. (Supplied photo)

Irena Hunka may have been small, but you couldn’t say she was fragile.

Irena, who died on Sept. 10 at 95, had to flee her home in Poland when the Nazis invaded. She survived starvation in a Siberian labour camp, was evacuated to the Middle East and contracted malaria in a refugee camp in Africa. All before she was 26.

Irena later came to Winnipeg, got married, raised a family, and worked as a health-care aide.

“I knew my mother didn’t have the same experiences as the other mothers of kids growing up on the block. I knew this was extraordinary,” said Irena’s son, George.

You can read more about Irena’s life here. 

 

Until next time, I hope you continue to write your own life’s story.

 


 

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