Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/1/2021 (358 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There’s a funny story as to how Adriana Sulkers (née Tieleman) became, well... Adriana Sulkers.
"She actually chose her own name," her daughter Joycelyn Pele says.
"When she was born in 1920, she was born at home. (Her parents) didn’t get around to naming her, really. They called her Babe for many, many years. So, when it came to her going to school, they needed a name to register her with, so she chose her own name — Adriana."
While Adriana is the name she picked, everyone ended up calling her Ada. As for Sulkers, Ada didn’t exactly choose it, but one small decision as a teenager led to it becoming hers.
Ada, who grew up on her parents’ market garden in North Kildonan, tagged along with her older sister Teenie on a Saturday at an outdoor get-together with some friends. That evening, the group decided to head to the Dutch Club for a night of dancing. Ada needed a ride and there were several young men, most of whom thought they could impress the pretty lady with their motorcycles, offering her a lift. Luckily for Harry Sulkers, Ada preferred four wheels. Harry was behind the wheel of his dad’s old farm truck.
"My mom never felt safe on motorcycles... I guess she thought the safest way to get to this dance was to hop in this truck with this young fellow. She probably knew him from the Dutch Club, but really, they had only just met," says Pele.
"Apparently, he was just a deer in the headlights. She said, ‘I was trying to talk to him and he would barely say a word.’ I guess he was so shocked that this beautiful young woman would hop in this truck with him and say ‘OK, let’s go dancing.’"
Harry would eventually find the right things to say; they married in 1945 and had Joycelyn, their only child, in 1960. They ended up being dance partners, literally and figuratively, for 60 years. In their senior years, Harry and Ada loved to square dance and round dance.
Before they tied the knot, Ada was the manager of the cosmetics and jewelry department at Woolworths. Harry excelled in hockey and was invited to the Chicago Blackhawks rookie camp when he was in junior, but declined as he felt his parents needed help with their grade A vegetable farm in East St. Paul. Ada and Harry built their home on the same property and would eventually take over the vegetable-growing business. Harry’s sister Win and her family lived right next door. Harry died in 2005 at the age of 85. Ada died last month of age-related heart failure two-weeks shy of her 100th birthday. They both lived at the farm until their final days.
It’s a place their granddaughter Caitlyn Pele was particularly fond of. It was also a place where Caitlyn never had to worry about leaving hungry.
"Because my grandpa was so successful in hockey and I played quite a bit of hockey, she had some very old-school core beliefs that I should always do before a game, like eating steak and potatoes, a really heavy meal," Caitlyn says.
"When my grandparents would take care of me... she’d make these giant meals and want me to eat the whole meal before a game. For me, that was definitely not something I would usually do before a game, so it was kind of funny."
Ada was recently interviewed by the South Central Post — Altona’s weekly newspaper — for a story on Harry’s impact on the game in the area. It was titled Remembering Altona’s Father of Hockey. Harry played for the Maroons from 1955 to 1963 and coached their midget team to a provincial B title in 1957.
"It published on Dec. 3 and mom passed on Dec. 2," Joycelyn says.
"She just wanted to see it. She wanted to see Dad written up in the paper and she passed away the day before it was published. It was sad."
Ada knew a thing or two about impressing on the ice herself as she won the provincial senior ladies curling championship with Dorothy (Dot) McKenzie three times and had two second-place finishes at nationals. For their efforts, the team was awarded the Province of Manitoba’s Order of Sports Excellence award in 1980.
But Ada and Harry weren’t just known for their winter sport success, they were also known for being incredibly gracious hosts.
"With Harry being a market gardener, he’d sell some vegetables out of the Quonset (hut) and they’d have people drop by all the time," says Joycelyn’s husband Eric Pele.
"She’d insist on having people over. It didn’t matter what time of day, they had to sit down and have tea, sometimes for lunch and for supper, too, as well. She was always ready and willing to take people in, it seemed. You were welcome there. It was just such a welcome feeling."
Ada missed Harry a lot in the 15 years since his death, but Joycelyn, Eric and Caitlyn said she remained strong without her life partner.
"We were also very fortunate with three families essentially living on the same property. My cousin Norma (Bradshaw) still lives out there and she, for these last whole bunch of years, was so attentive to my mom," says Joycelyn.
"Saturday night would be their night to have dinner and maybe play some crib. They were both into figure skating so they’d watch the latest figure skating. She was a wonderful companion to my mom, as well, and I don’t know without her help how we would’ve handled (her mother living alone)."
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, Joycelyn’s family couldn’t say goodbye to Ada in person. Ada died at St. Boniface Hospital with a nurse holding her hand. Even in a short amount of time together, Ada left an impression on the nurse.
"They were able to get a phone to her for me and she said, ‘Bye dear, I love you. You’ve been wonderful.’ That poor nurse holding her hand was crying and I’m telling her it’s OK, it’s what mom wanted. She didn’t want to linger," Joycelyn says.
"That nurse earlier in the day described my mom to me as ‘a sweetheart’... That’s how Mom affected people."
The craziest thing about that phone call was how Ada still sounded so cheerful, Joycelyn says.
One of Ada’s favourite sayings later in life was "Getting old isn’t for sissies," and even though her mind was sharp until her last day, she was ready.
"I think the hardest part for her was she was pretty much the last of her generation of her group... After so many years with friends and family, I think that was hardest for her — losing them all," Joycelyn says.
"And I think, in the end, she was actually very happy to think that maybe she was going to meet them."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.