The Matriarchs

I have had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing many inspiring community residents over the last nearly 15 years. The benefit is always mine. Every month, I learn, am challenged to think differently, and am exposed to ideas, activities, organizations, and history that I would never have been otherwise.

This month, to honour our local female Legends, I chose some of my favourite moments. We hope you enjoy.  

Diane Stothers – 2013
Diane’s affair with music began at a very young age. She went through the Royal Conservatory of Music for piano, and also took part in church choirs, tap dancing and ballet. “Although I became too tall 
for ballet,” she adds with a laugh. It was clear that she had a love of music which led Diane to pursuing a degree in Music Education at UBC in Vancouver. 

Diane began teaching in 1978 when Max Turk Elementary School opened and while she was teaching Grade one, she also taught music and quickly became involved in school concerts. 
“At one point I had 600 kids at all three schools and was often asked how I managed it all. I would always answer that I love chaos,” she remembers. 

“I truly believe we are here to serve,” Diane says. “But I get so much out of it, it never feels like a sacrifice! Come forward to help out, it’s more fun than you think.”

Evelyn Cutts – 2010
Ev was exposed to the benefits of volunteering at an early age with a very involved mom and grandma. “I didn’t know any other way,” she recalls. When she became a young mother, she realized that you could only get out of the community what you give, which propelled her into groups that directly influenced her children as they grew up in Fernie.

She was also the face I associated with the City of Fernie for some time, being the first female mayor. And when I moved back to Fernie as an entrepreneur, she welcomed me with open arms at the Chamber of Commerce. And that’s just my own personal experiences. Ev has also been involved with Girl Guides, church groups, PAC at Isabella Dicken, the School Board, the Columbia Basin Trust, Rotary Club, and the Salvation Army Christmas Campaign all while maintaining a busy family life with six grandchildren. 

Jeri Mitchell and Rhoda Deluca – 2016
Jeri was in Mexico, and Rhoda in Fernie when they both read a story about a girl in Lethbridge who encouraged people to bring $20 to a Walmart to donate to a family going through a tough time. “And she found that family,” recalls Jeri, who commented on the post. When Rhoda read the comment, she replied, “Let’s do this!”

They created a page on Facebook and put a call out to the community for nominations. “That’s when we realized there was a need for this,” Rhoda says. “The Salvation Army and Welfare programs help a lot of people, but there are people who fall through the cracks. There are the silent sufferers.”

This power team has really made a difference where it matters. Even with their own personal struggles, they are stronger than ever. Their generosity of spirit and open hearts are contagious. And I feel excited about what we as a community can do through the Random Acts of Kindness initiative with Jeri and Rhoda at the helm.

Kim Stokie – 2011
Kim was living in Squamish with her husband and two daughters under two when she decided she needed to be closer to her family. Her parents were near the end of a sailing trip around the world, and Kim called her mom Liz and said, “I need you.” Liz frankly replied, “We’re not moving to Squamish.” “Well, where do you want to live?” Kim asked. “Fernie.” So, they all made their way back here. Lucky for us!
With the support she needed, it wasn’t long before Kim started toying with the idea of a coffee shop. Liz raised the idea of them doing it together, as they could split the care of Kim’s kids, switching four on, four off shifts. “It’s cheaper to employ someone in a coffee shop than to pay them to babysit!” she admits, plus she recognizes that while she can handle a bad cup of coffee being served, she couldn’t handle poor childcare. 

And the snowball that is Freshies began, October of 2004.

Lee-Anne Walker – 2016
“I need wilderness, clean water and air, healthy soils to grow plants so I can live. Humans have two simple choices – to harm or to help our environment, which supports us. I choose to help my neighbours and friends,” she says. Her passion is so deep that it permeates into all aspects of her life. From where she works to time spent with family and friends, to her volunteer efforts, hobbies and interests, the environment is always at the forefront. For example, she started Wildsight Education programs, has taught the MAST program at the College of the Rockies for ten years. Lee-Anne owned and operated Fernie Nature Tours, and still continues to offer tours even though she graciously donated her business to Wildsight. And most recently, she started the Elk River Alliance. 

“When you look at environmental issues, you realize it’s not an environmental problem, it’s a people problem. The environment is resilient,” Lee-Anne says. “I want everyone to think more about where their water comes from, how we use it and where it goes afterward, issues affecting our water and how we all play a role in the solutions to steward our water.”

Linda Socher – 2017
Growing up, everyone felt like they knew Linda and Heiko. They were Fernie famous, and both so friendly and welcoming when visiting Fernie Snow Valley or the Ski Base. When I moved back home, and Vanessa and I started the Fernie Fix, they were so supportive of our magazine, from the beginning.

In the 60s, Heiko and Linda were the only ones to hike to the top of the Bear to ski. “He thought the headwall was so fantastic and used to say that someone was walking around up there making the snow fall with a gun. He told the fellas the story one day after skiing, and Dave Rogers said… that’s the most BS I ever heard out of you!” Linda recalls. Heiko created a small sketch of the Griz, Ken Schneider refined it a little, and then Jack McLean, a local artist finalized the logo to what it is today. “Muriel MacLeod started Griz Days when she worked in Marketing for Heiko,” adds Linda. This year marks the 40th Anniversary of Griz Days, a weekend festival organized by the Fernie Chamber of Commerce that has become an integral part of winter in Fernie.

Rosemary Brydon - 2009
While Emily Brydon is omnipresent in Fernie conversation of late, her mother - the pillar of strength supporting this resilient Olympian – remains far from the forefront, hard to believe when you meet her. Taller than Emily with a witty sense of humour that takes you by surprise and a personality that fills the largest of rooms, Rosemary is hard to miss.

“Each year she would just keep getting the results, and it would always be a surprise. The next year, up to the next level and we never expected it. Emily actually came home one day and said, ‘I’m really glad you are my parents.’ We asked why and she replied, ‘Because you don’t care if I win or lose!’ Some people fulfill their dreams through their children. Not us. We were always in shock and she got where she did on her own.” 

When it comes to the Olympics, Rosemary considers herself a third time Olympian and is prepared to join in the celebrations and cheer on Emily alongside the other Canadian athletes. But when it comes down to it, Emily has already made it in Rosemary’s books. And in ours!

Rose Watson – 2009
Teaching at the Secondary School, Rose found that her attempts at getting children involved in drama were not well received. “They didn’t have a role model. It had to start in the community, not there. I discovered that the government was giving grants to arts councils. Fine, we’ll give it a name,” Rose said. She set out to start the Arts Council by putting an ad in the paper to gain interest… and an encouraging group of people responded. “It was good, everyone was so eager and brought experience.” 

The Arts Council started as a theatre group, but they soon realized they needed a home… an arts centre for all arts. Headed by Rose’s daughter, Beth Gregg the Arts Station project began and was successfully completed. “All of these groups were in one place. And now young people are taking it from there,” Rose reflects.. 

“Do what you crave, it’s what drives you.” Now, isn’t that the truth. 

Shelley Moulton - 2012
Shelley was first diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and went through a two-year treatment plan. After seven years in remission, she discovered it had come back in November of last year. The process the second time around was a bit foreign to them both. “Chemo we knew,” admits Chris. “Stem cells were new territory.” Prior to the bone marrow transplant, Shelley underwent treatment in preparation and after the transplant, followed an extensive recovery process. 

Through this taxing experience, they learned that they were ineligible to receive any monetary support through the Canadian Cancer Society. That’s how the idea of starting a foundation, which they have called Friends for Fernie came about. “It wasn’t out of anger, it was more like ‘Oh my God, if we don’t qualify who does?’” Shelley and Chris, who have been together since they were 15, have put the wheels into motion, with five directors already in place and a non-profit organization ready to support members of our community and their families going through cancer treatment.

Stephanie Rogers – 2012
Stephanie decided to get on board with the Clear View campaign after her own experience. Calcium deposits had shown up in her mammogram and needed to be removed. Her options were either an invasive procedure in Cranbrook, or to travel to Nelson or Calgary for a much less invasive procedure with the use of a digital mammography machine. “I was in and out in an hour,” she recalls. Stephanie realized the benefits of having this machine at our regional hospital, “It helps with early detection, can screen more women in less time, allows for guided biopsies and mammography,” and much more. 

One day campaign representative Evelyn Cutts walked by her store and she jumped at the opportunity. “How can we help?” she asked. A fundraising event was the answer, and right away Stephanie decided on a ski-athon. The Breast Buddy Ski-athon is a fun way to educate residents and raise funds. Skiers or boarders sign up for $20, and then receive pledges as they try to ski as much as they can February 4-6. 

Tina Hayes – 2015
Growing up, the library was located in the building that is now home to Mug Shots. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time there, perusing the children’s books and studying there in secondary school. The librarians were well known to us all, and us to them. 

I remember Tina from those days. Although I always thought she was working at the library, little known to me she was a volunteer. Tina is difficult to forget. With a warm and positive personality and a bounce in her step, she leaves an imprint and is a very recognized resident within our community.

In a few months, Tina will have been with the library for 15 years. Sitting in this new space, I am reminded of how far it has come. The space is not only a significant piece of Fernie history, it holds a place for everyone. Tina agrees, recognizing that the move itself afforded the library space they never had before.

“Now we can be a community living room because we have one. The way we are seeing people use us is different, there are so many more opportunities,” she says. “I love that people feel comfortable to come in – it’s their library, too.”