The Heart of Calgary Award recognizes an individual who has made an outstanding lifetime contribution to the Calgary community through their efforts as a volunteer. This individual demonstrates a passion and commitment to creating a healthy and vibrant community and serves as an inspiration for others.
The award is sponsored by ConocoPhillips Canada to celebrate an outstanding volunteer who has demonstrated a lifelong passion and commitment to community.
Our 2013 Heart of Calgary winner, Eleanor Suddaby, has a long history of volunteering. Growing up on a farm in rural Alberta, Eleanor learned early on in her life that to have a strong community, you have to be a good community member. Her parents served as wonderful examples working with the United Farmers of Alberta, United Farmers Women of Alberta and the Women’s Institute.
In the 1960s, Eleanor got married, moved to Calgary and began working at CBC. She soon became an active member of the CBC social club, which worked to ensure the welfare of the staff was considered, but was also a good support system for the members. “We were all new, young, married, had small children, most of us had come from other locations and leaned on each other and had a social club so we could help one another,” she remembers.
In the 1970s, Eleanor became active with the union; she fought for better working conditions, especially for women’s equality, and not just with the CBC, but with other CUPE organizations. Eleanor fought for women’s equality at a local, provincial and even national level.
“In 1969, I had our second daughter and realized how difficult it was for working women, because we didn’t have the benefits, we didn’t have maternity leave, married women didn’t have pensions,” says Eleanor. “In the 1970s, my job at CBC took me into the broadcast division union and I started working with the union actively to promote better working conditions for everyone, and especially for married women, and us, along with other affiliated unions gradually brought about change.”
During the 1980s, Eleanor continued her volunteerism in the social reform area by helping to found the CBC Employee Assistance Programs. Eleanor and her husband Darrel were also active members of their church.
During all that time, Eleanor was working and caring for her family. It wasn’t until her retirement in 1996 that Eleanor’s volunteering kicked into high-gear.
Since her retirement, Eleanor has been busy volunteering at her grand-children’s schools, offered clerical support for the Calgary Stampede, has been an active member of the Parkinson’s Alberta Society, as well as a member of the Park Wardens’ alumni. Eleanor’s volunteer resume is lengthy, but it can’t show the true weight of what she has done for the Heritage Park Historical Village.
At Heritage Park, Eleanor contributes to pretty much every department at the park – but it’s the heirloom program that was Eleanor’s pet project.
The heirloom program at Heritage Park was designed to allow the public to donate their unique collectables and antiques for the purpose of funding and bringing the exhibits to life.
The person donating the items contacts Heritage Park and volunteers like Eleanor go out and collect their precious items.
“We pick up their heirlooms, their antiques, their collectables, and often this is a difficult time for them,” says Eleanor. “It’s usually through downsizing, or maybe a parent, or a family member has passed away, and they’re parting with things that means something to them, so we have to be very tactful and very comforting going in.”
When it comes to Heritage Park, Eleanor has contributed anywhere from 1600 to 2200 hours per year, for the past 15 years. The people at Heritage Park even offered her a paid position, and she turned them down.
Retirement may have allowed for Eleanor to donate a lot of her time volunteering, but for this active woman, retirement wasn’t always the easiest thing.
“When I first retired, I found it very difficult. It was like a complete loss of identity. I remember going to a cocktail party and somebody asking me what I did, when I said, ‘I’m a retiree’ they didn’t even stop to see what I retired from,” remembers Eleanor, an experience that was obviously painful for her.
With that in experience in mind, Eleanor’s spirit of social justice kicked in. “In 2000, I started with the CBC Pension Association, I was one of the founding members. We were an association that got together nationally and worked for the betterment of the pensioners and their spouses, and I am still working with it.”
Just how does Eleanor find the time for volunteering as much as she does? It is her passion for bettering her community.
“Volunteering is my passion, it’s what I do, and you meet many, many interesting people,” says Eleanor. “Winston Churchill said, is we make a living from what we get, we make a life from what we give.”
You can see Eleanor in action below.