Millet's Pioneer Women 2015
Ruth Jean (Harkness) Brennan
Ruth Jean (Harkness) Brennan has been an active member of the Millet community for the majority of her life. She was a member of the Catholic Women’s League and participated in many community fundraisers. While taking on these incredible challenges to improve the community she worked side by side her husband, Ray, on their dairy farm, and raised six children. It is because of incredible Pioneer women like Ruth Brennan that the community of Millet is what it is today.
Ruth was born in Grand Haven, Michigan on March 28, 1920 while her mother was visiting and taking care of Ruth’s sick grandmother. Ruth was brought back home to Millet and raised on the farm. It was here that Ruth learned what hard work was through farming, cooking, and gardening. In addition to working on the farm, she also attended school in Millet. At a young age Ruth gained a strong commitment to family, church, and learned how important it was for the community to work together.
After high school, Ruth began a training course to become a Practical Nurse. In 1939, at the age of 19, she graduated from St. Joseph’s Hospital as a Practical Nurse. For about three years she worked at St Joseph’s and St. Paul. In 1942 she retired from her nursing career because she wanted to raise a family.
On November 8, 1943 Ruth married Ray Brennan. Together they had six children; Terry, Garry, Debbie, Roger, Bonnie, and Jean; and raised them on their dairy farm. She was a hard working mother and her children grew up knowing, there were no “if’s, and’s or but’s!”
For over 35 years, Ruth was an active member of the Catholic Women’s League. She organized many fundraisers for the League such as the St. Patrick’s Day Tea which occurred every year. To prepare for the Tea, Ruth would create fundraising baskets full of treats to sell at local businesses. To organize the tea, Ruth would work with other members of the League to plan out the menu, decide on who would look after what, and help set up. This is just one example of the many activities Ruth helped set up for the Catholic Women’s League.
Aside from fundraising for the church and church events, Ruth also helped fundraise for many community buildings. Approximately, during the 50’s and early 60’s, she would help organize and cook her amazing food for the Harvest Supper. The money raised from the Supper was put towards the Millet Community Hall. Ruth loved to dance so she was very adamant about getting that Hall complete. Another project that Ruth helped fundraise for was the Community Skating Rink. She loved to skate and knew an arena like this would provide children with many opportunities. As soon as rumors about the arena surfaced, Ruth began working bingos! Although it took years to help raise enough money for the arena, it was finally completed and Ruth was front and centre on opening day. By opening day, Ruth no longer skated. However, she was very proud to be able to see her family, friends, and neighbours use the arena. These are just a few examples that illustrate Ruth’s hard work ethics, and her commitment to the community. She knew that fundraising and helping with events would benefit her community and bring its residents a future with more opportunities.
In 1973, Ruth and Ray retired from farming and moved to Wetaskiwin. While in Wetaskiwin, Ruth worked in a dress shop until the age of 65 and continued to volunteer there for many years afterwards. Today Ruth is 95 years old and still lives in Wetaskiwin. Although she lives in Wetaskiwin, Millet is still very important to her. She is very close to all of her children and has 18 grandchildren, and 18 great grandchildren.
Ruth was and still is a hard worker and tough farm girl. Her determination, strength, and “tell it like it is” attitude is what led her family to success. These strong traits in Ruth also led to her success with various fundraisers and overcome many community struggles. It is an honor to present such a strong and dedicated woman in Millet’s 2015 Pioneer Women.
Florence (Lantz) Day
Florence Day was born on June 11, 1935 in Millet Alberta and raised in the Clover Lawn area. Her parents were Charlie and Ethel Lantz, who were farmers. When Florence was 9 her father passed away. Ethel Lantz continued to farm by renting out the fields to neighbors and carried on milking the cows, raising chickens and growing big gardens.
After finishing elementary school at Clover Lawn, Florence went to Millet School to complete her high school education. During this time she lived with the Tom Goin family. Florence shuttled the Goin kids to and from school via horse and buggy.
In 1949 Florence met her husband Derek, who was a neighbor of the Goin family. The two married in 1953 on Florence’s 18th birthday. Over the years the couple welcomed 6 children into their lives.
Every summer for two weeks Derek, with the help of others, hired a bus to shuttle kids from Millet to Pigeon Lake in order for the kids to take part in the Red Cross Water Safety program. This program was vital in teaching children how to swim and wouldn’t have been possible without the organization on Florence’s part. Florence and Derek also held meetings included Farmer’s Union, rural telephone organizing and also the co-op formed to get natural gas to rural homes.
Florence was very involved with her community and was a great volunteer for various organizations. She was a part of the Women’s Institute, this organization held teas in which they would get together with other women’s groups. The Women’s Institute also took part in keeping the library open certain times of the week, Florence was very active in this volunteer work and spent many days acting as a librarian. Another organization that Florence was a part of was the Girl’s Club otherwise known as the Millet Mermaidens. Florence assisted in the organization of the group, which included shuttling the girls to an annual event in Olds. She also taught girls how to sew, knit, braid as well as how to do other crafts.
The United Church Women was another group of ladies that Florence was a part of. The ladies held many fundraisers; including various tea events and beef on a bun dinner. The funds from these occasions were used to help the church and also to serve as a way to involve more people in the Church community. In addition, the women held a fashion show, which turned out to be a great success. The proceeds of the show were donated to the hospitals in Leduc and Wetaskiwin.
One of Florence’s hobbies was creating handicrafts. She is a part of the Millet Arts and Crafts Guild. Although weaving is Florence’s main interest, she also does scrap quilting. She has woven many of the popular baby blankets, which have always been great sellers for the Guild. She is described as being a willing worker and contributor on any project that the Guild decides to undertake.
The Ag Society has a yearly Bench show, which Florence has provided her assistance with for approximately 15 years. She helps to organize the displays and set up the tables, she even stays for the evening to help the judges. The Millet Seniors also consider Florence a great asset to their organization.
Despite the large amount of time Florence spent volunteering in the community, she somehow was able to raise 6 children and always attend all of their activities. Today, Florence has 11 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren and attends their school concerts and sporting events, often showing up with baking in hand.
Florence’s children comment on their mother’s excellent cooking and gardening abilities as well as her talent for handiworks. Florence has used her expertise in these areas to become a contributing member of the Millet community. NEXT SLIDE She has been an instrumental part of many clubs and still continues to be to this day. Florence says that she is pleased to do anything she can to help out her community and gets satisfaction in seeing the help that she is able to give. This shows how kind and selfless Florence truly is and why she deserved to be recognized as a 2015 Millet Pioneer Woman.
Edith (Berger) Dusdal
Edith was born in Liel, Germany in 1920, and moved to Calgary with her parents Henrick and Christine, sister, Marianne, and brother, Herb in 1927. The family resided on a Conjuring Lake farm, where her sister Ann was born. After two failed crop years, the family was lost the farm, and Henrick opened a tailor shop here in Millet.
The family then bought a farm near Millet that Edith, Marianne, and Herb single handedly ran while their parents and sister lived at the tailor shop. It was here that Edith learned to operate a farm, keep house, and cook, in addition to attending school. She was forced to leave and take over the household at the age of 14 when her sister married.
Edith met Herman Dusdal at a dance held at the community hall, and the two married in 1939. She soon gave birth to Annette in 1939, Delorse in 1941, and Marlene in 1943. The family moved to Millet in 1944, where Herman worked as a livestock dealer. Edith’s sons Darold and Jerry were born in Millet in 1950 and 1962.
On the Millet farm, Edith was a very busy homemaker, milking cows, separating and sterilizing the milk, keeping a large vegetable garden, potato field, and berry patch, cooking, keeping house, and raising her five children. Edith would can, jam, and was an avid baker, often making baked goods for the various organizations her children were a part of. She was also very handicrafty, making clothes for her family, and knitting socks for soldiers at war.
As her children grew up, Edith supported them all through school. Each of Edith’s daughters were encouraged through choir, the Women’s institute Girl’s Club, and the 4H Sewing Club. Darold was supported through his years in Boy Scouts, eventually becoming a Master Scout himself. Edith taught Sunday school at the United Church by the time Jerry was old enough to attend.
Today, at 94, Edith has 7 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren, and is still an avid knitter, crocheter, and reader.
An immigrant with no English, a farm girl through the 1930’s, and a young wife & mother through WWII, Edith was strong-willed & a hard worker. Edith ensured all her children received the education and opportunities she never did and taught them the self-reliance and strength that had continues to get her through life. It is an honor to showcase such a hard-working and independent woman in 2015 Millet’s Pioneer Women exhibit, especially with Edith herself in attendance.
Alma Marie (Cole) Gray
Alma Marie (Cole) Gray was an amazing human being. She was patient and creative and always making new friends. Even near the end of her life she was making friends with the person in the hospital bed beside her. Alma Gray was very active in making the community a better place. Today we are going to acknowledge all of the good that Alma Gray did for the town of Millet.
One of the groups that Alma Gray joined was the Tellim Women’s Institute. The women’s institute was a group that was predominately found in rural environments. They were dedicated to domestic life and community improvement. Tellim was Millets branch even the name Tellim was Millet spelled backwards. The group was founded in 1977 and did a lot of good for this community.
For example they offered scholarships to the Griffiths- Scott grade 9 class. They would focus on the male and female with the highest averages. Tellim also organized the building of the Millet seniors home John. A Smith Manor. A home that is still fully functional today. The group did a lot of work with underprivileged children and a multitude of other charities such as giving money to different hospital related organizations and donating quilts to the Camrose Women’s shelter.
Despite all of that it wasn’t all seriousness in the Tellim organization. They would also plan out fun town events and had a huge part in the Millet Days celebrations. They even had a Tellim float that they would drive proudly in the Millet Parade. Not only was Alma Gray a part of this amazing club but from the years 1989-1990 she was president of the Tellim Women’s Institute. Eventually the group branched off to become the women’s institute for girls. Alma also volunteered for that group. In 1997 sadly the Tellim disbanded but all of the good that they did still lives on in this town.
As if that wasn’t enough Alma Gray helped found another local club. The Millet Arts and Craft Guild. This is a group that is still fully functional today. You can find them at craft sales and local farmers markets, especially around the Christmas season. When Alma helped with the Arts and Craft Guild she worked on the phone committee for a time and the nominating committee. Of course Alma would also make the crafts and she even had the patience to teach the crafts to others.
Alma Gray also had a successful home life. She was born in New Brunswick with a twin sister Edna May. At 6 months old her parents moved them to Alberta. Sadly after 10 months Edna May passed on but fortunately Alma still had an older sister whom she remained friends with for her whole life her name was Beryl Winnifred (Cole) Green. In Alberta Alma received her education. On November 18 1941 she married William James Gray better known as Jim. Together they had 4 children and ran a dairy farm for 17 years. Their children’s names were Sharon, Brian, Neil and Judy. There were times that she would be helping to run the house and still working hard to help the town of Millet. Eventually it got to be too much and Alma Gray put her community work on hold. However the day did come that she went back to joining the groups that were committed to bettering the town.
Even as she got older her desire to help others never wavered. Until the age of around 70 Alma Gray would drive local people that couldn’t drive themselves, to doctors’ appointments in the city. She also remained an active member of the Millet Arts and Craft Guild until her health could no longer permit it.
Sadly in 2001 Alma Gray passed away. Today though is an opportunity to remember her life and acknowledge everything that she did for Millet as well as the good she did in her own household. By declaring Alma Gray a Pioneer Woman we recognize all the community work that she did for this town that she loved so much. Because the truth is that this town would not be the same without her contributions and we thank her for that.
Clara Thompson (nee Grapentine)
Clara Thompson (nee Grapentine) was born to Herman and Augusta Grapentine on December 14, 1912. She was the oldest of four children; Clara, Stanley, Clarence, and Agnes.
Clara attended Millet School until grade 8, when she had to leave to help out on the family farm after her father was injured by a bull. In her youth, Clara was a member of the Canadian Girls in Training, a church based alternative to Girl Guides, and also sang in the United Church choir. In 1933, she was a cast member in “A Poor Married Man”, a play presented by local talent in Pinyon’s hall.
Clara married Elwood Thompson on November 7, 1935. They were married by Reverend Harry Parker in the Millet United Church. The couple had two children; Grant and Bev. Since leaving school in grade 8, Clara had been working on farms, and no exception was made after her marriage. In her youth, Clara often helped her father break in new horses (one time resulting in a broken nose) and she later assisted Elwood in this task for spring work.
Clara milked cows, drove farm machinery, led a team of horses with a mower to cut and rake hay, and in the fall would use a binder to harvest the grain crop. Before her and Elwood could afford to hire other hands, Clara operated much of the machinery on her own, using an intricate pulley system she invented to move all the equipment at once. A busy homemaker as well, she extensively gardened, canned and preserved, and raised chickens for eggs to sell both locally and commercially.
A devout member of the United Church, Clara continued to participate in the choir throughout her life, and even taught Sunday school for a period of time. She was part of the United Church’s Women’s organization, and would often pick people up and give them a ride to church with her. Clara was a member of the local Rebekah Lodge, which was actively involved in a number of community projects. She was also a very active member of the Millet Women’s Institute, who devoted their time to the community.
Throughout her life, Clara loved music, playing the organ and singing. From her childhood years she was a member of the United Church choir, and in her youth, the Grapentines would often gather with other families in the community to sing. Clara was a member of the Sweet Adelines, a female barbershop group, and the Wetaskiwin Choralaires.
As a member of the Millet and District Historical Society, Clara helped write and compile the Tales and Trails of Millet. She was devoted not only to preserving the history of Millet, but also to improving the town in whatever ways she could. It is an honor to feature her today as one of Millet’s Pioneer Women.
Myrtle Amy (Wold) Wilk
Myrtle Amy (Wold) Wilk was born January 26, 1922, in Tawatinaw, Alberta. She was the youngest child of 6 born to Ole and Sigrid Wold, who were Norwegian immigrants. Myrtle was a very athletic child who loved all sports. She played baseball and she was also an excellent ice skater. This love for sports continued on into her adult years, where she greatly enjoyed to curl.
When Myrtle graduated high school she headed off to Edmonton in order to obtain some business training. During this time she became an excellent typist and skilled at shorthand. After her training, Myrtle secured a job at a law office in Clyde, Alberta. Clyde was also where Myrtle met the love of her life, Louie Wilk.
Louie and Myrtle married in 1947 and soon after the couple moved to Millet, where Louie ran a successful business called Massey Harris. Over the years Myrtle worked closely alongside Louie to run the business, despite the fact that she was raising 5 children as well!
Myrtle was an avid community woman and was especially involved in the Millet Catholic Women’s League. Alongside her close friend, Ruth Brennan, Myrtle organized and delegated positions to others in order to set up events including weddings, banquets and spring church teas.
Music was a huge part of the Wilk family home life. Neither Myrtle or Louie or Myrtle had the chance to receive any music lessons as children. They both loved music and ensured that each of their five children would have this opportunity. Inevitably, most of the guests to the Wilk household would end up partaking in some kind of sing-along around the piano. Myrtle drove the children to Wetaskiwin for piano and violin lessons, and would often take along ladies from Millet who didn’t have a driver’s license, so they would have a chance to do some shopping.
Tragedy struck the family in 1966 when Louie died unexpectedly. Myrtle was now a widow at the young age of 44, but she carried on in her strong, steadfast way and bravely stepped up to run the business. She tried to sell the business, but was unsuccessful in finding a buyer. She then rented out the building. Disaster struck again when a fire consumed the building, this was a huge setback for Myrtle. Soon enough Myrtle got a job at CO OP, this was a relief as she now had stable income to support her family with.
Her legacy to her family is a solid sense of right and wrong for she had very strong morals. Responsibility, self-sufficiency, and honesty were attributes that she is remembered for.It was a short life of hard work, dedication to her family, her church, the garden and animals. She never stopped. She was an inspiration and deserves to be recognized as a Pioneer Woman.