The Story of Alice Leuzinger by Susan Weisenberger
“Good work is dignified. It develops your faculties and serves your community. It is a central human activity. Work…..makes you honest with yourself…..and connects you in a compassionate way with the outside world.” Roger Pritchard
My own mother was a hard worker. She knew what it was to live without, she had the ability to imagine something different, and she had the drive to use her life for something bigger than herself. I knew I was in that same presence when I shared time with Alice at St. Michael’s Grove Manor in Spruce Grove. There is a beautiful gift born from difficulty that allows a compassionate soul to do for others what has been done for them. It is called Gratitude.
Alice was born in 1928 growing up on a French family farm outside of Westlock in a smaller town called Hondo. She was #6 in a family of eight children. Life was not easy. Alice remembers picking rocks and roots, and “stooking” hay. There was definitely “a lot of hard work and a lot of hard times”. She remembers herself at 8 or 9 filled with joy when a government parcel arrived at their home with clothes, new dresses, new pants and shirts just in time for Christmas. At the age of 15 she went out to work in order to help support the family. Her first job was in a lumber camp as a “Flunky” washing dishes, starting fires, and even shooting squirrels. She only shot one!
Before too long Alice went to work as a waitress in Westlock and then Smith. She had lots of friends. One evening their truck got stuck in some mud and a kind driver of a big oil truck (Hans) stopped to help pull them out. The girls were asked to provide weight by getting back into the box. Hans told Alice she was not a girl, but a lady, and invited her to sit in the cab with him. That was quite a compliment! She fell in love.
Alice and Hans were married and eventually settled in Spruce Grove in 1959. The population was 377. Hans was working at the gas plant on the Yellowhead while Alice made a home for their only son. She looked after children in her own home. She is fondly remembered as “Grandma Alice” to many here in the area. Sandra is one of those children and still comes to “take me around. She’s like one of my own kids. I never miss an appointment. She’s there to drive me for surgeries.” Alice is very grateful for the love that comes back to her through Sandra.
After 16 years at the plant Hans got a job working for the Co-op in Stony Plain and Alice joined him there bagging groceries, stocking shelves, and running the Christmas Store and Green House. She’s sure she made lots of money for that Green House! She also ran the kitchen at the Little United Church for years setting up every Tuesday afternoon for cards, sandwiches, cakes and coffee. And through such endeavours as garage and bake sales, community lunches, fashion shows, catering, and raffles she organized people to raise money to help build the Pioneer Senior Centre (her name is on the wall!), to provide interesting projects for St. Michael’s, to lend a hand for the Food Bank, and even to help send tuberculosis/polio patients from the Aberhart Hospital on vacation to Hawaii. She takes joy in pulling these events together as her part in serving her community and others worse off.
Because every leader needs people to organize Alice made many dear friends along the way who enjoyed her company and work ethic. Sheila Halderson and Nora Acker are a couple of gals who demonstrated to Alice that Spruce Grove is a small town where people are friendly and help is there when you need it. Together these ladies (and others like them) gave of their talents and blessings to those in greater need.
Alice was one of the first tenants to move into St. Michael’s after it opened in 2003. In 2009 she was nominated and won the ASCHA award for Tenant of the Year. The banquet was held at the Shaw Conference Centre with 450 guests. As she was leaving for “her ball” the staff of St. Michael’s met at the door saying, “Congratulations!” while presenting her with a big corsage. They chanted, “Alice! Alice!” She started to cry. They said, “Don’t cry! Go and be proud of yourself!”
At nearly 90 Alice’s keen eye still notices those in need right around her. Some seniors face tight budgets and cannot always partake in the many opportunities St. Michael’s provides to get out into the community. Everything costs money! Alice can see that free transportation to get out shopping or to the doctor would really help those who do not have access to extra cash all the time. She is grateful that when the mayor visited he announced two new assisted living care centres for the area in the near future.
Alice is content. She says that her life “is heaven now compared to what it was long ago”. Sometimes she hears complaints when contributing to the less fortunate and she always stops to say, “Don’t you remember when WE were so poor and WE got those big boxes of food and clothes?” It is this feeling of gratitude that causes her to keep on giving. Alice uses her talents to work toward a better world and that has made HER a better person – a dignified lady.
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