Wilma Wood

March 2023

We often think of buildings as inanimate objects, places that provide the backdrop to our lives, but a building that serves it’s community is much more than just brick and mortar. The Oliver Road Community Centre (ORCC) is that kind of building. It has been bringing the community together since the mid to late 1940s. The original structure, which stood on the same
site as the current building, was replaced in 1979.

Enter Wilma Wood.

Wilma, born in Geraldton and raised in Thunder Bay, moved back home after a short stint away. It didn’t take her long to reacquaint herself with the community centre. “I moved back here in 1974 and lived down the street. I had my 2nd daughter, Dana, in August 1974.

I thought I would walk down and see what was going on, because I was a Girl Guide in the old building. I attended events once in awhile, listened, went to the ladies meetings and sat at the back and paid attention; didn’t say too much.”

Wilma continued helping out where and when she could, and when they needed someone to help with the official opening of the new location in 1979 she enthusiastically stepped up to the plate. She became President of the Oliver Road Recreation Association in the early 1980s. With the exception of 2 years, she has been in that position ever since. When she was elected as President, it marked the first time in the association’s history that a woman was President.

One of the mainstays of the community centre is the annual Winter Carnival, which marks 75 years in 2023. Wilma has coordinated this event for over 40 years, and is quick to point out that this is a team effort. “Nothing gets done on your own, but you have to start, then others get engaged”, she says, and she credits the ladies auxiliary for the carnival’s success. Two members of the ladies auxiliary were recently honored by the City of Thunder Bay with a Special Recognition Award for Long Term Service at ORCC. Arleen (Cronk) Buchanan and Dorothy Wilen were presented with recognition scrolls thanking them for over 60 years of volunteer service.

There is always something happening at the centre, from meetings to workshops, banquets, baby showers, weddings, anniversaries – you name it. Multiple generations of families have celebrated life’s special moments at the centre.

It’s not unusual for a guest at a shower to remark that they had their own shower at the centre, and as their family grew, daughters and granddaughters had their showers there too.

Wilma is very modest about her contributions to the centre over the years expressing that it is sum of the efforts of many, not just one person, that has kept it bustling. “It’s everyone’s work” she says. Wilma’s oldest daughter, Jodi, who is Vice-President of the Oliver Road Recreation Association has seen and heard first hand the impact that Wilma has had. “She has touched the lives of so many people with her kindness. She has dedicated 45+ years to volunteering and my mother taught her family early on the true meaning of volunteerism. She always leads by example.” says Jodi.

It truly seems that the ORCC and Wilma are so intertwined, that you can’t think of one without the other. Jodi echoes that sentiment. “If you have ever walked through the doors at the Oliver Road Community Centre, then you know who Wilma is. The Oliver Road Community Centre may not be her house, but it is definitely her second home.”

For over 40 years Wilma’s “second home” has been like an old friend in the neighbourhood, a place where everyone is welcomed with the same warmth that you would welcome someone into your own home. A building is just a building until someone puts the heart into it.

“If I had half the heart & soul of my mom, I would consider myself blessed.” says her daughter. Wilma has put her heart and soul into the centre, and in doing so, she has created something that will always be treasured.

Kathy Shilliday is a regular contributor and a hawk eye for stories to share. She can be reached at rkshilliday@tbaytel.net

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