Former Melita teacher receives Ageless Heroes Award

Note: We received the following from Mrs. Ruth Townsend of Melita who had received it from Doug Anderson (formerly of Melita). Bessie-Marie Hill taught at Melita School from 1956-1961. She recently passed away in Winnipeg at the age of 85.The following is the nomination presented to the jury honouring her.

It is a great honour to nominate Bessie-Marie Hill for an “Ageless Hero, Love of Learning Award”. She brings to her volunteer activities a rich background of experience in education, travel, and involvement in organizations such as Elderhostel Life-long Learning, Stony Mountain Justice Group, Manitoba Society of Seniors (MSOS), Christian Girls in Training (CGIT), Retired Women Teachers Association (RWTA) and Friendship Force of Manitoba to name a few.

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Bessie-Marie is a retired teacher who taught for 40 years in various locales - rural Manitoba, Kenora, Germany (Dept. of National Defence) and Assiniboine South School Division. Her leadership skill were demonstrated at a young age when in her early years of teaching she volunteered as a CGIT leader and superintendent for southwest Manitoba. For six years she mentored and managed the biggest CGIT group in Manitoba. Highlights of those years included a study of Japanese culture and an intensive study of different religions. This culminated in a bus trip to Winnipeg which enabled the young girls to visit 10 different places of worship.

For 10 years Bessie-Marie has been a Manitoba coordinator and host for Elderhostel “Footprints Across the Prairies”. This educational program involved much research into the history, geography, and other facets of the area for which she would be the guide. For five years she coordinated the Via “Cross Canada” trips – 30 in all. She led six trips to Churchill and three to Neepawa, Hartney and Jasper. She has been a guest on Speaker’s Bureau in Winnipeg since 1992 to advertise Elderhostel educational adventures. She also gave seminars spreading the word about the educational value of Elderhostel- often travelling to rural areas at her own expense.

Bessie-Marie has volunteered for MSOS for the past six years, mostly in the travel department. She spends countless hours researching and visiting Manitoba rural destinations for material to use for bus excursions. Her commentaries are interesting, entertaining, and full of historical facts and intriguing trivia. Several hundred people have been treated to histories of Manitoban cultural groups such as the Mennonites, Hutterites, Old Order Mennonites and Icelanders. Bessie-Marie researched and developed a program for MSOS on various places of worship in Winnipeg. Nearly 200 people have taken this popular tour.

Bessie-Marie is a member of Friendship Force of Winnipeg, a cultural world-wide exchange program. Its goal is to enhance friendships, blend differences, and preserve peace and harmony throughout the world. In this program a member may be a home host, day host, or dinner host. When she is a day host, Bessie-Marie showcases the city of Winnipeg by giving a guided tour. Her impeccably researched interpretation covers history, focal points and interesting Winnipeg anecdotes and facts. Through this program she has hosted groups from Australia, USA, Brazil, Germany, Russia and Ireland. When she is a dinner host she features a menu of Manitoba foods.

Bessie-Marie’s vast knowledge of what Manitoba has to offer has made her invaluable to reunion and other committees. She has helped to plan and organize three overseas teachers’ reunions and three Manitoba Normal School reunions in the past 20 years. She also plans and leads two Manitoba trips each year for the Retired Women Teachers’ Association. She has been very generous in sharing with church groups, sororities, and other organizations the knowledge she has gained from world travel. Her “dog and pony shows” about Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, Mexico, and Costa Rica have entertained and enlightened many.

After retirement Bessie-Marie was a coordinator for the Stony Mountain Justice System for 10 years. After recruiting speakers, supporters and visitors and securing their security clearance she would take them to Stony Mountain Penitentiary. This was a demanding task as she tried to have a speaker for every Thursday evening. These speakers supported the mandate of the justice group on topics dealing with aboriginal and social issues, poverty, and life on the outside after release. Speakers ranged from areas such as social services, financial institutions, job bureaus, military personnel and religions. Many were aboriginal and spoke about outside opportunities and expectations upon release. Many inmates were helped by her efforts – David Milgard being one.

Eight years ago Bessie-Marie decided to serve the community in a new way by studying to become a marriage commissioner. In this job, as with anything else she does, Bessie-Marie provides the extra touch. She has helped couples write and rewrite their vows to suit each individual situation. The positive comments that she has received on her ceremonies reflect the caring regard she has for people of any faith, colour, gender, etc. She doesn’t have to advertise as referrals keep her busy enough.

Bessie-Marie demonstrates the spirit of life-long learning. Her exhilarating and contagious pride in Manitoba makes every trip that she leads a treat. She is loved by many for her enthusiastic, caring personality. Through her career and volunteering she has made many long-lasting friends of all ages and nationalities - classmates, students, parents of students, travel companions and former inmates. She has been known to say, ”Volunteering costs a lot of money and energy but it is very rewarding.”

© Melita New Era