At the vibrant age of 99 years Edna Stretch Cerveny still lives in her own neat and comfortable home, drives her car to the Farmers Market and around town but not across the highway, and stays quite active in this community and district that she loves and has been a proud part of for most of her colourful and eventful life.
Born in the Ferrybank district of Ponoka in 1909, the daughter of Charles and Jessie Kay grew up on the family farm with her three brothers and two sisters. As a tiny girl Edna recalls moving to Red Deer, where she took her early schooling, then the family settled in Victoria, B.C. after her father had enlisted in the forces.
After the war they all reluctantly moved back to the Ferrybank district, building a modern 1920s home in the Hazel Hill area. Edna fondly remembers that their new home featured plumbing for hot and cold water, and a wind charger to keep the lights burning brightly as long as the wind kept blowing to keep the battery charged. No matter what the weather the family rode their horses to the one room school at Hazel Hill, where Edna sat in a cozy double desk with Lois Gee (Berdine), and together they giggled their way through elementary school.
Among her most vivid memories of those early years was the depression, and while the people had no money, they made do with what they could grow and catch. “In the summer we all gathered for picnics at Pigeon Lake, then in the always cold winters we dressed up warm and went toboganning, or everyone came to our house for parties, cards, dancing and sharing,” Edna heartily explained.
Edna Kay came in to Ponoka to finish her high school, bunking in with several girls in town. After completing Grade 11 she took her teaching training in Camrose and summer courses at U of A, then taught for two years at Glen Falloch and Park Lake. She returned to complete her Grade 12 studies and achieve her First Class Teaching Certificate, and fondly remembers being the first president of the Ponoka High School Student’s Union.
Edna began her illustrious 26-year teaching career in 1936 at Mound Red, where she tutored 18 students from Grades 1 to 9, administered departmental exams, and also was the janitor. “I had to take out a student loan of $400 to make ends meet in the beginning,” Edna recalls. “I was making about $1,000 a year and was able to pay back the loan at 7 per cent interest.” While teaching at Dennis School and going to country-dances the diminutive Miss Kay met Gordon Stretch, and they were married in 1938. Stretch owned the British American Oil dealership in Bentley, so the couple moved there and Edna took her teaching skills to the Bismarck School.
As the Second World War approached Gordon and Edna moved back to Ponoka with their first-born Gordon Jr., and while her husband worked as an attendant at the Provincial Mental Hospital, Edna taught at Bobtail. The family later moved to Vancouver, where Gordon was a longshoreman, but when the war hit they came back to the home place near Ponoka, and the men all went to serve overseas.
Son Brian Stretch was born in 1946, and it was a very tough life for Edna and the boys in that great big house on the farm, with her husband gone a lot hauling buttermilk and raising pigs. Their third son Robert was born in 1949, and the whole family moved to Ponoka in a house on 53rd avenue. Edna stayed busy, as always, raising their young family, as well as teaching at the Ponoka Elementary School, where Jean Martin was the principal. Gordon Stretch was a partner in the auction market in town as well as the Ponoka Billiard hall, but tragedy struck the family in 1965 when he was killed in a car accident at the age of 53 while out on his job as a land buyer. Determined to carry on, Edna continued to support her family and enjoy the teaching career that she loved so much until her retirement in 1972, when she married Town councillor/volunteer, and ardent Ponoka Stampeder’s hockey mentor August Cerveny.
Together they traveled extensively to such exotic areas as Alaska, Florida, Bahamas, Mexico and Hawaii; then after August’s death Edna continued to enjoy traveling with her good friend Susan Wessell to Europe and World Fair, as well as to many other destinations, including her always-favourite Victoria with her special sister Doris Stafford. So what has the spirited Edna Cerveny Stretch chosen as her favourite pastimes in the latter years of her long and happy retirement? She visits around town as much as she can, keeps close contact with her sons Gordon, Brian and Robert; as well as her seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Edna has also been active in the Legion Auxiliary, the United Church Women, the Alberta Teachers’ Association, the Drop-In Centre, the popular Sunshine Singers and Bell Ringers, the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre Ladies’ Auxiliary, the Hazel Hill Handicraft Club and the Ponoka and District Horticultural Society.
There is absolutely no doubt that Edna Stretch Cerveny is a great example of someone who really enjoys living life to the fullest. Sunday morning she can be found walking to church with just a little help from her cane, because she believes that getting out and exercise is very important; then on most Fridays its off to her practice with the Sunshine Singers, then a hair appointment on Railway street, to which she also walks because its to hard to find a parking spot. Some days Edna can be found at home browsing through her scrapbooks, or sharing tea, date squares, and assorted goodies with welcome visitors. She is always quick to express that we have a great health and support system that keeps seniors like herself getting along quite well.
Edna was very honoured but a little overwhelmed in early September by all the attention she received for her impending 99th birthday. The Ponoka retired teachers made their annual ‘Begone with the Gong’ breakfast at the Scott School a tribute to Edna, the United Church after service coffee time was a great celebration shared with many friends and other seniors who have reached the 90 plus milestone, and there were also quiet supper dates with special friends.
Leading up to the big day the Sunshine Singers started out their new season by toasting Edna with a group dinner and cake, but unfortunately her popularity caught up with her as she had to decline an invitation to her favourite Community Savings Bank because of to heavy an entertainment schedule. When the big day, Sept. 15 finally came Edna spent it all with her precious family…Robert and Pat from Innisfail, Brian from Victoria, and many other extended family members who had gathered at the home of Gordon and Pat in Edmonton for the gala occasion. The aftermath of the glorious occasion has left Edna’s home looking like a card and flower shop, and she just loves to sit back and enjoy every remembrance and memories of life around her favourite community, relatives and friends.