Submitted by Laurie Stretch
A birthday party at the Rimoka Lodge Sept. 12 marked a piece of Ponoka history.
Edna Cerveny, formerly Edna Stretch, born Mary Edna Kay, celebrated her 100th birthday with her family making her the oldest life-long resident of Ponoka. The long-time school teacher, is a well-known figure in town admired for her independence and her busy social schedule.
Her three sons and daughters-in-law, seven grandchildren and their spouses, and nine great-grandchildren all travelled to Ponoka to attend the party. Complete with greetings from the Queen, the milestone birthday was an occasion to reflect on the life of a remarkable woman.
Cerveny was born on a farm near Ponoka in 1909, only four years after Alberta became a province and five years after Ponoka was incorporated. In 100 years, she has seen two world wars, the Great Depression, the Leduc oil strike and the rise of the computer age. She is the eldest of seven children. When she was a small child, she moved closer to town so that she could attend school. At the same time, however, war had broken out in Europe, and Edna’s father and uncle enlisted. Cerveny, her mother and siblings, moved to Victoria for the duration of the war, making that the only time in her life where she wasn’t near Ponoka.
Cerveny obtained a teacher’s certificate and took a teaching job at a country school when she was a young woman. Her uncle gave her a $5 gold coin to use in the event of emergency. It was her only money. Her granddaughter, Heather Stretch, now has that same coin mounted on a chain.
Cerveny spent her young adulthood on the Prairies during the Great Depression. She became extremely cautious with food and with money, never letting anything go to waste, washing aluminium foil and other measures.
On the eve of the Second World War in 1939, Cerveny married at 30 years old to C. Gordon Stretch. They settled on a farm near Ponoka and had three sons, Gordon, Brian and Robert. Gordon senior was a farmer, auctioneer and entrepreneur, but money was always tight. She returned to teaching in an era when a working mother was rare. Gordon died in a car accident in 1964.
Her work ethic influences her family to this day. Educational and career milestones are never to be missed with her, and she has also encouraged independence in her granddaughters and always urged them to ensure they have “something to fall back on.”
Cerveny married widower August Cerveny in 1974, he died in 1980. She continued to live in her own house until the age of 99. She is a tiny woman who is not to be trifled with. She can be fiercely determined at times, and she is not above playing up her “little old lady” status to skip to the front of a line, get a senior’s discount where none is offered, or convince the driver of an express Edmonton to Calgary bus to pull off the highway to drop her at her house in Ponoka (really).
She still owns and drives her own car without ever having received driver’s training. She was 12 years old when she first drove and recalls that she managed reasonably well. To this day, she has never taken a driving test, because she received her license before tests were required. She has a few fender benders under her belt.
Cerveny’s age caught up with her in early August. She fell in her room at Rimoka, fracturing her hip and her shoulder, and underwent surgery in Red Deer Hospital. She remains in Ponoka Hospital recovering. She was well enough to attend Rimoka for her birthday party and residents there hope that she will be out of hospital and back at the centre before long.
As birthday greetings have poured in from dignitaries, extended family, old friends and former students, she is slightly bemused by the attention.
“I never imagined I’d see 100,” she says. “Although I was always careful about what I ate, you know. Vegetables are just so important.”