Bernice (nee Spelrem) Wilkinson

Ponoka woman wills over $200,000 of life savings to community causes

Among the recipients was the Ponoka Health Foundation, the Wheelchair Van Society and STARS

A Ponoka woman willed over $200,000 of her life savings to important community causes.

Bernice (nee Spelrem) Wilkinson passed away July 26, 2015 and while many in the community knew her as the friendly cashier at the Co-Op, some may not know just how passionate she was for Ponoka, and just how far her philanthropy went.

Bernice donated $67,321.99 each ($201,965.97 in total) to three groups: the Ponoka and District Health Foundation, the Ponoka Wheelchair Van Society (operated under Ponoka FCSS) and STARS Air Ambulance.

A celebration of her incredible donations and cheque presentation was held March 13 at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre with the health foundation and FCSS in attendance. Bernice’s niece, Donna Manning, was there to present the cheques and to celebrate being able to get the money to where it belongs. Donna felt such pride for her aunt.

“Over the years she was very conscientious to donate at the end of the year,” said Donna.

Bernice was dedicated to ensuring many of the services used were taken care of, but she would never make a big fuss about it. Even when she went into care in 2013, she was diligent to ensure Donna donated her money every year.

“She was so thankful that we had all these services at home,” said Donna.

The money will help complete the long term care tub-room renovations at the hospital, explained Dorothy Unsgtad, with the health foundation. She is grateful not only for the large donation but for the memory of Bernice. “Just really a nice, friendly person,” said Ungstad. “She never got angry or mad.”

Doug Gill, chairperson of Ponoka FCSS was equally grateful as the money will go directly to assist with the rising costs of maintaining the wheelchair vans, which are busier than ever.

Celebrating the life of Bernice (nee Spelrem) Wilkinson

Information provided by Donna Manning

Born June 14, 1922 Bernice was a resident of Ponoka from some time in the 1940s when she moved to town from the farm in the Bashaw area until her death.

Bernice worked at the Co-Op — located on 51 Avenue and later where the Red Apple currently sits — for 35 years as a cashier.

“The old Co-Op store had the groceries on one side and ‘dry goods’ on the other, and best of all at Christmas time, a Toyland upstairs. I remember myself and my siblings asking and asking Bernice if Toyland was going to open soon! We’d be anxious to be among the first to go upstairs to look at all the toys, games, dolls etc. for sale. In those days (1950s and ’60s) the electronics for sale were likely to include portable hair dryers and transistor radios!” remembers Donna.

Donna remembers that for her siblings and cousins, Bernice was their favourite aunt. “She was good to all of us…she always had goodies for us.”

“Having Aunt Bernice at the Co-Op was just great for our family and cousins to go and hang out following after-school activities until our parents could come and pick us up. Of course there was always the risk of having to do a little work, but mostly just snoop around the store, see if there was any new candy or maybe try on a new jacket or shirt.”

Bernice came to know most of the people in the community and surrounding area and formed many friendships over the years. She was usually up for a bit of kidding and teasing, and always had a laugh. Bernice is remembered for her wit and fine-honed sense of humour, her kindness and friendly manner.

Bernice met Les Wilkinson and they married in 1947. Les worked at Co-Op Oils delivering fuel to farmers. “Bernice’s mother Laura Anderson also lived in Ponoka by then and as she was hampered by arthritis, Bernice was kept busy with Laura’s vegetable garden and flower garden in addition to her own. And then the baking and the various duties that come with looking after your mother. As in the Norwegian tradition both Aunt Bernice and Grandma Anderson made sure everyone knew the door was always open and the coffee was always on.”

After Les passed away in 1983 Bernice began traveling with family and friends and made three trips to Norway, which she was always proud of, and bus tours throughout Canada and the U.S. Around 2001 George Tripp came into Bernice’s life and they became constant companions. Friends and family could always find them at Tim Horton’s and join them for afternoon coffee and a few laughs.

George and Bernice enjoyed traveling and took several bus tours and cruises throughout Western Canada and Alaska. Bernice’s extended family was always grateful that George and Bernice had many years of shared good times before ill health overcame them both.

“We miss Bernice’s laugh; her phone calls — she never missed a birthday or an anniversary — she was always happy to see us when we’d stop in to ‘shoot the breeze,’” explains Donna.

“Bernice’s kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity were extended not only to family and friends, but also to the community. Her legacy will benefit many.”

Bernice passed away at Northcott Care Centre with George at her side at the age of 93.

She was predeceased by her parents Egil Spelrem and Laura Andersen (both born in Norway), her husband Les, her brothers Marvin, Alvin, Herbert, Leonard and twin brother Bernie Spelrem She is survived by her sister Alice Coughlin and brother Clare Andersen, and numerous nieces and nephews.

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Accepting the donation from Bernice Wilkinson to the Ponoka and District Health Foundation are representatives from Alberta Health Services and the health foundation (l-r) Brenda Hunt, Dorothy Ungstad, Connie Sage, Arlene Sommer, Donna Manning (Bernice’s niece), Leanne Snellen, Carol Wild and and Amanda Isaac. Photo by Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye

Accepting the large $67,000 donation March 13 from the Wheelchair Van Society, now operated through Ponoka FCSS, here is (l-r) Bernice Wilkinson’s niece, Donna Manning, Ed Sito, FCSS; Shannon Boyce-Campbell, FCSS executive director; past van society board member, Lynn Lawrence and FCSS chairperson, Doug Gill. Photo by Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye

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