Lois Hunter has lived a lifetime of volunteering. Starting early, before she was a teen, she volunteered at agricultural fairs around her home farm, and it became a lifestyle, a second nature, a belief in how to live her life.
She learned it well.
In September 2017, the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers was presented to her for her 67 years of volunteer work, mainly at the Lombardy Agricultural Society.
In her room at the Van Horne Retirement Centre in Smiths Falls, Hunter, a little diffidently, pulls out two small boxes. Easing off the lids, medals spill over the sides. The 92- (soon to be 93) -year-old, touches and holds them with a certain quiet dignity, cupping a lifetime of volunteering in her hands.
For her, a life of giving back started in grade school. Between 1930 and 1939, the Rotary Club handed out vegetable and flower seeds to school children. The expectation was that the children would plant, water and tend the seeds and, when the small-town fairs started in early fall, take their ‘projects’ to be admired and judged. That piqued her interest and imagination.
Hunter followed closely in the footsteps of her parents. For years, both were involved in the Perth Fair. From them she learned how community shaped lives and how getting involved in community enriched her own.
But in those early days, it wasn’t flowers that really caught attention at fairs, it was cattle; and also in those early days it wasn’t girls who worked with animals. “Girls didn’t show as much as boys,” she says.
Later on, however, married and with children of her own, she remembers the time and effort that went into preparing cattle for shows, washing and grooming them.
With a slight smile she patiently responded that Holstein dairy cattle are not blown dry because their coats have to be “smooth.” It’s the beef cattle that get the hair dryers and their coats “shaped.”
Hunter married Donald in 1944 at the age of 20 and six years later was asked to volunteer with the Lombardy Fair board; six years after that she was elected to the board as a director and became chair of the Homecraft Division, a position she held until 1979. From there she went to the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies, and in 1981 was elected president of that board. She held the post for a year, remained as past president the next year and then “came back to the fair.”
“And I’m still with it,” she smiles.
All that time she was judging. There are over 230 fairs in Ontario and the fairs are divided into 12 districts; Lombardy Fair is in District 2 and there are 11 other fairs in this District.
To be a judge at the fair “you have to attend three judging schools. You have to be trained,” Hunter explains.
Students at judging schools are taught how to judge knitting, crochet and needlepoint under the Homecraft aegis, and field crops (among other topics) in the Agriculture and Horticulture Judging School. (In a quick aside, Hunter recalled there were “wonderful exhibits at the Lombardy Fair this year.”)
Hunter also says she had the pleasure of teaching at judging schools in Wyoming, Mitchell, Port Perry, Belleville, Metcalfe and Kingston, and one for District 2 at McDonald’s Corners. The CNE in Toronto even took her on as a chaperone and judge for the Miss CNE Pageants from 1979-81.
During this time, as she was leading a busy home and volunteer life, Hunter watched the Lombardy Fairgrounds take shape. “We worked very hard to clear the land,” she says.
New buildings went up. The main hall was built in a year, Hunter remembers, and they worked even harder to raise money to furnish it. Eventually the barn was built.
Busyness at home didn’t stop her from volunteering. In 1993, Hunter received a 125th Commemorative Medal from then-Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Hal Jackman, for ‘citizen’s who made an outstanding contribution to their community.’
From 1995 to 1998 she was a member of the Rideau Valley District Health Council.
In 2000 she became an honorary past president for the Homecraft Division of all Ontario Fairs, in 2003 she was presented with the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, and in 2004 she became an honorary Life Member of the Conservative Party of Canada.
So the Sovereign’s Medal, a medal given to a “Canadian citizen who has made a significant, sustained and unpaid contribution to their community” while seemingly is just another medal, for Hunter it really is a culmination of a life’s work.
And as Hunter looks back over a long marriage, two children, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, she might say it’s the volunteering that kept her going through easy and tough times. She might add it’s the volunteering that makes her appreciate all the wonderful people she’s met, and is still meeting.
This was first published in the November issue of Hometown News. Missed an issue? Check them all out online.