Teacher, great-grandmother, card player, issuer of meaningless threats. Born Aug. 8, 1915, in Point Douglas, Man., died April 18, 2013, in Winnipeg of respiratory failure, aged 97
From the start, Olga took on more than her share of family duties.
While her mother, Paraskevia, waited with baby sister Anne on the corner of Cathedral and Main in Winnipeg, six-year-old Olga would take the streetcar to Eaton’s to buy thread for the quilts and other stitching the family sold to make ends meet.
In her adolescence in the Dirty Thirties, she interpreted for Ukrainian immigrants trying to land any manual job they could at the Canadian Pacific yards.
And when her father, Michael, stayed late at the pool hall, it was Olga who would be dispatched to bring him home.
A very active young woman, Olga caught the eye of her future husband, Walter, while playing basketball at high school.
In 1950, Walter the dreamer announced he was going to partner with his friend Harry Wasylyk to manufacture and distribute plastic bags. His young wife nipped the idea in the bud, asking, “But Walter, who would ever want a plastic bag?”
Walter lent Harry some money instead, and was paid back in record time when Harry sold the patent for the bags to Union Carbide, which renamed the product Glad Bags.
Walter died suddenly in 1961, leaving Olga to care for three daughters on her own. She was determined to provide for her girls, Marilyn, Irene and Pat, and returned to school to earn her master’s degree in pedagogy. Without that she could not expect to earn the equivalent salary of a male in the same teaching position.
Olga had many reasons to become hardened toward life, and at times she could draw up a rough exterior. If you stepped out of line, she’d crook a finger in your direction, stare you down with her cool blue gaze and say, “Come here, so I can kill you.” The threat would stop you in your tracks, but then your eyes would meet hers, and within a minute she’d crack, doubling over with laughter as she swept you up into her embrace.
The shores of Lake Winnipeg were a favourite getaway for Olga and her family, including sister Anne and her two daughters, one of whom had been left a paraplegic by polio. The Yellow Rose cottage at Whytewold and Century House at Ponemah were special places where many precious family memories were made.
Olga loved to play cards – bridge in her social life and cribbage at the cottage and at home, where she used the game to teach simple math to her grandchildren. She would cheat if you let her. And if you caught her, she’d warn you not to be had by anyone over matters more important than a game of cards. Olga always had a lesson to teach and a special gift for teaching it.
Among her many accomplishments, Olga set up programs at the Canadian Ukrainian Auxiliary Club, was on the PTA at Faraday School, canvassed for various charities and ran for MLA in Burrows.
Olga shared a birthday with her granddaughter, and almost with her eldest daughter Marilyn, born Aug. 7. So it might have been three of a kind. But when it’s your crib, two 8s are a pair, two 15s make 6, and you’ve also got a good chance at a double run.
Kristen Dolenko is Olga’s granddaughter.