Jennifer Schott never rushed her pint-sized customers at the Snack Shack on Coney Island. The tiny, beachfront candy store, on an island near Kenora, Ont., has been a Lake of the Woods institution for 100 years. All summer long, kids in wet bathing suits would stand on tiptoes at the familiar wooden counter, choosing a popsicle, hot dog or Ring Pop with tortoise-like urgency. For them, Ms. Schott had the patience of Job – and just one rule: “No crying on the beach.”
Ms. Schott also taught kindergarten in Kenora, ran the concession stand at the local rink and sold caramel corn at the farmers’ market. But Coney Island, where her family had cottaged for several generations, was her bailiwick and among her truest loves. “She knew everyone – and everyone knew her,” said her daughter Skye Schott, 26.
On winter holidays, Ms. Schott would bury her feet in the hot Mexican sand, close her eyes and pretend it was the clear, blue waters of Lake of the Woods she was looking at.
She was fiercely proud of her hardy, Northern Ontario community and was constantly winning local raffles – not because she was particularly lucky, but because she bought so many tickets, no matter the cause. She regularly spent Christmas Eve delivering boxes filled with presents she’d bought for families in need.
On Oct. 30, she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and moved into a room at Lake of the Woods District Hospital.
On the night of Nov. 22, her friends and family gathered on the Kenora Harbourfront with candles and flashlights for an event they dubbed “Light up the Night.” All at once, they turned their lights toward the hospital. The town’s fire engines, ambulances and police cars, parked on a nearby hill, ran their flashers. The M.S. Kenora, a local cruise ship docked in the harbour, turned on all its lights.
Across Safety Bay, Ms. Schott flicked the lights on and off in her lakefront room, signalling her thanks for the dazzling surprise: “I can feel the love,” she told her daughters.
In all, 1,200 people – in a town of just 15,000 – braved the bracing, -22-degree night to show Ms. Schott how bright her light had shone.
Four days later, Ms. Schott was resting, surrounded by her family. Suddenly, she opened her eyes: “You bunch of losers – quit your crying,” she said, cracking everyone up. “What she wanted most,” said the younger Ms. Schott, was “for everyone else to be okay.”
Jennifer Schott died a few hours later. She was 51.