Life and Work
“Little Sis,” Erlene Mennear, was born November 20, 1942, in Calgary, Alberta but her story really begins on a cold winter morning ten days later at the Westward Ho General Store. Earl Grace stepped into the store, shrugging off the cold that had seeped into his overcoat during the 4½-mile walk from the farm. He headed over to the mail wicket, glad to see that the mailman had arrived from Olds. On top of the pile of mail for the Grace family, was a letter he could not wait to open. It was from the Adoption Center in Calgary and it was notification that the baby girl, applied for by Earl & Ida Grace, could be picked up at the Grace Hospital as soon as possible. He was as excited as any new father with the feeling of urgency to get to the hospital. On the spot, it was arranged that he would ride to Olds, Alberta with the mailman, and that the storekeeper, Al Scarlett, who had a car, would head right to the farm to let Ida know that her husband was on the way for their little girl.
Earl caught the train from Olds to Calgary and walked from the station to the Adoption Agency. Alas, all of their babies had been taken, but he was told not to lose heart but to head straight for the Grace Hospital there they had some brand new babies who had just become ready for adoption. He went, on foot: There were twelve babies from whom to choose! Earl looked them over, and out of all those babies, he picked Erlene. What a moment that must have been for the father when they put his daughter in his arms! They did not know then, that he would be the man who would give her the final nudge forty-four years later when she asked her parents, “Do you think I can sell cars?” He simply said, “Sure you can, Sis, Go for it.”
Outside the hospital it was very cold so the father placed the baby inside his overcoat and trudged up North Hill heading for the home of a friend who owned a car. Mr. Smith was astonished to see the man standing on the doorstep with a baby stuffed inside his coat! They were soon on the road, with Mr. Smith’s two spinster daughters along for this special occasion. There was a stopover in Carstairs to warm a bottle of milk. It was evening when Ida heard them come; she stood at the kitchen door, arms outstretched, to receive their new daughter.
All three of the Grace children were “applied for.” Earl went to Calgary to have his appendix removed and, arrived home with their first child, a baby boy, Duane, who was about two months old. Norris, their third child, was “delivered” by Alma Scarlett, who took the train to Edmonton on the Graces’ behalf. Norris cried all the way home and Alma was worried about this fretful child she had brought them, but Norris settled in and was the best natured child. Later, Josephine Smith, Ida’s niece, lived with the Graces until she was about seventeen. And so there were four children who grew up on the Grace family farm four miles south and half a mile west of Westward Ho.
Erlene appreciated growing up in the country. There are many memories … feeding pigs … milking cows … hating anything to do with chickens … riding horses, especially their favorite mare, Old Blue. Sometimes they had boarders .. she learned to cook. Not forgotten are those old oil heaters that used to soot up .. no electricity or running water … the lingering smell of Pinex … the year that Ida Grace used five pounds of mustard to make mustard plasters when the family had colds.
One time Erlene swallowed the key from a Prem can. Ida marched her out to where Earl was working at his sawmill. They stood beside his big old tractor with the steel lugged wheels, discussing their next move. Her dad jokingly said, “You better stand away from this tractor before you swallow it.” The little girl with the Prem key in her stomach very seriously replied, “Don’t be silly, I can’t do that.” She was taken to the doctor.
When Erlene was in grade one at Inverness School, the children teased her because she was adopted. Her mother lovingly told her that “adopted,” meant “chosen. “We got to pick you out! Those other parents had to take the child they got.” That explanation suited Erlene just fine.
Erlene remembers how proud she was when her brother, Norris, won the Honor Award when the children attended school at Westward Ho. Her teacher was Carol (Owens) Johnson who knew how to make school a happy place to be. The kids rode their horses to school, and then by grade nine, he was riding the school bus to Sundre. That was the year of a “teenage growth spurt” for Erlene, she was new at Sundre and the kids responded by calling her “Moose.” She learned what it was like to be teased but she walked through it. Would this time of taunting touch her heart and inspire her spirit later in life?
Sports were always an enjoyable outlet. Earl Grace, a builder of houses and barns, helped to build the Sundre Curling Rink. Erlene started to curl with her dad when she was in grade eight. In high school, she skipped a curling team. Her greatest joy came in grade twelve when teachers Bob Clarke and Wendy Edmondson started Sundre’s first basketball team, a game Erlene came to love. On the local softball team, her spot was first base.
Grade twelve completed, Erlene worked as a housekeeper for Muriel Eskrick. She and Walter Mennear were married May 11th, 1962 at the Bergen Missionary Church. Their daughter, Annette, was born July 14, 1963, and son Donald on May 23, 1966.
Erlene found that she was beginning to get this “niggling”, an idea that just kept growing inside her to become a businesswoman. A “Hair Salon” was a possibility. In 1964, she was enrolled in Jacobson’s School of Beauty, in Calgary, living in one room $25.00 per month. Her mom agreed to baby-sit Annette along with Walter’s help. Erlene was home on weekends.
When Donald was only three months old, she bought her first Hair Salon situated in the back room of the Marshall Wells Hardware. She was hard at work, cutting, setting and perming in her shop called, “Erlene’s Taperette.” Sundre ladies were “turned out” n the styles of the day, for all occasions. weddings, birthdays, graduations, Christmas and New Year’s. Schoolteachers, nurses, secretaries, bankers, storekeepers, bookkeepers and women in all areas of work depended on their weekly appointments. A good hairdresser was a must in the life of every woman. Erlene was greatly appreciated and depended upon.
There was the “Year of the Wigs” the fashion statement about 1970 – 71. One Christmas Season, every other woman stepped out of her shop either wearing a wig, or carrying one, concealed in a bag. The wigs in colors of pale blonde to jet-black came in various lengths. Those wigs, wigs never forgotten by those who wore them, or by those who admired them! For years, the wigs kept cropping up, complementing costumes for all occasions.
Erlene’s business expanded. She moved from the back room of a hardware store to a new shop in the old Post Office Building where “Dad built the cupboards.” Erlene continued to work her magic. At peak times, her fingers fairly flew, doing as many as thirty-five shampoos and sets in one day. A customer, sitting under the dryer for half an hour, commented that in the space of those thirty minutes, eight people had passed through Erlene’s hands for some phase of each hair-do. She did have a shampoo girl to assist her.
Joyce Matwychuk, another Sundre businesswoman, purchased Erlene’s shop in 1977 after which “The Taperette” moved across the street. Erlene celebrated by going for back surgery, then returned to work for Joyce until the early 80’s when she semi-retired.
“Semi-retired” was selling Queen Anne Cookware and cooking part-time at Camp Evergreen. Erlene and her family attended the Nazarene church where the Morgan family worshipped. Ed Morgan could see that this lady was enthusiastic and was a “go-getter.” He offered her a position in sales at Sundre Motors.
The offer came in the spring of 1986 but Erlene had promised to cook for the Summer Camps at Camp Evergreen. With two hundred kids to feed each week, a replacement would be hard to find. “Maybe in the fall.”
November rolled around and the job offer was again presented. Could she do it? It was quite a decision. She had talked to Walter, and decided to talk to her parents. Did they think she could? The father who had picked her out, knew instinctively, and delivered the line, “Sure you can Sis, go for it”.
She never looked back. She has sold cars, trucks, trailers, tractors and even a baler. New and used! A “Top Salesperson,” she is a member of the Sales marketing Guild. Members are Sales/Leasing consultant professions who have earned the right of recognition as a “Member”. Sincerity, honesty and expertise are qualities essential for membership.
Erlene has been the recipient of many awards including Prestige Paintings, sculptures, a camera, gift certificates and cash prizes. Her greatest reward has been the memory of the best sale she ever made. That sale was made to a single mom struggling to survive, supporting her children while driving old clunkers that were always breaking down. This mom needed a financial plan she could afford, a plan that Erlene was able to work out. The joy of watching that single mom drive off the lot in an up-to-date car, a car with a warranty, a car that gave the mom a sense of pride and dependability.
One would think that the culminating success of this outstanding woman’s career in business and in sales at a car dealership would be her trademark. But, “No”. This woman walks with spirit in her soul as the result of another endeavor that occurred parallel to her sales career. In this endeavor, her “business” makes a difference in the lives of others.
The “defining moment” occurred in 1985 when she was chairperson for Christian Women’s. She phoned a motivational speaker, Fred Crowell, of Spokane Washington, to ask him to speak at Couple’s Night. He would speak of the Basketball Camps that had a phenomenal impact on kids who attended.
These camps were Grit, Honor, Skill and Poise. They were courage, guts, mental toughness, integrity, honesty, loyalty and respect. They would train a child to win the battle over fear. Were you ever intimated, or did you find it difficult to maintain your confidence? Kids can be helped with the issues they face growing up but these basketball camps required sponsors. Their people needed to speak to churches and schools.
Erlene had been listening with the “ear of her heart.” When she spoke to Fred Crowell to learn what would be required to have him come. She knew what it was like to be teased as a teenager. She was passionate about the value of the Basketball camps. A power greater than herself was compelling her to take action, to brainstorm, to dream, to follow a plan, to do what it would take. She was on a mission. It meant driving, working long hours and perseverance. She spoke to schools and clubs in the area. When the groundwork was finally completed, she was ready to contact Fred Crowell again.
Erlene phoned the Crowell residence, his wife took the phone call and on his way to the phone, he said to his wife, “I think I am going to have to tell her NO”. But, he had underestimated what could be done in Sundre, Alberta when Erlene and some people who believed in her, took on a cause. She had five schools lined up, Sundre, Olds, Cremona, Didsbury and Carstairs. She had spoken to five Women’s Groups and what’s more, his way was even paid. He said, “YES!” Something “phenomenal” was beginning to take shape.
It was February in 1985 that Don, Erlene’s son and Erlene drove Fred back to the airport after his commitment to speaking in the area. He told her he needed a venue, kids, coaches and food. She had it all ready along with a Board of Directors, which included Ed Morgan, Bill Souster, Norbert Bargen, Scott Stetson, Arne Seidel and Donna Phillips. Erlene was invited to the Christian Women’s Area Conference in Great Falls, Montana. That July she worked at a camp in the States, in the kitchen, of course! Feeding kids has always been her sideline.
Fred Crowell wanted to bring his camp to Olds in August 1986, but he would need 150 kids enrolled to make it fly. Erlene had 151! She not only “believed in miracles, she depended on them!” There was a “burning” inside her. She was becoming a Promotion machine. In fact, she could not stop herself. Erlene saw kids change. Now she was seeing with “the eye of her heart.” In Sundre, a grade seven girl was failing in school. Grade eight seemed out of the questions. She attended the Basketball camp. The school let her try grade 8. The girl passed with straight “A’s”.
The NBC Basketball Camps are still changing kids’ lives. In 2003, in Three Hills, Alberta, there were one hundred and ten kids at the camp. In Olds, Week 1 ... 297, Week 2 … 310 kids. American coaches helped in all facets of the camps at first. Now the coaches are All Canadian. Shawn Stetso, son of Scott Stetson, one of the first members of the original Board of Directors, has come full circle in the program. Shawn, who attended the very first camp in 1986, is now working full time with NBC. He is the Site Director in Olds, Alberta and in other camps.
Erlene’s grandchildren, born to son Don, and his wife, Barb are the two “grand-passions” in Walter and Erlene’s lives. Cynthia, born October 5, 1991 has already been to one camp. Brett, born February 2, 1996, will follow the family tradition.
Erlene is still selling cars, but her life has taken a new direction, one of far greater dimensions, offering her more than she could have dreamed for, as a result of her involvement with NBC Camps. The experience has changed her life, given it meaning, and it has affected her career and her self-esteem. “Little Sis” loves life, grateful to the parents who “picked her out.”
This year 2004, the Women of the Aspenland are honoring Women in Business. Women of the Aspenland is pleased to honor Erlene Mennear who has become an outstanding Business Woman and who has made such an important contribution to the community in which she has grown, attended school, married, worked and raised her family. Sundre is proud of Erlene Mennear, the lady who walks with “spirit in her soul.”