Caroline (Dorchester) Shantz
Life and Work
Caroline Rose Dorchester was born October 27, 1909 in Genesee, Idaho to Wesley Dorchester and Laura Platt Dorchester. Both Caroline’s parents were experienced horseback riders and the infant Caroline rode in her mother’s lap. Laura continued to ride until she was in her sixties.
When Caroline was ten months, the Dorchesters moved to a ranch southeast of Wetaskiwin. Her father was a “real life” cowboy, however, he never took part in rodeos. The four Dorchester children, Leonard, Caroline, Tom and Villa, attended Bulyea School travelling by horse and buggy.
After attending high school in Wetaskiwin, Caroline completed a hair-dressing course run by Mrs. Schram whose studio was in the basement of the Driard Hotel in Wetaskiwin. On November 26, 1930 Caroline married Lloyd Shantz. They started married life with a cow and a model T-Ford, living on the farm with Lloyd’s parents for several years. Lloyd’s sister Joy wed Caroline’s brother Tom several years later, resulting in a double connection between the two families. In 1934, Caroline & Lloyd moved to a farm in the Usona district and, while living there, the local teacher boarded with them in their small home.
Caroline’s brothers, Leonard and Tom, were well known for their skill with horses and were expert drivers. Lloyd, though not a driver himself, worked with Tom. Caroline became an avid spectator at chuck wagon racing events throughout the province, especially the Ponoka Stampede and the Calgary Stampede. Camrose and Rimbey also had races along with other small towns in Central Alberta.
In 1937, Caroline’s first child, Donna, was born, followed by a son, Jerry, in 1939. The family moved in 1940 to a small farm in the Battle River area where again they had a teacher boarding with them. One of the teachers continues to keep in touch with Caroline though many years have passed. Memories of her years in the Shantz home are happy ones.
In 1943, a third child, Bonnie, was born. In 1947, Caroline’s family moved to the Dorchester ranch southeast of Wetaskiwin, where her children attended Bulyea School, the same school that Caroline and her siblings had attended. The family was closely-knit and enjoyed playing practical jokes on each other. Caroline was a humourous, optimistic mother who enjoyed a host of activities with her children. In her quiet way, without exerting any pressure, she would observe what was important and then, being an enterprising person, would busy herself trying to fill the need.
The 1950’s were busy years for Caroline and her family. She joined the Women of the Moose and continued through the ranks holding many offices, including Senior Regent, the highest rank in that organization.
In 1952, the Wetaskiwin Light Horse Association was formed. As founding members, Caroline and Lloyd were involved in numerous events. Along with gymkanas and horse shows, the family would participate in trail rides, trekking into the foothills on horseback often inviting other horse clubs from the surrounding area to join them. The trail rides could last for several hours or several days and were usually held over a weekend.
The entire family spent most Sundays at horse shows and social gatherings that were organized by the Light Horse Association. Caroline sewed the cowboy shirts and vests that were required dress for some events. Every family member’s costume matched for the Family Ride that they all participated in. When her children were competing in out-of-town shows, she sometimes stayed up all night, getting clothing ready and packing bags so all would be ready for their trips.
Caroline loved riding though she didn’t often compete, except in the Family Ride and the Ladies Drill Ride. Her son Jerry remembers, “Mom never held office in the Association but she held the office of being the manager of the concession.” Caroline’s involvement with horses has been a lasting pleasure and she experienced her last ride on a horse at the age of ninety-six.
Her love of horses might have only been surpassed by her love for children. There was always “room for one more” in the Shantz home. Her daughter, Donna, remembers, “There were often children staying with us. Aunts and uncles knew there was a place where kids would be well looked after.”
Caroline was instrumental in starting the 4-H Food Club in Wetaskiwin. For ten years, Caroline was a Club leader and all her children belonged and were active in 4-H. She tried to impart her knowledge of cooking and sewing to the members. Being a devoted mother and caregiver seemed to come naturally to Caroline. Her daughter Bonnie remembers “It was very rare for Mom ever to be away from home when we got home from school. She was just always there.”
At the age of 56, a new window of opportunity opened for Caroline when she began volunteering and helping mentally handicapped children in a make-shift school at the old Army Barracks. Though she had no formal training, she was soon hired to assist the teacher and ended up being a teacher’s aide for the next eleven years.
A new school, Lynn Lauren, was built in Wetaskiwin in 1965 to provide training for children with developmental disabilities. At the school, the children were taught practical skills like food preparation, good grooming, and how to use a sewing machine. The children also learned what to do in emergency situations. Some became very good at coping when other students had epileptic seizures. In 1972, Lynn Lauren became one of the first schools for the mentally handicapped to be integrated into the public school system.
Caroline, always ready to give more than was required, would pick students up and drive them to school in her Volkswagen Beetle. She opened her heart to these special children and often wished she could bring them home to stay. In 1969, a boy named David came into the Shantz home and was in their care for twelve years, until he was old enough to go on his own. Although the children whose lives she touched are grown up now, many remember and greet her when they meet each other.
In 1973, Horizons Unlimited opened as a workshop and training centre. The organization was conceived to create opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. Caroline served on the board of directors with Horizon Centre for several years and volunteered for many of the functions that were held for clients. It was partly because of her work with adults at Horizon’s Centre, that people with disabilities became employable and found useful jobs in the community. The Friday Night Coffee House events were much anticipated by Caroline. These gatherings, that she often planned and organized, were where she also came to dance and socialize with the clients. She enjoyed these evening celebrations until she was well into her nineties.
Caroline has served as a director on the board of the Wetaskiwin and District Association for Community Service as well. She brought to the table her common sense, practical advice and active support. Her hard work contributed to the success of any organization with which she was associated.
Caroline showed no signs of slowing down after retiring from her work in 1975. She and Lloyd continued trail riding mostly in the foothills, usually camping with relatives along the way. She and Lloyd spent happy years travelling in their truck and camper throughout most of Alberta. They enjoyed bus tours all over Canada and most of the U.S. until the mid-eighties when Lloyd became ill and could no longer travel. Caroline continued to live on the acreage that had been their home since 1964, remaining there until she was 85 when she moved into an apartment in Wetaskiwin. The couple celebrated sixty-six years of marriage in 1996; sadly the following year Lloyd passed away.
Through the years, Caroline travelled whenever the opportunity arose, going to Hong Kong three times to visit her daughter, Donna. Often her traveling companions on trips were her two sisters-in-law, Verna and Joy. The three ladies were known as “the Golden Girls”. They attended the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas several times and every year travelled to Edmonton to attend the Canadian Rodeo Finals. They would take in various chuckwagon races throughout the summer, camping in Joy’s motorhome. “The Golden Girls” have gone on coach tours together to South Dakota, San Francisco, Vancouver and Victoria.
This very unusual lady continues to surprise everyone. She couldn’t forget how she loved being in the country, so in her eighties she and her sister, Villa, renovated and revamped an old cabin in the country. The log shanty was on property owned by Elaine Dorchester, Caroline’s brother Leonard’s widow. The two ladies replaced flooring, painted, cleaned and decorated the inside and outside of the small cabin which came to be their favourite retreat. The heat was supplied by an old coal and wood stove but the bathroom facilities were found outdoors, except for the chamber pot under one of the bunks. They found that they enjoyed their stays at the cabin so much that they camped there during every month of the year except January. In the summer months, they planted and tended their small garden plot and would spend up to a week there experiencing no hardships, only a shared enjoyment of the country.
In 2002, Caroline was involved in a ride of a different kind when she took part in the Seniors Ride for Life. The Big Bike Campaign was in support of the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Alberta. The twenty-nine Ride participants were asked to collect an amount equal to their age in pledges. Caroline was ninety-two at the time and had great fun trying a new activity and raising money for a worthwhile cause.
Today, at the age of almost ninety-nine years, (her birthday is October 27th) Caroline has had to curtail her activities more than she would like, due to health problems. Caroline, we wish you a complete recovery and hope that you continue to embrace life with all the energy, optimism, and humour that are so much a part of you.
Compiled in 2008.
Caroline passed away on January 30, 2011 at the age of 101.
Compiled by: Gloria Baker
Sources: Caroline Shantz, Bonnie Klein, Jerry Klein, Donna Westendorf, Ed Ruff, Bernice Hucal, Elsie Burchart, Wetaskiwin Times.