Birdie (Breshears) Walker
Life and Work
Birdie Lucinda Breshears was born on July 4, 1920 to parents Ollie Goldman and Susan Cosby Breshears, just outside the small town of Wheatland, Missouri, U.S.A. Due to deteriorating health in the family caused by the Missourian climate, the Breshears family was forced to relocate. Ollie went to Alberta in 1924 and after seeing the impressive crops being farmed by relatives already in the area he knew it was where he wanted to live. The fifth of seven children, Birdie was only five years old when her family decided to move to Alberta.
Being one of the youngest in the family, Birdie was constantly the target of pranks from her siblings. One year they tricked her into approaching the nest of a mother goose. The goose chased her away and even bit Birdie in the stomach. She learned to be more wary of her siblings after that.
Birdie went to Brightview School from the age of 7 (because her birthday is in July) until grade 9. While in school Birdie would sweep the school house every evening for 10₵ a night. This allowed her to buy her own clothes and take some financial pressure off her family during the Great Depression.
Due to overcrowding in the one-room school house Birdie left school in grade 9 to help care for a sick cousin and child in Wabamun. After being a “hired girl” in several homes she went to the Prairie Bible Institute for 1 term (1939-1940). She then worked as a grocery clerk for a year before settling in with the Aboussafy West-side store as a cashier in Wetaskiwin. She married John Dawson Walker in 1947 and moved to the Walker farm west of town. They had three boys and two girls together from 1948 to 1959: Bruce, Brian, Linda, Sharon, and Ken.
On the farm Birdie was not content to be a housewife. She helped with all the demands of keeping up the farm. She put in long hours cutting the grain, and working the binder at every harvest. She also helped milk the cows and delivered the separated cream to the Wetaskiwin Creamery. The hours were long but Birdie enjoyed the farming lifestyle and often fired her favourite rifle, a .22 to scare off coyotes, porcupines, and scavenger birds.
No matter how busy she got with farming, volunteering and working, plus family commitments, Birdie always made sure she had time for weekly church services. Birdie’s religious beliefs were always a priority for her. She remembers as a kid every week the family car, driven by her oldest brother, would fill up and they would go to an Evangelical Church. Birdie has always lived her life devoutly, and during her adult life she shared this passion by teaching Sunday School to early teens.
Birdie credits her faith for keeping her composed through her numerous struggles with disease. Throughout her life she has been diagnosed and treated for tonsillitis, polio, cataracts, and rheumatic fever. She also survived two different kinds of thyroid cancer and underwent a mastectomy in 2010. When speaking of the difficulty she faced by all these ailments Birdie said, “I was calm and everything. If I had died I knew where I was going. I had that confidence so why worry?” Her upbringing on the farm has encouraged Birdie to take care of herself; her usual vitality meant she was always in the best possible condition to fight off the illnesses.
Rather than brood over her own troubles, Birdie has always had a strong desire to help others. Her compassion for those in need has been obvious over the years as she has taken every opportunity life presented her with to help those in need, in whatever capacity she could. John passed away in 1970, so in 1971 Birdie went to Devon Island, in modern-day Nunavut, to cook for university students doing research there for the summer. She would return for two more summers. In the fall of 1973 she started work at the Wetaskiwin Nursing Home, first with housekeeping and later as a nursing attendant.
While her children were growing up, Birdie got them involved in 4H and in turn found herself volunteering. She spent eight years with them, volunteering as assistant leader of the girls’ gardening club, and as leader of the clothing club. An avid quilter herself, Birdie always enjoyed teaching the kids new sewing and embroidery techniques.
She was also very active with Brightview Ladies Aid, including a stint as president at one point. As president she would organize the meetings, social events, and bake & craft sale parties for the club to donate their profits to a worthy charity. From there she learned valuable lessons that help her in her current role as secretary for the Peace Hills Association Pioneer Club.
It was after retirement at age 65 that Birdie really started reaching out to individuals in the community and abroad. Shortly after retirement she started receiving calls asking her to be a live-in caretaker for seniors in need. It was a position she accepted enthusiastically. She did this for many different people over the years, leading into her 70s.
She also volunteered as a driver for senior citizens in Wetaskiwin who had no means of transportation. Whether the trip was to a local store for groceries or out to a doctor appointment in Edmonton, Birdie was always willing to go out of her way to help anyone who needed it.
Birdie’s empathy really shines through in her volunteering, and also her support of World Vision. She has already supported one individual through her childhood in Bangladesh and is currently supporting Rasika S Vissundara M, a young girl living in Sri Lanka.
An eager traveller, Birdie has taken many opportunities to explore the world. Since her oldest daughter Linda moved to Scotland, Birdie has visited the country 10 times, and it holds a special place in her heart. She has gone on many other trips as well, including one vacation in which she circumnavigated the globe; travelling to United Arab Emirates, then on to Singapore, and finally New Zealand before returning to Canada. She has also twice been to Egypt and the Holy Land of Israel. Other countries visited include Fiji, Denmark, Germany, Italy, and Greece. Her most recent holiday was in 2010; after being away for 80 years, Birdie went back to her home in Missouri for her 85th birthday.
Birdie has always enjoyed working with ceramics, and has made countless ceramic sculptures and dishes over the years. She still quilts as well, and traditionally has made a quilt for each of her eight great-grandchildren. Playing Scrabble is another favourite hobby of hers and she plays every chance she gets to keep her mind sharp.
Having just celebrated her 93rd birthday, Birdie is still in excellent health both of mind and body. Her active lifestyle has calmed as of late, but she still drives herself around and always has time for her family.
Compiled in 2013.
Compiled by Spencer Moore.
Sources: Birdie Walker, Brian Walker, Bruce Walker