Nellie Thrasher Bunney
Life and Work
Nellie Thrasher was born in Chailey, Alberta to John & Elizabeth Thrasher on June 2nd, 1915. She was the seventh daughter and youngest in a family of 8 children. She took piano and dance lessons, skated, enjoyed doing acrobatics and took part in sports. Her youth was carefree and happy. While in her teens, Nellie observed that it was difficult for the uneducated to make a living. She was a very good student and encouraged in her studies by her mother.
It became the pattern in the family for older educated children to help support the younger children as they went on to post secondary school. Nellie’s older sisters may have had something to do with her choice of profession. They strongly discouraged her from becoming a teacher as they were and encouraged her to become a pharmacist. Nellie graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Pharmacy in 1939. After completing her practicum, she worked as a pharmacist at the University of Alberta hospital.
Nellie was acquainted with Lue Bunney when they were both teenagers in the Winfield area. While each was living in Edmonton and had finished school, their paths crossed again. The relationship blossomed and resulted in their marriage on March 15, 1944 while Lue was on leave from the air force.
In August 1944, Nellie left the University of Alberta hospital to relieve Howard L. Armitage in Winfield at the Winfield Drug Store. An opportunity came in December of that year to buy the business from Mr. Armitage who had decided to relocate to Calgary. Thus began what would be the professional life of a woman, decades ahead of her time.
The Bunney’s purchased the drug store business, which was housed with the post office in a little old green frame building on main street. The hours at the store were long – from 9:00 a.m. to 10 p.m. There was a small darkroom in the store where the staff developed and printed pictures. They appreciated having the opportunity to do this as it helped fill the long hours.
Stewart, Nellie and Lue’s first child was born in April 1945. Two months later, in June of that year, Lue received his discharge from the air force. With a loan from the V.L.A. Nellie and Lue bought their family home. An extensive renovation and improvement program followed including a telephone line between the drugstore and house.
Changes continued to take place for the family. Jean Elizabeth, their first daughter was born in February 1947. The drugstore was able to expand a year later when the new post office was built and the shared space became vacant. On January 5th, 1954, after a busy day filling prescriptions, Nellie was able to catch a ride back to Rimbey with the doctor. Second daughter, Victoria Anne was born later that evening.
As with any business venture, there are changes and challenges. In 1946, for the first time, thieves broke into the drugstore and took the safe, which held all accounts, money and narcotics. The store was broken into several more times but nothing valuable was left in the store after the first experience. It was business as usual when the old drug store was jacked up and moved to the back of the lot to make way for a new store at the front. After all stock had been moved to the new store, it opened in October 1956.
Nellie had a strong impact on the health of the community. For about 30 years she filled countless prescriptions at Winfield’s Drug Store. Prescriptions were filled whether they could be paid for or not. Because there was no full time doctor in Winfield, the community sought her medical advice, which she cheerfully and professionally dispensed. She helped procure weekly visits by a doctor from Rimbey. It was not uncommon for a farmer to be at the door at 3:00 a.m. for veterinarian supplied which Nellie also stocked in the drug store. Jean Lowe, Nellie's daughter said of her mother, "Professionally and personally, she always treated everybody the same. It didn't matter whether you were the judge or the janitor. She was always willing to help and didn't judge."
Nellie and Lue enjoyed entertaining. On weekends they hosted card parties or friends would gather to play music. Nellie could play the piano enthusiastically and it was always "peppy and happy-go-lucky! Choir practices and meetings were often held at the Bunney’s home. When they owned one of the first television sets in the community, neighbours and friends would gather to watch. Everyone who visited was assured a warm welcome.
Nellie was always involved in physical activities. Besides skating, ballet and tap dance lesson in her younger years, she played softball, enjoyed acrobatics and even had a trapeze trainer. Nellie was on the University of Alberta track team and competed in the field events at an Intercollegiate Meet in 1939. Later, she played and was captain of the Winfield ladies softball team, which always competed at Winfield’s, May 24th “Sports Day”. The team also practiced and took part in neighbouring towns’ sports days. When the curling rink was completed in the fall of 1953, she curled for many years.
When Nellie moved to Winfield, she became involved in the community immediately. The first winter she played clarinet for the Saturday night dances along with Aron Brown who played banjo. Nellie was so talented musically that if a certain instrument was needed for a specific concert or show, she would learn it well enough to perform. Many Winfield students got their musical start when Nellie taught them piano. She was a member of the Legion Ladies Auxiliary and Community Club. Her involvement with the Anglican Church included belonging to the Women's Association, playing organ for Sunday services and fundraising for 15 years to raise money for the Sunday School program at the annual March 17th concert.
Nellie also found time for other things she enjoyed. She planted a large garden in the spring and went berry picking in the fall to ensure that food was plentiful over the winter months. She enjoyed square dancing, fishing, cooking and baking. She could not give out her bread recipe because it was never the same, just always delicious!
Nellie was a compassionate and caring woman. She had a soft spot in her heart for children. She once bought a cow from a young lad who was with the 4H Club. She knew that he was from a needy family and wanted to help, but what do you do with a cow in town? Another child told his mother that she was the only adult in the community who would publicly acknowledge him.
Unfortunately, Nellie developed progressive muscular atrophy. It progressed to a stage where she had to give up the store in 1975. A friend of hers wrote of her health, “Nellie had a lot of courage when she was unable to do things any more and always seemed to be able to see the bright side even though there really wasn’t one. She was greatly missed in Winfield when she had to go out of business.”
For the next 13 years, Nellie and Lue lived at their home in Winfield. In 1988, they briefly moved to the West Pine Lodge Senior Citizen Home in Winfield. The next year, because of Nellie’s failing health, she moved to the Extendicare Facility in Leduc. Lue moved to Devon to be closer to her. Despite her poor health, Nellie enjoyed participating in all the activities within the home. The staff at the nursing home enjoyed her company, as she was friendly to everyone. Despite her poor health, she remained strong in character. Nellie passed away on March 16th, 1997 at 81 years of age.
Compiled in 2007.
Compiled by: Viki Ruben
Sources: Jean Lowe, Vicki and Max Borzel, Beulah McNaughton, Helen Jones, Lorraine Glinz, Walden and Florence Smith, Maxine Heron, Winfield Clarion, Trail Blazers, Lisa Lowe