Few people have lived in Mission as long as Doreen Phelps.
The 83-year-old (84 in August) has lived here for more than 80 years.
Born in Saskatchewan, she arrived in B.C. and Mission at six months of age.
“I’ve only been away from Mission for two years and that was in Stewart, B.C. – which is right on the Alaska border – because that’s where my husband went to work.”
Her first child was also born in Stewart, but apart from that, Mission has been her life.
Through the decades, Phelps says she has seen plenty of changes, some good, some not so good.
“The people have not really changed. They’ve always been very community-minded. I’ve been in touch with so many volunteers.”
She remembers the wooden sidewalks in the downtown area and the flood of ’48 and some of the smaller changes that many people don’t think about.
“I remember having the first fridge, before my mom and dad, as a matter of fact.”
One change that she said is a big disappointment was when the Eaton’s department store left Mission. She had worked for Eaton’s for a combined 33 years.
“I can’t believe that I was here when things were so different.”
Her sense of community spirit and volunteering began at an early age. Phelps began volunteering at the age of about 12.
Her mother volunteered at various events at the local Legion, including dances. Not wanting to leave her daughter alone at home, Phelps would come along to the events.
“I did not complain, because at these dances were all these people from Silverdale – like the Donatelli boys – who taught me how to do the square dance … I never complained once. I had all these men to dance with and I was 12-13 going on 17-18. So it was all to my advantage,” Phelps said.
Over time, she became involved in many local groups, including the Mission branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, the Mission Hospital Auxiliary, the Mission Arts Council – including organizing the annual Christmas Craft Market – and the Miss Mission Pageant, first held in 1957, to name just a few.
Her dedication to the legion led to a humorous incident.
One day, as Phelps was volunteering at the legion, she was told that her husband applied to become a member.
This seemed odd to Phelps because he wasn’t a veteran and would be applying as an “ordinary” member.
“I was surprised so I asked what reason he put on the application. It was so he could see his wife once in awhile.”
While she has always been an active volunteer, it was 17 years ago that Phelps really decided she wanted to give something back.
“I was only retired for probably four years or so and they detected I had lung cancer.”
After weeks and months of radiation, doctors told her she was in remission and gave her five years.
“I told them that wasn’t good enough. I want 25.”
It was after her remission that she decided she had to start giving back even more.
“I had a positive attitude, and why wouldn’t I? I was given this time and, as the years passed by, I thought, ‘I have to say thank you.’ ”
One of her inspirations was Sandra Selvaraja, who was a head nurse and knew about Phelps’ previous community involvement
“She really put me into her family actually, because she already had them trained. They are so into giving, volunteering and helping. She was a huge inspiration.”
Today, Phelps said she is a little disheartened by the huge use of cellphones and other electronic devices, especially with young people.
“There’s not enough communication. I walk down main street now and I don’t see anybody I know and nobody says hello.”
And finding young people to volunteer is a challenge.
“They have no idea about volunteering. There are some youth groups out there and some kids who volunteer, but too much electronics. We’re going to lose the community feeling,” Phelps said.
Asked whether she volunteers as much now as she did when she was younger, Phelps didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Yes. As a matter of fact, I’m worse. I want to stay that way because I’m very afraid if I stop, I might really stop,” she said with a laugh.
“Fun to me is volunteering.”