I love playing with words, and I can think of several that fit with Irma’s last name: Plucky Plunkett, or Spunky Plunkett come to mind. For Irma is indeed a feisty woman, even at the age of ninety-eight! She still lives independently in her home, cooks her meals and does her own housework. And although her mobility is reduced, her voice remains strong and clear.
Irma was born in Lethbridge, “when this province was only 50 years old.” She remembers a particular event at Lethbridge Collegiate when, “we were all in the gymnasium and it was broadcast on the radio that King Edward VIII had abdicated.” When the Second World War started, Irma showed her resourcefulness in getting parcels to her grandmother in Brighton, England: “At that time, we could not send parcels except to soldiers. So, I got three tea bags that fit perfectly side by side in a Blue Line envelope and sent one to her every week!”
After graduation, she worked for two years in a laundry, packing sheets for hotels, until she met her future husband. As she says, “When you got married in those years you had to quit your job.” Her husband was in the Air Force, and after several postings in Western Canada, they moved to Paris, where her husband served as Secretary to the Military Attaché to NATO from 1953 to 1956. Irma describes herself as “timid” when she arrived but credits her experience in Paris to changing her profoundly. “I learned to talk to people I’d never met before; I became a person. It was wonderful, especially because I’m a history nut.”
After the Paris posting, they moved to Ottawa, then Trenton. Irma recounts that, “when I first went to Ontario, I thought I was in a foreign country.” But in Trenton she discovered her calling – working with disabled children. She began as a volunteer, “because I didn’t know what to do with myself.” Thus, began a 29-year career working with the intellectually disabled. “Those children were my life,” she says. Irma recalls that on a visit back to Trenton in 1970, she visited a sheltered workshop where many of her former students were now engaged, and “when I opened the door, they all came running to me.”
The Plunketts returned to Alberta in 1969, when her husband retired from the military and Irma’s father died. They purchased their current home in Glamorgan, which “was a suburb then,” for $20,000. Irma recalls that her brother, then president of Engineered Homes, came by to inspect the house and pronounced it well-built. Irma cared for her mother for sixteen years, until her move to the Glamorgan Care Centre as one of its first residents.
In Calgary, she volunteered with the Calgary Association for the Mentally Handicapped (now the Developmental Disabilities Resource Centre) for twelve years, then worked as a teacher’s aide for the Calgary Board of Education for ten years. She enthuses that, “I had a job that I loved.”
Irma has been a volunteer at the Kerby Centre since 1985, including four years she sat on the Board of Directors, and has amassed more than 12,000 volunteer hours there. Every Thursday, she sells tickets and distributes prizes at the weekly bingo. When the Glamorgan Community Centre used to hold bingo nights on a regular basis, she helped in the kitchen, and remembers when the Community Centre consisted of just one room.
Irma also attends the Glamorgan Seniors Group. She recalls that at the first meeting, “there were six of us and we watched Casablanca. I didn’t think it would get off the ground.” Now, she says, “It’s packed.” She jokes that it was she who taught Nancy Ball how to run a bingo. On fair-weather days, she uses her walker to go to the hall.
Irma’s daughter Carol, children and great-grandchildren live in the Toronto area. She has lived alone for twelve years, since her husband’s death. Her constant companion was her cat, Muggins, who “was a devil when we got him, but it got so he knew what I was thinking.” After his death, she started going to the dog park behind her house and “I talk to other people’s dogs.”
Irma remains socially active. She told me “I have good friends. I had two Thanksgiving dinners this year!” She is already planning her Christmas decorations, and showed me her 96-year-old Teddy, well-loved and well-worn, that she always puts out during the holidays.
Irma, you are a sterling example of how to remain engaged and involved in the community throughout a lifetime.
Do you know an individual or organization that you would like to see in this feature? Contact Loretta Biasutti at [email protected] or 403-249-5945 or drop off a suggestion at the community centre. We need your input!