Winnipeg's Most Beautiful Women 2011 - Page 2
Written by editor
Last fall, Winnipeg Women Magazine launched the sixth annual Winnipeg’s Most Beautiful Women contest by asking readers to nominate a woman who they felt best exemplified the true meaning of the word beauty. By mid-January, we had once again received many heartfelt nominations. Our panel of judges were faced with the difficult decision of naming the winners, but the five women who were chosen are all well-deserving of the title.
Thank you to our judging panel: Janice Filmon, Sally Flintoff, Lesley Hamilton, Diana Soroka and Sharon Taylor.
Cover photo by Ian McClausland.
Angela Ulasy Dowd
Cancer survivor Angela Ulasy Dowd has gone through a lot in her 42 years, but still manages to keep a smile on her face and a joke in the wings at all times.
“Every day that you wake up and you’re on this side of the grass is a good start,” she laughs.
Her ordeal began in her graduating year of high school, when she developed a nagging pain in her leg. “I had seen a number of doctors and was told a number of things—that it was arthritis, tendonitis, swollen tissue, that kind of thing,” she says.
A school trip to Europe made her realize it was something far more serious. At one point, her tour bus had to park at the bottom of a hill and travelers had to hike up the hill to their hotel. While her classmates made the trek in 20 minutes, it took her an hour and a half.
Later that year, she was finally diagnosed with bone cancer—the same kind of cancer as Terry Fox. “We were all pretty terrified,” she says. “Doctors had the next two years of my life planned out, which at the time was pretty scary.” By the time she had surgery, the cancer had spread and doctors had to amputate her right leg above the knee.
As she endured 18 months of chemotherapy to ensure the cancer was completely gone, she received more bad news. “I was told that as a result of the chemotherapy, because of the strength of the type of chemo I was on, I would never bear children of my own—and that was with absolute medical certainty,” she recalls.
Having always wanted a large family of her own, Ulasy Dowd was devastated but tried to remain positive, grateful for having beaten the deadly disease. But soon after completing her treatment, she started feeling fatigued and unwell. Fearing the cancer had returned, she sought medical attention.
“I went to see the doctors at the cancer clinic and they did some blood work,” she says. “And lo and behold, I was pregnant with my son Jeremy.” Nine months after Jeremy’s birth, Ulasy Dowd gave birth to twin girls, another son following a few years later.
A single mother with four children under six years old, Ulasy Dowd worked three jobs to make ends meet during a difficult divorce from her high school sweetheart. “My children gave me courage, they gave me strength and they gave me a reason to get up in the morning,” she says, gazing at the many family photos adorning her living room, including photos of her infant granddaughter.
She eventually remarried and went on to have a fifth child, a son. But illness soon struck again. She began to experience dizziness, blurred vision and what she thought were sinus and inner ear problems. It wasn’t until an ear specialist ordered an MRI that Ulasy Dowd found out she had a brain tumour, which had eaten away at the bone between her sinus cavity and brain. Faced with the decision of whether to wait to see if the growth was cancerous or not, she opted to have surgery to have it removed immediately.
Despite her medical issues, Ulasy Dowd, who now has a clean bill of health, has maintained a positive outlook and is always the first to help a friend, says nominator and friend Heather Greentree. “I think about her when I get low and she inspires me by her example,” says Greentree. “When we spend any time together, I laugh so much that my gut is sore because of her quick wit and ability to make everything fun. She walks into a room and it lights up.”
But Ulasy Dowd remains modest and credits her loved ones and her faith in God in helping her through those tough times.
“I do feel blessed and I know I appreciate things more than other people,” she says. “I pray for miracles and I’ve been given them. I was never supposed to have children and now I have this beautiful, wonderful family. I’ve had a very rewarding life.”
"I never thought it would be possible for me to hold an eagle feather,” Betty Ross murmurs, while sitting amongst her traditional ceremonial items. An eagle feather, she states, is the highest honour in aboriginal culture. And to anyone who hears her story, it is more than apparent that Ross deserves to hold that feather. Despite the many obstacles she has faced throughout her life, she still maintains a remarkably positive outlook, which is bolstered only by her strong spirit.
Abandoned at age three, Ross was custom-adopted by a childless couple, her father teaching her about native culture and spirituality, as well as the Deep Cree language. “I think he foresaw my future and what it was going to be like,” recalls Ross, who is now 64 years old. “He told me my future was dark and very dreary and that’s why he gave me what I call survival tools.”
The next stage of her life was indeed one of survival. Ross endured abuse at two residential schools in the 1950s and 1960s, managing to hold onto her native language of Cree but forgetting her father’s teachings during that era. Upon finishing school, she started living “an unhealthy lifestyle.” “I was lost—I didn’t know who I was,” she says.
She pursued a career in social work, but found herself struggling. “I knew there was something deepinside of me—I couldn’t get to it. It was almost like an onion that I had to peel and peel and peel and look for those teachings that were instilled in me as a young child,” she says. “I was searching for something but I didn’t know what it was.”
During the early ‘90s, the Dalai Lama visited her university, an encounter that impacted Ross enormously. “He was teaching us about spirituality,” she recalls, “and that’s when I really started thinking about my life.” Picking Ross out of the crowd, he proceeded to give her some sweet grass, telling her she would need it for her people, and blessed her. It was that experience, coupled with the birth of her first grandson in 1995, that she says really “woke [her] up.”
Ross soon began to reconnect with her native spirituality and culture. “I had to take baby steps to get where I am today,” says the mother of four and grandmother of seven. “I had to go deep down and dig for those teachings that my father left me, those survival skills.”
After working as a Cree interpreter/resource worker for the Health Sciences Centre, Ross became a spiritual/cultural care provider for Aboriginal Health Services within the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, where she performs sacred aboriginal ceremonies like smudges, sharing circles and traditional teachings for patients, families and staff throughout the region. Through her job, she also facilitates culturally based ceremonies to celebrate new seasonal changes in various hospital sites.
“I just listen to my patients and journey with them—it’s up to them how they want to be helped,” she says. “When I meet them, they’re so broken and they’re searching for something, just like I was searching for something.”
Her caring nature extends to more than just her patients, as Ross acts as a role model to both the aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities alike, touching the lives of so many people through her work and willingness to share her story of survival. "Betty is an inspiration to those around her and deserves to be recognized for her beautiful spirit,” say nominators Dee Thomas and Amie Lesyk.
But still, Ross remains modest, refusing to take credit for anything. “I can only teach [people] what I have experienced myself—that it is possible to find your own path, the path of light,” she says, stroking the eagle feather gently. “I just want to walk humbly on Mother Earth, knowing that I’ve found my path, knowing that I’m equipped with the wisdom and the knowledge of my elders…I’m so happy where I am today.”
Margaret Tobin has given hundreds of people a reason to sing, but the founder of Spirit’s Call never intended to start a choir.
Now retired, Tobin was a counsellor who was helping to facilitate a self-exploration workshop that included a number of different exercises. One of those exercises involved chanting.
“After we stopped chanting, there was a hushed silence. It was a magical moment,” Tobin recalls. “Suddenly, someone said, ‘I was singing! But I can’t sing.’”
And the Spirit’s Call Choir was born. Starting in 2001, the choir met at members’ homes until it grew large enough to require a formal rehearsal space. It now has 153 active members, and holds its weekly rehearsals at the Unitarian Church at Academy and Maryland.
“This is a choir for people who thought they couldn’t sing, even though we have quite a few members who are very proficient singers now,” says Tobin. “We still have people coming who are very uncertain, and it takes them a while to feel comfortable.”
Tobin has met many people who were told they couldn’t sing as children, and she says the psychological damage that results is heartbreaking.
“Singing is our birthright—we all have our own voice, and that voice is an expression of who we are. To be told it’s not good enough is a negation of the human spirit. It’s a very traumatic, very wounding thing,” she says.
Once these so-called “non-singers” are given permission to belt out a tune, they discover something even more powerful.
“They find their voice in other ways as well. They become more confident about expressing themselves in other areas of their life—they develop more confidence,” says Tobin.
The Spirit’s Call Choir dedicates all of its performances to charitable organizations, and so far it’s raised $123,000 for groups like the North End Sponsorship Team, Hands of Hope, the Marion Centre, Free Schools and the Canadian Landmines Foundation. Not bad for a little choir who began in Tobin’s dining room, thinking they couldn’t sing.
After Tobin survived two battles with breast cancer, she invited CancerCare patients to join the choir, and the response was miraculous, she says.
“Singing transports people into a place of joy. They forget their troubles, and they feel that they belong and are appreciated. Singing is a really healthy and healing way to deal with the challenges of life,” she adds. “Choir rehearsals are their oasis at the end of the week.”
Heather Emberley has been a member of Spirit’s Call for eight years. While editing a psychology journal, she was told about the choir as a wellness exercise, and originally just went to observe.
“Margaret’s philosophy is to just get out and sing. It feels good, and because it feels so good, it ends up sounding good. She became my personal role model, and she’s a testimony to the healing power of song. Even when she was undergoing chemo and radiation, she still had the choir at her heart,” says Emberley, who nominated Tobin for Winnipeg’s Most Beautiful Women. “Her energy is wonderful. She makes everybody feel like they are a part of something that’s bigger than all of us.”
Spirit’s Call has seen its members through every possible tragedy, and they still come out singing.
“For some people, this choir is a real lifeline. It’s a community who really cares about each other,” Tobin says. “Technical perfection will never be as important as singing with your heart and believing in yourself.”
Marty Slyker has experienced more in one lifetime than most of us could ever dream of.
When Slyker was six years old, her mother passed away from multiple sclerosis. Slyker was 12 when World War Two began, and she was sent to live with her aunt in Holland.
“Everything was interrupted—we lost all our resources, we lost our freedom, and little by little, we lost everything else,” Slyker recalls. “I can’t imagine that I lived through that, but we survived and life went on.”
Slyker’s aunt hid three Jewish girls in her home. Already a proficient seamstress, Slyker used her aunt’s tablecloths and sheets to make clothes for the sisters. She soon became a runner for the underground, transporting messages and coupons in her shoes.
Although she was often stopped by soldiers and asked to show her ID, Slyker doesn’t remember being afraid.
“I was a very skinny little girl—I was so malnourished that I didn’t have a period by 17, but we all survived the war,” she says. “I walked with the girls and watched the Canadian tanks roll into town. It was a wonderful feeling.”
Slyker was 18 by the time the war ended, and she pursued her dream of becoming a nurse. She was a nursing student when she was struck down with tuberculosis. She spent two years in the hospital fighting for her life.
But it would take more than a life-threatening illness to slow Slyker down. She got engaged while in the hospital, and once well enough, she immigrated to Canada with her new husband.
In Winnipeg, Slyker became the mother of six children. She managed to take care of them all while continuing her studies and becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). Slyker was an LPN for 10 years before deciding that she wanted to do something more. She received her Registered Practical Nurse degree when she was 50.
“She was always taking classes, even while living with six children, which was unheard of back then. She was one of the first women in her church to get her driver’s license. She was a true pioneer,” says her daughter, Cory Krul, who nominated Slyker for Winnipeg’s Most Beautiful Women. “She’s a great role model for my daughter and nieces and nephews.”
Slyker was able to celebrate her 55th wedding anniversary with her husband before he passed away from cancer five years ago.
“It seems like we had a lifetime together—it was a lifetime,” Slyker says. “Life wasn’t always a bed of roses—no one’s life is, but I’m not complaining. I’ve had a very good life and a wonderful family.”
As an elder in her church, Slyker spends a lot of her time visiting parishioners who are sick or lonely. She also drives seniors to medical appointments and other errands. Even though she’s in her 80s, Slyker has the energy and spunk of someone half her age.
“I’m just someone who cares—that’s all they really need,” she says. “Whenever something comes up, I do it. I’m not the only one—many people I know do it. When I lost my husband, it was good to visit old friends and reminisce.”
Slyker now has 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Somehow, she manages to stay close with them all.
“We all love her and we’re all respectful of her. She’s very strong—she’s a force,” says Krul. “My mom has a wonderful positive attitude towards life–very gracious, always learning, forever forgiving. She is my mentor. I can only dream to be a tiny bit like her.”
If anyone has what it takes to banish cancer from the face of the planet, it’s Shirlee Preteau. Preteau was a high-powered event planner for the Winnipeg Arena and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers when her boss, Lyle Bauer, Blue Bombers alumnus and CFL executive, contracted throat cancer in 2004.
He started the Never Alone Foundation, a national charity that supports projects, programs and agencies that aid in the fight against cancer. And in a stroke of sheer genius, he made Preteau the foundation’s executive director.
“Shirlee has this inner spark that makes you want to be a better person. She does so much for everybody else that she makes you enthusiastic about making a difference yourself,” says Jan Rempel, who nominated Preteau for Winnipeg’s Most Beautiful Women. Rempel is a cancer survivor who tragically lost her husband to the disease in 2009. She became a volunteer for the Never Alone Foundation last year, after meeting Preteau at an event. “The volunteers have become a close-knit team because of her, and Shirlee is the coach of that team.”
Preteau brings her extensive event-planning experience to the fight against cancer. She runs five major events for the Never Alone Foundation each year, including Poker for a Purpose, Fish for a Cure and Wings for Warren.
“I’ve worked with rock stars and athletes, but the people I’ve met through the Never Alone Foundation are amazing,” says Preteau. “Everything I’ve learned from working in the entertainment industry can be put to use here. I’ve had fantastic opportunities in Winnipeg—the people here are amazing. There are a lot of great people in this city.”
Preteau also works with the foundation’s sponsors to provide hot meals and quilts to those with cancer, as well as running the Never Alone luncheons.
“When you meet some of the people going through this, you can’t come home and grumble too much,” she says. “Every time I’m really feeling worn out, I meet someone amazing and get pumped right up again. This is very rewarding work.”
Rempel, who was in deep mourning for her husband when she met Preteau, says that the powerhouse fundraiser has no idea about the effect she has on people.
“She thought she needed help, but she didn’t realize the help she’d given me. It was a saving grace for me to get involved with the Never Alone Foundation, and I know I’m not the only one she’s had that effect on,” says Rempel. “I see it all the time. Being a part of this foundation has been really good therapy for me. It’s pulled me up to be able to help others.”
In spite of her daunting schedule, Preteau never forgets the little things that make others feel important. Rempel can’t talk about the platter of homemade butter tarts Preteau gave her last Christmas without choking up.
“She’s so busy, and those butter tarts were homemade. You wonder, what can’t this woman do? The tarts were quite good, too,” Rempel smiles. “Before one event ends, she’s working on the next one, but she never fails to think of the personal things that make a difference. She just takes care of everyone. She makes everyone feel special.”