| May 21, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - May 21, 2009 A Plevna power houseby Julie Druker

Bernice Gunsinger at her home in Plevna

Bernice Gunsinger is many things, but idle is not one of them. At 89 years old, soon to be 90 on November 1, Bernice continues to be an active member of her community and still likes to keep a lot on her plate.

When I visited her at her home in Plevna, the home where she was born and continues to live, she had just hung out a long row of dish towels belonging to the Clar-Mill Community Centre, just one of the many jobs that she performs as a community volunteer there.

On her kitchen table lies a phone list of 30 people, who are, along with her, members of the Clar-Mill Community Volunteers and are involved with LINUS, a group of quilters and knitters that makes blankets for cancer patients at CHEO in Ottawa. Before the day is done, Bernice needs to get an important message to all of them regarding an upcoming potluck and blanket pick up.

Born in 1919 and married in 1941 to Andrew Gunsinger, Bernice, now a widow, has three children, seven grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

She has worked all of her life both inside and outside her home. She was the caretaker at Clarendon Central School for 25 years and has also worked at a number of lodges in and around Plevna.

The on-going volunteer work she has done for the fire hall in Plevna is well known and came about after a fire in the early 1950s destroyed the parsonage, a number of homes, and the sawmill - long before there was ever a fire hall in town.

Bernice recalls, “There were no fire fighters or a fire hall at that time and it was the bucket brigade and volunteers that finally got the fire stopped.”

After that fire she and a group of volunteers got together and performed a popular minstrel show that toured various towns in North Frontenac, raising money for the affected families as well as a desperately needed water pumper and thousands of feet of hose.

She remembers those shows with fondness, “I played the banjo and I did a waltz on the stage and darn near fell off. Mrs. Sallans played music using bottles of water and we also had the bull and matador skit. I was in the bull costume with Florence Kellar. There were 15-20 people in the show and we had a good time putting it on.”

Later as president of the Young Circle Club, Bernice helped to organize the annual Santa Claus parade and celebrations that entertained families in the community at Christmas time.

For 15 years Bernice was president of the Volunteer Ladies Fire Auxiliary, a group that held dances and various seasonal festivals to raise money for the new fire hall.

Bernice is also a member of the Plevna Crafts Group, which is instrumental in the annual Christmas tree lighting festival there.

She has been a long-time member of the seniors group in Plevna and it is no wonder that she won the Senior of the Year award in 2006.

Bernice has no intention of slowing down any time soon. She showed me various quilts that she has on the go and admits, “I can never really ever sit still. Even when I am watching TV I have to keep my hands busy.”

The awards that have recognized her community work hang on her living room wall but one comes to realize after getting to know Bernice that it is not recognition that she seeks. Instead she remains humble and is grateful for her continued health and her ability to keep living independently at her home and to keep on doing what she loves to do.

Her community is lucky to have her; clearly all the work and energy she has put into her community comes directly from her hands and her heart. Most would agree that Bernice Gunsinger is definitely a giver.

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