EDITOR’S NOTE: In recognition of Canada’s 150th birthday The Herald is running historical local stories. For the next several weeks we are running stories from our archives on prominent builders in our community. This article is being reprinted from 2007.
A spunky crusader who spearheaded massive improvements to Penticton’s health and social scene, Anna Mason did it all with humour and zip.
Penticton’s public health nurse retired from nursing in 1975 after serving the city for 32 years.
“Sure it was a job, but I enjoyed it,” she said upon retirement. “I believe if you’re going to work, you might as well enjoy it and make it as pleasant as possible for everybody.”
Mason communicated that upbeat attitude throughout a life of accomplishments that have made Penticton a better place to live.
All who knew her, and many who never did, are grateful to the prime mover in establishing what is now the Penticton Recreation and Wellness Centre on Winnipeg Street.
With housing, a care unit and recreational facilities under one roof when it opened in the fall of 1974, it was the first of its kind in Canada. The following year, it received the Vincent Massey Award for Excellence in Urban Environment.
Mason was born Anna Larson in New Westminster after her parents emigrated from Sweden in 1896. One of four children, she completed her nurses’ training at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster in 1936. In 1938, she earned a diploma in pub- lic health nursing from the University of British Columbia.
Married to Fred Mason, plant superintendent for the Penticton Herald, Anna and her husband had no children of their own; but the public health nurse was well-known to school children for decades as the funny lady who wielded the vaccination needle. She began work as a nurse in the city in 1943, but nursing was only a fraction of Mason’s contribution to the people of Penticton.
During her last few years of employment with the South Okanagan Health Unit, she served as president of the Penticton and District Retirement Centre Society, contributing that extra pep needed to get the centre built. She was an active member of the Penticton Business and Professional Women’s Club and throughout her life served on more than 15 community organizations.
It was in her role as public health nurse Mason realized Penticton was missing some important services. That is what sparked her efforts to establish the retirement centre.
Once that was accomplished, she became an active force behind the introduction of such services as Meals on Wheels and homemakers’ programs. Caring and active until the end of her life, Mason died Feb. 9, 1997, at the age of 83. She was survived by her husband, Fred, now deceased, and by countless friends.
Marge Donovan, co-ordinator of Senior Peer Counselling of Penticton, flips through archival scrapbooks of the Penticton Business and Professional Women’s Club. Maintained since 1946, the archives are peppered with newspaper articles marking yet another award or achievement of Anna Mason.
Donovan, a former bank manager and now a long-time mental health worker, moved to Penticton from Kelowna in 1978; but she had run into Mason during a club activity years earlier.
“I met Anna . . . probably around 1962 or so, at a provincial business conference in Manning Park,” she recalled. “She was always a bit of a character. She had an amazing sense of humour.
“She would come up to you and say, ‘Are you OK, or best interest at heart, said Donovan. She would put as much effort as it took to ensure the health and welfare of others. “She did it in a lighthearted way, but you knew she meant it.”
Rosalie Gray of Naramata worked with Mason to create a seniors’ centre at St. Saviour’s Anglican Church during the early 1960s. Then a social worker with Human Resources and a member of the church, Gray joined Mason, Carolyn Plecash and Della Volden on the committee to set up the centre at St. Saviour’s.
Gray recalls her old friend and the energy and vitality she infused into everything she did. “She just had a way with people,” she said. “She was a fantastic leader. She was absolutely dedicated to the whole concept of doing something for the seniors. We did not think of ourselves as seniors,” added Gray with a laugh. “We were in our 40s.”
The Penticton and District Retirement Centre was a dream that began a couple of blocks away at St. Saviour’s Anglican Church during the early 1960s.
“We worked 10 years on that,” said Gray of the retirement centre.
“First of all, we looked at all the needs of the community — what could we do? We worked from a survey that had been done by the (City of Penticton’s) recreation committee.”
The city committee discovered there were some 1,500 single seniors aged 60 and older living in the downtown core within a mile’s radius of the church.
“That’s when we decided that we could maybe use the hall for recreation purposes for these people because they had nowhere to go,” said Gray.
A story titled “A Dream Come True,” by Peggy Whitley, which appears in the 1994 publication “Penticton and Area Secrets and Surprises,” describes the early days of Penticton’s first seniors’ centre.
Upon learning of the number of seniors in the downtown core, St. Saviour’s Welfare Committee came up with the idea to make the parish hall available as a meeting place for seniors.
They put the question to the congregation which approved the idea, and the committee, led by Mason, was formed to set up a seniors’ centre at the church.
“Anna was very, very well organized,” recalled Gray. Mason had was needed. They started exploring options.
“We thought we should be broader than the church,” recalled Gray. “We also had plans for meeting more of the seniors’ needs - not just the recreation part. We started to plan for further needs besides recreation. Then we thought of housing.”
Gray went on a social services tour of Denmark to see how they cared for their seniors and elderly. One complex included a recreation centre surrounded by apartments and a care unit. “We got kind of excited about that idea,” said Gray. “We formed . . . the Penticton and District Retirement Services Society.” Mason was president.
The goal became a new complex similar to the Danish one and Mason moved into high gear.
“She approached everyone she saw about what we were doing.
The news spread quickly. She had a full-time job at the health unit and I had a full-time social-work job. It was a great dream to get this together and things really worked out well for us.”
Bazaars, raffles, walkathons and concerts were held to raise money for the construction of the centre. The City of Penticton bought eight properties on Winnipeg Street near the corner of Wade Avenue to make way for the $3.1 million complex, the first of its kind in Canada. Well-known Vancouver architect Norm Jones designed the centre.
To cover 10 per cent of the cost of the special care unit and about one-third of the cost of the seniors’ recreation centre, the society raised $225,000 locally. The remainder was covered by federal and provincial grants and loans.
By the fall of 1974, the complex wa ready to open its doors. By then, the seniors’ centre at St. Saviour’s was bulging at the seams with about 1,000 members. Of those, 700 gathered at the church on Oct. 7 for what they called the “great trek”.
In the late fall sunshine, seniors, laughing and cheering, followed giant green footprints up the centre of Orchard Avenue and north to the new centre at 439 Winnipeg St. Today, the complex is a hub of activity for seniors in the downtown core.
AWARDS OF RECOGNITION
In late April, 1991, Lieut. Gov. David Lam presented Mason with the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award of Recognition for Women of B.C., acknowledging her many years of service to Penticton’s public health and social services.
With her that day at Government House in Victoria was Donovan, who still works out of the centre Mason helped found.
Donovan also received an award that day in recognition of her involvement in Imagine Penticton, a health-care community planning initiative prior to the founding of Interior Health.
Mason had a wall in her home loaded with framed awards and plaques.
The following were among them:
• 25-year B.C. Health Service Award from then-Premier W.A.C. Bennett
• City of Penticton Award of Merit for Community Service
• Lieutenant-Governor’s Award of Recognition for Women of B.C.
• Canada 125 Award
• Rotary Citizenship Award
• B.C. Senior Award for outstanding voluntary service
• Honourary lifelong membership in the Sunshine Fund
Mason remained a member of the Penticton Business and Professional Women’s Club until her death.
In examining her accomplishments, it’s clear that while she drew out the best in those around her, she obviously drew out the best in herself. As her husband Fred said following her death, “I don’t think there was anyone more gregarious and generous. She would get up in the middle of the night to give assistance to anyone.”