Gladys Isabelle Spenst (nee: Allin) was born to Jim and Stella Allin on June 21, 1935, in Spruce Lake, Saskatchewan. The oldest of four children, she attended the Moosehead school for Grades 1 through 10, and completed her Grade 11 and 12 in St. Walburg. Following in her father’s footsteps, she became a teacher after attending the Teachers’ College in Saskatoon in 1953 and 1954 and began teaching in a one-room school house for two years in Waskiagon and then moved on to West Hazel for a year. On October 24, 1958 she married Robert (Bob) Spenst and just over one year later, had their son, Garry. Isabelle returned to teaching and taught in Waskiagon for 3 years, from 1960 to 1963, after which time she began teaching in Spruce Lake where she taught for 25 years until she retired in 1988.
Isabelle was a quiet and mild mannered individual, never wanting to impose or cause any inconvenience, but she was fierce in her own way. When life pushed, she pushed back – She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1986 and successfully conquered it in 1987, which contributed to her decision to retire in 1988. Not only did she win her battle with cancer, it never recurred. After being widowed, she continued to teach and went on to purchase her own home post-retirement, after moving to St. Walburg. She had a quiet strength that I have drawn from and will continue to draw from.
Isabelle changed and left lasting impressions on people’s lives and I’m not even sure she was aware of it. There were countless times I’d be by her side in the grocery store or at a restaurant and have former students approach her to visit and look at her with obvious admiration, or hear the excited whisper of “There’s Mrs. Spenst!” from a grown adult. People loved Isabelle for one simple reason: she cared. It was evident in everything she did and how she did it. She was modest, kind and patient and always found the good in others. Family, church and community were important to her. She contributed in so many ways – helping to make the famous “United Church Women’s Apple Pies” at pie making bees and working in the booth at the fair, delivering Meals-on-Wheels, and through donations to various charities and community events. She always supported her family whether it was attending Christmas Concerts, graduations, buying a raffle ticket or supporting a fundraiser we were doing.
Isabelle’s door was always open to friends and all family members. There was never a need to call in advance, one could simply show up and walk right in her house while simultaneously knocking and calling out “hello”! She always had some type of treat that could be taken out of the freezer and the kettle was quickly put on the stove for a cup of tea. You could visit for as long as you liked, all-the-while watching her fingers hypnotically circling and tracing the handle on her tea cup. Her house was conveniently located close to the school and not too far from the fair grounds and hockey and curling rink. The location made it the perfect place for an after-school-snack and time for a quick tv show or some homework before hockey practise or a place to get cleaned up between the ball games and the dance. Her house was a prime location to watch the parade or set up to sell items at the Blueberry Festival. She loved it all. That time, whether it was 5 minutes or 5 hours, was precious to her and that made her all the more precious to us. It was during these times that she taught her granddaughter to read (Chelsey will always treasure the Dick and Jane and See Spot Run readers) and taught Kyle fractions (“Three halved portions of dessert yields 1.5 portions”).
Isabelle loved history and could often be found reading history books about St. Walburg and the surrounding area. At the Allin Family Reunion a few summers ago, one of the day-trips was to go to Moosehead School where Grandma re-created her days as teacher for everyone. She quickly slipped back into her teacher role and rang the bell to call all the “students” in and she proceeded to teach a history lesson about the school. Never one to tell a lie, when she entertained questions from the class, she answered all her “students” questions, including how often her brother, Harris, had to stand in the corner for bad behaviour.
Isabelle is survived by: her son, Garry (Marlene) Spenst; her grandson, Kyle (Cynthia) Spenst and their children, Finley and Farrah; her granddaughter, Chelsey (Chad) McColl and their daughter, Sydney. She is also survived by her brother, Harris (Connie) Allin; her sisters, Leath (Julius) Kurjata and Lucille (Oscar) Leer; her sisters-in-law, Loretta Nasby and Vi George; as well as numerous nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews that all held a special place in her heart.
She was predeceased by: her husband, Robert (Bob) in 1982; her parents, Jim and Stella Allin; her father and mother in law, Walter and Blanche Spenst; her brother in laws, Vern Nasby and Lawrence George; and her nephew, Calvin George.
It is was an honour to prepare Isabelle’s eulogy and to be able to share my precious memories of her – there isn’t enough time in the world to write them all down, nor will I ever be able to describe just how wonderful she was. She will be missed by all, but the memories we have will quietly live forever in our hearts and little things in our day-to-day lives will remind us of her and leave a smile on our faces … just the way she would have wanted.
The Family would like to thank the Doctors and Staff at the St. Walburg Health Complex and Lodge for the care they provided Isabelle over the last few years. As well as Marshall’s Funeral Home for their assistance and Reverend Don Skinner for conducting the Service.
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