By Melissa Herman
The majority of us spend years searching for that spark that will ignite an inextinguishable flame and some… well, some see it in every leaf and log. Truth be told, we are all surrounded with an abundance of reasons to be thankful, kind and hopeful. Blessings are something rarely overlooked by someone like Elsie Yanik. At 98 years young, when asked why she practices such gracious ways in such a kind manner, she will humbly tell a story of a man who brought her and her siblings Christmas gifts on an Eve that they were sure that they had all been forgotten. It was Mrs. Yanik’s first Christmas since her mother’s passing. She was 8 years old then but the twinkle of gratitude in her eye hadn’t ceased to glow. She carried this act of kindness with her throughout her years and kept it close to her heart, so that every action she made since then was guided with the same kindness shown to her as a child.
How long has Elsie been helping others? Well, Canada’s 20th Prime Minister Jean Chretien, now in his 80s, was new to the world when Elsie began her journey as a nurse’s aide in Fort Smith at the tender age of 17. She let kindness light the path in front of her, with the destination contently unknown. She would come to be an easily recognizable inspiration, as clear to those who’ve met her as her childhood gift bearer was to her.
If all the fuss seems so familiar to Mrs. Yanik, and indeed it is. It is because she has done this before. The Indspire award is merely the latest in a long line of recognition that she has been awarded. Among many others, she received an honorary Law Degree from the University of Alberta, not long after obtaining her honorary Aboriginal Child & Family Services Diploma from Keyano College. She was an Olympic Torch bearer for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the President of Voices for Aboriginal Women of Alberta, recognized by Pope John Paul II for her tireless years of service as a lay minister. In addition to all this she also spent a decade as a member of the Young Offenders Board and served the Nunee Health Authority in Fort Chipewyan. Always in her element with people of all ages, but especially young people, her presence is nevertheless humbling. Her compassion and inspirational ways of mentoring also earned her a Governor General’s Commemorative Medal and a Stars of Alberta Award.
She was 20 years old when she met her husband at late night mass. Their first date took place on a farm that would eventually lead to a honeymoon in the bush, 49 years of marriage, 4 daughters, 1 son and 12 grandchildren. Mrs. Yanik admits that she never bothered to travel the world until her husband passed away in 1986.She had no need to. Alone however, she found time to explore Europe and paid a visit to Hong Kong among other places.
Today, Mrs. Yanik continues to show how far a little kindness can go and the profound depths of the simplest actions. For that reason she is being recognized yet again, this time with an Indspire Lifetime Achievement Award. Keyano College would like to extend a much deserved congratulations, and commend you for years of compassionate deeds.