Eganville – Shelley McLeod has spent the last 13 years of her life making the lives of area seniors better and now, as she battles cancer, the community took time last week to pay tribute to her for her dedication and accomplishments.

As the program manger at the Eganville and District Senior  Needs Association (EDSNA), she was honoured last Wednesday by staff and the board and many of the clients she has served and became personal friends with.

It was an emotional day at the Echo Centre as her-co-workers and board members shared their thoughts on the many contributions Ms. McLeod has made in her tenure there after joining the staff in 2009. In addition, it was well known that her retirement was based on the health challenges she had and continues to face. 

Kayla Menkhorst, the current executive director of the EDSCNA, was the first to share her thoughts on the woman who obviously made a huge impact on her since she joined the team in 2021.

She noted the attendance was the largest at the centre since COVID began in 2020.

“And I’m not surprised at all,” she remarked. “It doesn’t surprise me that the biggest group here is here for a very special lady upon her retirement.

“It doesn’t surprise me that we have over 100 people that have asked to come today, as well as many, many others who gave their well wishes but couldn’t be here today to honour Shelley in her retirement,” she added.      

In her brief time, Ms. Menkhorst considered herself very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Ms. McLeod and learn a lot from her in that short time.

“I’m also really fortunate to be able to truly call Shelley a friend of mine, and a close friend where my kids love going over to her house on Hallowe’en. I love being able to see her when she comes into the centre and all her creative ideas throughout that time.

“Even though it was only a short time, Shelley, I am really privileged and honoured to be able to have a friend in you,” she continued.  

She noted the programs the centre offers today and in the past are a direct result of Ms. McLeod’s creativity and ingenious way of thinking up new ideas, while understanding the needs of the senior population.

“That is a true testament to your creativity and your willingness to do whatever needed to be done to ensure that we have these programs here at the centre.”.

Ms. Menkhorst joked that Ms. McLeod can now come to the centre when it suits her, rather than when she is told to.

“You’ve touched so many lives, you’ve affected so many people, and you’ve truly made a difference in the community. I cannot count how many times that we have been told that you are the heart and soul of this organization, and it makes me so proud to be able work here, both along side you, and as you retire from this organization that you have built.”

Megan McGrath, the current board president, said she too has been in the position only a short time, adding she loves Ms. McLeod’s sense of humour, her “joie de vivre”, and how she thinks outside the box.

She recalled once sending her a note jokingly suggesting the centre start raising chickens, which Ms. McLeod thought was a great idea.

“That would be Shelley; we could have our own eggs at the Senior Centre every day,” she said. 

Mrs. McGrath said when the centre was closed during COVID, the fundraising essentially dried up and Ms. McLeod decided if they could host drive-thru vaccinations and testing sites, they could perhaps host drive-thru dinners.

“So began our regular drive-thru dinners which is now among the most successful fundraisers we have going. Matter of fact we have expanded into the Cobden area and where it’s called Cobden Curbside.”

She thanked Ms. McLeod for her dedication, her unparalleled sense of humour and her time spent at the centre.

William Enright, past president of the board, said he has known Ms. McLeod since he joined the board in 2015, four-and-a-half years which he spent as president. He said she was not only a staff member but a really good friend.

“Shelley, I want to thank you for your good work, your good humour, your good nature, and above all else, your caring and empathy for everyone you came in contact with. You were and still are a formative and positive influence on the character and flavour of the Senior Needs Association.

“Indeed, in the eyes of many, you were the Senior Needs Association,” he stated.

He said Ms. Mcleod was so in tune with the needs of seniors and the clients and members all loved her.

“And I never heard a bad word said about you,” he noted.

He told her she was loved and respected by everyone who knew her and whose lives she had touched.

Retired executive director Nora Shay told Ms. McLeod she was special friend to everyone.

“I enjoyed so much working with you. We so, so appreciate what you have done over the years. Thank you for your service.”

Ms. McLeod was obviously fighting her emotions as she addressed the gathering.

“It was really hard to let go,” she began. “I’ve put every bit of my heart and soul that I could muster up to make this community better in the senior years. I’ve learned so much from you.

“I’ve learned empathy, I’ve learned patience, and so many things about myself that I didn’t know that were weak,” she added. “And you’ve brought out the strength in those things for me.” 

She thanked everyone for making her job so much easier, but also for making it so hard to say farewell.

“I really love every one of you that walks through this door. You’re one of the community’s leaders and you contribute, even if you’re just sitting here.

“I wish we could get more people to volunteer and be part of this. It’s such a lovely family to belong to.”

She said as someone who has been on the other side of the services offered during her illness, the impact of the services can never be understated.

“When you sit in the chair waiting for some lovely face to come and just say, ‘Hello, how was your day’, it’s amazing what even walking in the door and throwing me an Eganville Leader, from last week even, makes a big difference.

“It gets lonely, and I know, because I’ve seen it,” she added. “So, all your volunteer hours and things that you do here for us, just makes somebody else’s life worth living. Thank you all for everything.”

Retirement Is Bittersweet

After the formalities, Ms. McLeod told the Leader it meant a great deal to her to know she had impacted the lives of so many, as evidenced in the comments shared earlier during the celebration.

“That’s why it’s been so hard. It hasn’t just been a job for me, it’s been me doing research and paying attention to people, just making sure you’re hitting all the notes, and thinking above and beyond five years from now what these people might like, as they age.

“It’s been an ongoing thing, and it’s something you’re supposed to go home and not take it   home with you,” she added. “But I did take it with me. I’d hear of something and write it down because it was something we could do.”      

Ms. McLeod shared she knows what it’s like to require some of the services as she experienced that personally.

“To become sick and become one of those people that our volunteers support, it’s just amazing how much our clients depend on them. We don’t think dropping off a meal twice a week means anything . . . it’s nothing out of most lives, but it’s everything to them,” she continued.

When she joined the staff in 2009, her title was activities co-ordinator, and she retires as the program manager. The EDSNA had about 100 members when she joined and at her retirement in August 2022, that number had doubled, if not more.

“I think the thing that has made it possible here is continuity,” she said of the growth of the programs. “You’re not constantly changing classes, changing times, moving stuff around.

“Continuity is key and they know on this day, that is going to happen,” she said. “I don’t think seniors like change and having continuity in your programming is key.”

Obviously, that was difficult to do during COVID, which forced the cancellation of the programs, however, the home support programs like Meals on Wheels and drives to appointments continued.

It was during that time she received approval from the county health unit to launch the drive-thru dinners, which proved very successful.

Ms. McLeod was diagnosed with cancer in August 2019 and underwent surgery later that month, sidelining her until March 2020. Her health was good for about seven months, but then the cancer re-surfaced.

“That’s when everything went south,” she shared. “It’s an incurable kind of cancer, called inflammatory cancer.”

She is undergoing various treatments in hopes something works, noting the treatments work for several months, and then they have to switch to other treatments.

She said leading up to her retirement, she was doing some of her work from home.

Despite being officially retired, she will continue to be a resource for whoever needs her.

Asked what she was most proud of over her career, she said the growth in the various exercise programs, as well as knowing how many lives she impacted.