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War veteran, volunteer Elsie Dandy turns 100

Birthday celebration - Elsie Dandy of Fergus is celebrating her 100th birthday on Oct. 7. Her family is hosting a come-and-go tea at the Royal Canadian Legion in Fergus from 2 to 4pm.  Photo by Jaime Myslik

War veteran, volunteer Elsie Dandy turns 100

by Jaime Myslik

FERGUS - Elsie Dandy is about to enter a new century, celebrating her 100th birthday this weekend.

“It’s remarkable to think about the life that she’s lived,” said Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong.

“She was born during the First World War, she lived through the Great Depression, volunteered for the Second World War and ... by that point she hadn’t even completed half of her life.

“So she’s a real role model and I think someone we can all look up to as an example of how to live a life.”

Dandy, a Second World War veteran and Fergus resident, was born on Oct. 7, 1917 in Hamilton.

Before she started kindergarten she and her mother moved to England so Dandy could have her tonsils removed, a procedure that wasn’t yet available in Canada.

“I stayed there and went to school with my aunt,” Dandy said.

“She was a public school teacher and... I finished kindergarten there and then came back to Canada.”

Dandy was an only child and her family moved to where her father found work. One move was to Detroit, Michigan when Dandy was 10. They returned to Canada after Grade 7.

“Because of the Depression ... I ... lived in three different countries and went to 13 different schools,” Dandy said. “So that isn’t normal.”

In fact, her childhood wasn’t typical at all. Dandy said her parents never treated her as a child.

“I was brought up like another person,” Dandy said. “I was treated as an equal.”

When Dandy told her parents she wanted to become a nurse her father suggested she stay home to learn to “be a lady,” but her mother supported her decision.

“My mother was a very calm woman, very organized and she’d say, ‘Now Arthur dear, we must support Elsie in what she wants to do,’” Dandy said.

“When I look at how other people were (raised), you know you have to be home at a certain time, you have to do this and you have to do that - never, (for us) it was work together and ... I figure I was very lucky because then I was able to stand up for myself.”

Dandy began her nursing training at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children in 1939. In 1941 she graduated and enlisted as a nurse in the Canadian Army.

Before she was deployed, she met her husband Jim Dandy after a soldier stationed in Newfoundland she was casually seeing sent Jim to take Dandy, who was in Toronto, out on a date.

They were engaged before Jim was deployed.

Dandy was stationed at Basingstoke Neurological and Plastic Surgery Hospital for the Canadian Army, about 60 miles from London, England, from 1941 to 1945.    

Jim, a Canadian Army colonel with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, was also overseas during the Second World War, where he suffered a shrapnel wound.

“It paralyzed his arm so he came back to England to teach, train soldiers,” Dandy explained.

They had planned to marry in Canada, but their plans changed during the war.

“We thought the war would never end,” Dandy said.

“We decided to get married because I had family in England.”

The couple had a wedding dress, bridesmaid dress, wedding cake and trifle sent to England from Canada for the wedding.

Dandy was so busy with preparations she didn’t even realize they were getting married on St. Patrick’s Day - March 17, 1945.

Their parents couldn’t be at the wedding but a surgeon Dandy had gone to school with who was stationed at Basingstoke walked her down the aisle.

“Everything always turns out alright for me,” Dandy said.

The couple settled in Grimsby, Ontario when they returned to Canada.

But when Dandy was 42, she was diagnosed with severe allergic asthma to trees and plants so the family left the Niagara peninsula and moved to Guelph, where Dandy worked as a personnel manager and nurse at Harding Carpets.

It was there that Dandy learned firsthand the symptoms of medical ailments like heart attacks, strokes and concussions.

When she herself experienced each of those medical emergencies, she said she knew how to respond.

“I didn’t see the treatment but when I had the heart attack I was there in four hours to be treated,” Dandy said.

“I didn’t say ‘tomorrow I’ll feel better’ and I feel that’s one reason that I’m well today ... because I have had a stroke, I’ve had a heart attack, I’ve had a concussion.

“But when you’re treated well and right away you recover.”

She added she comes from a family whose members are known for their longevity.

“My father was 86 and my mother was 83 and for that generation there wasn’t the treatment. So as I say, I come from a normal healthy family, but I’ve had my share of different things you know,” she said.

Dandy and her family eventually moved to Arthur and later, after Jim passed away, to Fergus.

She said another key to her long and fulfilled life is volunteering at JD Hogarth Public School in Fergus - “To keep me alive,” she says.

Dandy, also a dedicated Legion member, volunteers with students in Grades 1 to 4 and has been doing so for over 15 years.

She helps students with literacy, aids teachers with classroom tasks and is an annual presenter at Remembrance Day assemblies.

“Elsie is the ultimate role model for our students,” said teacher-librarian Julie Preston. “To reach such a milestone while continuing to be so actively involved within the community is absolutely amazing.  

“She repeatedly models enthusiasm, generosity and modesty each and every day - attributes that we strive to instill in our students here at JD Hogarth.”

When Dandy could no longer drive herself, the school arranged to have her picked up.

“She has a positive spirit, is a joy to be around and has a ‘never say never’ attitude,” Preston said.

“Her presence in the school is a constant reminder of how staying active and involved keeps one young at heart.”

Dandy says she always looks forward to seeing the students.

“The little ones ... keep me laughing,” she said, adding she brings home to Highland Manor in Fergus her stories and experiences “to make [residents] laugh.

“I go to the school to keep me healthy and happy.”

Chong said his sons have met Dandy at the school.

“I think what she does there is really neat,” he said.

“I think it’s important, both for younger people to get to know the generations that came before, but also I think it’s wonderful to see someone like Elsie come into regular contact with children and I think that’s a wonderful thing to see.”

Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott said Dandy’s community service is an inspiration to everyone she meets.

“Elsie represents the absolute best of our province,” he said. “We have been blessed to have Elsie in our community, and we wish her many more years of good health and happiness.”

Having lived through a century of life in Canada, Dandy said she sees a number of differences in the country. For one, Canadians now live in peace time.

“They don’t realize really how different life is,” she said.

“I mean they don’t have blackouts to walk in, they don’t have the rations, things that. Thank God they don’t have and I hope we keep peaceful.”

Dandy also said schools are more casual now.

“It’s better because it doesn’t divide the generations, the children aren’t afraid to go to school ... they love to come to school,” she said.

To celebrate her milestone century birthday Dandy’s family is hosting a come-and-go tea at the Royal Canadian Legion in Fergus on Oct. 7 from 2 to 4pm.

Dandy asked that in lieu of gifts, those who wish can donate to the charitable foundation of their choice or to the Sick Kids Foundation or Lincoln and Welland Regiment Foundation.

“In one room (at the retirement home), what am I going to do with gifts? So I just ask people to give to how they feel,” Dandy said.

Preston said the school will also mark Dandy’s milestone birthday.

“We are honoured and grateful for the dedication and commitment that Elsie has shown to the JD Hogarth school community and we take great pride in celebrating this very special birthday with her,” she said.

“Over the years we have heard the phrase, ‘When I grow up I want to be just like Mrs. Dandy’ used many times by both children and adults. And we are certain that Elsie’s actions will inspire many to follow through with this heartfelt sentiment.”

October 6, 2017


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