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Dedicated Red Deer volunteer Eileen Cole remembered

Cole started the Festival of Trees with zero budget
Eileen Cole (Photo contributed)

A dedicated Red Deer volunteer who launched the hugely successful Festival of Trees fundraiser will be remembered in a memorial service on Friday.

Eileen Cole, or “Mrs. Cole” to generations of children she taught and entertained, passed away at the Red Deer Hospice on Feb. 21 at the age of 83.

“She was always Mrs. Cole. She is Mrs. Cole to this day because she taught so many people,” said daughter Allison Charlton. “She has literally touched so many lives and so many kids and families.”

Eileen was one of three children raised on a farm in Manitoba. She went to teacher’s college in Winnipeg in 1957-58 and taught in a number of small communities before moving to Red Deer in 1964.

Here, she met Red Deer firefighter Ardell Cole and the couple were married in 1967 and had two children, Allison and her brother, Kevin, who passed away in 2015. Ardell passed away in 2001.

From the beginning, Eileen embraced and volunteered in her new community, said Allison.

“It was how she was raised. It was what she did.”

Whether it was through school, her church, 4-H clubs and numerous charitable organizations around town, Eileen was a leader.

She taught Sunday School at Sunnybrook United Church for years, co-ordinated the Bowl for Kids fundraiser for what is now known as Youth HQ, organized the Ladies Luncheon for The Lending Cupboard and volunteered for the Ronald McDonald House Charity Bonspiel.

Her love of children inspired her business pursuits as well. She operated the Children’s Corner educational toy store and a playschool for three and four-year-olds for seven years. When she closed that business, she took a 16-month full-time volunteer position as co-ordinator of the Firehall Fun Factory, which was a key part of the $2.5 million literacy and legacy campaign for the Children’s Library, which officially opened in September 1995 at the downtown public library.

Among Eileen’s longlasting legacies was her pivotal role in launching Red Deer’s Festival of Trees, which will turn 30 this year. Beginning with a budget of zero, Eileen was able to use her deep connections in the community and persistence to create annual event that is among North America’s most successful and which rasied more than $16 million in its first 25 years for the Red Deer Regional Hospital Foundation.

“She had always been very good at getting people to donate, no matter who it was or what it was for,” said Allison.

After eight years with the festival, Eileen used her organizational mastery to become the Health Region Foundation liaison for the Health and Hope Campaign, which raised $2.5 million for the Interfaith Chapel and meditative garden at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

Eileen’s abilities were well known in the community and she was approached to help out in numerous political campaigns over the years.

In her spare time, she loved to bake, play music and dance at socials. In typical fashion, she turned dancing into a way to give back. She taught with the Pattern Dancers and took them to local seniors homes and Golden Circle Senior Resource Centre to entertain audiences, who loved to hear the music and see the waltzes and polkas they grew up with. The Pattern Dancers were also regular performers at the Canada Day celebrations at Bower Ponds.

She also danced with the Kvitka Red Deer Ukrainian Dance Club and the Fanatullen Scandanavian Dance group.

For all her contributions to Red Deer, Eileen was honoured with a 2014 Women of Excellence Lifetime Achievement recipient by the Red Deer and District Community Foundation.

Allison believes her mother was touched by the gesture.

“She is very humble. Nothing that she has ever done was for accolades or recognition, it was just to be able to help.

“I think she was pleased, but more than anything she was very grateful.”

A memorial service is taking place Friday at 1 p.m. at Gaetz United Memorial Service, 4758 5oth St.

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