“Abbeyfielders are not only residents, they are dear friends,” says Marlene Dietrich.
After 23 years serving Abbeyfield as its most prominent volunteer, Marlene Dietrich retired from this seniors’ home last November.
“I thank the residents for all their support all these years and for the lovely tea party they gave me and the beautiful gifts on my retirement,” she said.
Following her services as director, secretary, treasurer and president of the organization, she says she had the opportunity to work with people who understand and truly care about the seniors who choose to live in Abbeyfield. She adds that staff, board members and many volunteers all have contributed so much to the special and welcoming atmosphere at this home.
When asked to share her experiences on the earlier days of Abbeyfield, she recalls, “I remember the start of [Abbeyfield Port Alberni] very well, especially when my husband Phil and I were there every day to get the building ready. I mostly did a lot of cleanup and painting for all the construction and renovations that were happening at the time and trying to work hard and fast in order to have each resident’s room ready for use.”
In addition to the regular hands-on work done in the building, Dietrich and the board had lots of decisions to make during their early meetings. At the time, she was the secretary.
“Among other things, we had to get the best contractors to separate the Extended Care Unit from the rest of the hospital building,” said Dietrich. “I must say that Terry Whyte, the founder and president of the society, was amazing!”
She also praise John Versteeg’s work.
“He has always been a good friend of Abbeyfield ever since, available whenever we needed him.”
After the official opening of Abbeyfield, which took place on September 3, 2003—exactly a year after the first residents had arrived—the board was able to procure funds for additional residents’ rooms, from 18 to 21. This improvement was very helpful and also allowed the board to make use of other areas that could be converted, including “AbbeyHall” or the basement large meeting room. This made our Port Alberni seniors home the largest Abbeyfield in Canada.
“All these changes done over the years were made thanks to the guidance of large and consistent Boards of Directors,” said Dietrich.
Some of those experiences were also remembered at a get-together with the residents in November.
“I wanted to share with them how our Abbeyfield came about, so I read Terry’s articles, ‘Eight Days to Demolition’ and ‘A History of the First Year.’ Two documents that explain the steps needed to make this home a reality.”
Among some of Dietrich’s proud accomplishments during her tenure as a president were keeping the building and finances in good shape during her time on the board, following in Terry’s footsteps and also the creation and designing of the new dining room, made possible thanks to a legacy fund from Weits de Konning—a former resident. This was an enormous improvement to the home, and “although it was a challenge,” it made a great difference at mealtimes, as some of the residents used to sit at tables in the hallway to eat before the expansion of the area.
Marlene Dietrich has also volunteered for other local organizations, including her services as the secretary of the Heritage Place Board since it opened 15 years ago. She also spent several years as a member and executive of the Alberni District Historical Society. For her services to the society, she was honoured with a community heritage award for her outstanding dedication and volunteer contribution to the Community Archives, furthering the preservation of and access to community heritage.
“I leave Abbeyfield in good hands, and look back at my time there as receiving much more in every way that I was able to give,” said Marlene. “Working with you, my friends, was one of the best highlights of those years. Our common bond will endure.”