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A Story from 2019: Engineering a Visit after 40 years

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Each December, Home Instead Senior Care sponsors the annual Be a Santa to a Senior program, providing a gift and a visit for seniors living in long term care. Each person has a story to share if we are willing to give the gift of our time to be in the moment and listen.  On the 10th anniversary of Be a Santa to a Senior in Saskatoon, this story shows how making a connection can make a difference.

It started with a radio which was thought to be broken. Angela and her friend approached St. Joseph's Care Home resident Don Griffith during December's Be a Santa to a Senior program. They had brought some small gifts for Don and were settling in for a visit when they learned Don's radio was not working.

The friend exclaimed, "Angela's an engineer, she'll fix it for you!"  After discovering the radio was simply unplugged, they began a long and lovely conversation about Don's career as a math and physics teacher in Middle Lake, Saskatchewan. Don was very talkative and although he had trouble getting words out, he was a wonderful conversationalist.  He spoke with pride about the achievements of one of his students named Janice who aced three math and physics tests. Angela wasn't sure if they were finals or provincial exams, but Don was very keen to tell her that Janice got 100% on all three tests. Don also mentioned that Janice had a sister named Edith, who teaches math and science in Saskatoon. Angela told Don he must have been a good influence on them.

Angela summed up the conversation and described what happened next:

We had more pleasantries before we had to leave and go to our next visit. When I was going to bed that night, I remembered Don's stories and how he had such a good memory for these girls. So, in a fit of craziness, I googled "Janice Edith Dyck Saskatoon". Up popped an obituary of a woman with the last name Dyck, from Middle Lake, who had 4 daughters, two of which were named Janice & Edith. Now I had their married names... so of course I searched for them on Facebook and found Janice but no Edith. Janice's profile was very limited; I wasn't sure it was her. I decided to go to bed and look more in the morning.

My husband suggested looking on LinkedIn. There I found Janice who was an engineer! I called the company's number and asked for Janice. The phone went to her answering machine. Darn it. Seconds later I got a call and the person said, "Hi, this is Janice, were you trying to call me?"

Janice was overwhelmed and so happy that Mr. Griffith remembered her now over 40 years ago. She also had very fond memories of Mr. Griffith as a teacher and moving his young family to Middle Lake and that he definitely was a part of her choice to go into engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. She wanted to meet him and we made that happen. Janice also invited Edith to join us too! Although we went a little close to lunch time, we had a very nice visit. Don was speechless and very touched that we were all there. Janice said she will stop by and visit him again.

After their meeting, Janice shared her amazement that Don remembered her, her marks and her maiden name. "I found [Don's mental sharpness and recall] fascinating. It says something about the math and physics mind. In our family and friends there are so many who are living with Alzheimer's or other types of dementia. It was refreshing that, even though his physical body has aged, Don remembered so many details from so long ago and in the middle of his career." 

Reflecting on Don's encouragement at a key time in her life, Janice shared that being a nerdy kid in a small town high school was challenging; she had no idea what an engineer even did. She was even more surprised that Mr. Griffith had learned that she had become an engineer and worked in Alberta for 15 years before returning to Saskatchewan. Janice is a member of APEGS (Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan) and collaborates with the School of Engineering to see about introducing students to engineering before grade 11. A few years ago, another high school classmate of Janice's who teaches math and science in Saskatoon reached out for her support as a judge at the grade 4 Science Fair. This year, Janice and Angela will both be judges.

Mr. Griffith came to Middle Lake when Edith was in Gr. 12.  "He taught me Math and Physics that year and pushed me on my understanding of the concepts.  After I graduated High School I attended the U of S where I enrolled in elementary Education, and within the first semester realized that, not only did I want to become a teacher, but that I loved the challenge of the advanced math and sciences."

After the first year of Education, Edith changed to Secondary Education and graduated with a B. Ed., with distinction, with a Major in Mathematics and a Minor in Physics.

Edith went on to teach for 3.5 years in Alberta and then returned to Saskatchewan and continues to teach in the Sask. Valley School Division, which is now known as the Prairie Spirit School Division.  Edith has taught Math and Physics her entire career, and for the past 15 years has also successfully taught Advanced Placement Calculus AB to Gr. 12 students in Warman High School.  (Students are taught their first year University Differential Calculus and in May they challenge a University exam and receive credit for their first University Calculus class.  This credit is recognized internationally and can be used globally at any university that they decide to attend.)

"It was a pleasure to see Mr. Griffith again after so many years.  It was in his classes that he first sparked that interest, and passion that I now have for Math and Physics."

Don's son, Dan, lives in Lethbridge. When he heard this story, he was happy for his Dad and can imagine how much of a boost such a visit would give him.

Our thanks to Don for being passionate about teaching and celebrating the achievements of his students. We are so glad that Angela was able to track down Janice and that Janice and her sister, Edith, joined Angela for a visit with Don.

Few of us get a chance to go back and express appreciation for people who have influenced us or made a positive contribution to our lives nearly 40 years ago.  We are thankful that Janice and Edith had that opportunity when Angela listened, was inspired and took creative action.

  (Edith, Don and Janice)


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