Barb Dionne is a longtime Peachlander and president of the local historical society. On Sunday, May 16, her mom, Irma McCall passed away. She was 101 years old – a devoted mom and entrepreneur who lived abroad, once baked beans for Prince Philip, and created and sold a few different businesses. She looked at problems as challenges, because she was a ‘glass is half full’ person. Here’s her story, in Barb’s words:
Irma was born in her Aunt Mary’s house in Munson Alberta on September 23, 1919.
She was the second daughter of Elverton Jay (E.J.) and Matilda Walrod. Her older sister, Mildred was 2 years and 10 months ahead of her.
Raised on the farm near Rumsey, Alberta, Irma was definitely a prairie gal although when Mildred was out helping her Dad with the farm chores and the horses, Irma was happiest inside learning from her resourceful Danish Mother, to cook and bake as well as knitting and crocheting which she did all her life. The family welcomed two more daughters, Phyllis in 1924 and Beulah in 1929.
From a very early age, Irma knew she wanted to be a businesswoman. At about age 7, she quietly decided to herself that as soon as she could, she would go to Calgary and study all the subjects a person would need to enter the world of business. She had as a role model for that pursuit, her Uncle Ross (C.R.) Walrod who was the first International Harvester Dealer in Alberta and she admired him greatly.
Completing her High School Matriculation while living in Rockyford, Alberta prepared Irma for setting out to Calgary when she was 20 and going to Business College to learn typing, Pitman Shorthand and Accounting. She excelled at that and was soon qualified as a teacher and obtained a position with the Calgary Business College.
In 1944 Irma met a dashing RAF pilot, James Tattershaw, and was soon married and on her way to England as a reverse war bride. Irma had never seen an ocean but after a long train ride to New York she boarded a small New Zealand cargo ship called the Rangi Tata and crossed the Atlantic in an Allied Navy convoy.
She soon got work in England and while living in Derby found herself teaching business English at the Rolls Royce factory, which at the time was very busy turning out Merlin Engines to power British fighter planes.
In 1947, Irma and her pilot husband Jim returned to Canada in a converted Lancaster Bomber which was not pressurized. The bombay doors had been welded shut and seats installed to accommodate passengers.
Two daughters, Barbara Gwen in 1949 and Laura Joan in 1952, were born in Calgary and Irma went back to teaching Business skills at the Modern College of Business while Jim continued his aviation career as a flying instructor.
Irma worked as a teacher, executive secretary and office manager and in 1969 established Weddings by Irma, her own weddings planning and catering business which became very successful.
She delighted in telling the story of her trek to the North West Territories in 1970 for the celebration of the NWT’s 100th anniversary. Irma was in charge of catering an event held for the people of the area. The Queen and Prince Philip were the honoured guests and a huge mobile kitchen was set up out on the open prairie. The food included dozens of roasts of elk, deer and bison cooked on open B-B-Q pits and industrial sized pots of baked beans along with traditional foods. Irma recounts Prince Philip stepping with agility over the ropes that surrounded the kitchen area and bending down to smell the huge pot she was stirring. “What do we have here?” the Prince inquired. “Baked beans, Western style sir,” replied Irma.
Having sold the Weddings business in 1973 and along with some partners including her second husband, Abe Shelly, she established Golden Moss Farms in Evansburg, Alberta and went on to success, processing and marketing peat moss. After Abe’s death in 1980, she traveled by herself to the Far East to set up customer relationships in Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
In 1985 Irma sold the peat moss business and moved to Oliver BC to retire, however, always the business- woman, in 1986, she and her daughter Barb Dionne purchased Westside Insurance in Peachland.
In 1988, Irma married Retired Chief Petty Officer Joe McCall. Joe and Irma had been friends when they were kids back on the farm in Alberta. Joe and his brothers would come for Sunday dinner with the Walrods and the families were close. On a road trip to Vancouver Island, Irma and her sister Mildred had renewed acquaintance with Joe.
Joe and Irma traveled many places in Irma’s maroon Mercedes and spent much time visiting old friends in Alberta and the Island where Joe had lived for many years. They spent Novembers in Maui and enjoyed hosting lots of friends and relatives in the Maui Hill time share condo.
After Joe’s passing in 2002, Irma and her younger daughter Laura moved to Peachland to live in Barb’s house up Trepanier.
A cozy little suite was built by contractor friend, Ron Fenton according to Irma and Barb’s specifications and in August 2003, Irma happily moved in with Laura having her room upstairs with Barb.
Barb, Laura and Irma spent many happy years here, took lots of road trips; to Langley each Thanksgiving and Easter, most times with Barb’s sons Dan and Jamie and great grandkids along, to see Irma’s sister Mildred with a stop in Chilliwack to see Phyllis. As well, a trip Vancouver island to visit with sister Beulah and her family, to Alberta for one or two Rumsey reunions, and to the Maui Hill condo.
Irma was very proud of her 5 generations of descendants. She knew her grandkids, great grandkids and great -great grandkids as the individuals they are and was able to spend time with them all. There were many boisterous dinners on Sunday afternoons and at Christmas and Thanksgiving around her big dining room tables in Oliver and then Peachland. At Christmas 2018 with a little help from Barb, she baked 12 loaves of bread. Everybody got a loaf of home-made bread and a sharp, useful bread knife as gifts.
All through her life, Irma was a positive thinker. The glass was always half full and problems were looked at as challenges that always had solutions. If something needed to be accomplished, Irma was the person to do it. In 1993, as the fundraising chair for her church, The Oliver Alliance, Irma led a successful project to pay off the church mortgage. “Debt Free in ‘93” was the motto.
Within any organization she joined, including the Calgary Business and Professional Women’s Club, and the South Okanagan Society for Integrated Community Living, Irma seemed to naturally rise to a position of leadership with her common sense and logical approach as well as a knack for encouraging people to find consensus. She fulfilled her roles with energy and good humour.
In 2018, when Irma’s younger daughter Laura, who was a person with Down Syndrome, passed away, she and Barb were sad but because of the faith they share, knew that they would all be together again someday.
That faith now comes to the fore with Irma’s death. Barb is the only member of her immediate family left but she takes much comfort in the families of her own boys and their kids, Irma’s sisters, all the cousins and their kids and grandkids as well.
Irma was predeceased by husbands Jim Tattershaw, Abe Shelly and Joe McCall, her sisters Phyllis and Mildred, and her beloved daughter Laura.
Surviving are her sister Beulah, daughter Barb Dionne, Barb’s boys Dan Dionne (Kathie), their son Jake, Jamie Dionne (Hui), Jamie’s kids Riely & Capri (Franklyn), as well as Carlie & Jayden and their mom Lorna, Riely’s daughter Serenity, Capri and Frankie’s kids Noah, Wyatt and Vayda Nebot.
The family, especially Barb, would like to acknowledge the Interior Health Home Care workers that helped keep Irma in her own little cozy suite for many years. There were many caregivers over the years and each and every one was appreciated and loved for their excellence in carrying out their duties. They came every day to provide support to Irma with humour and gentleness which demonstrated that the job of care giving is a calling which attracts those with special qualities and an amazing amount of heart.
Irma’s last days were spent at Lakeview Lodge in West Kelowna and she was lovingly cared for by the wonderful staff of LPNs and Care Aides who made her happy and comfortable in her light, airy room.
Although Barb missed having Irma with her, she realized that her care had become more complex than it was possible for her to provide at home.
Barb’s last conversation with Irma included lots of “I love you’s” and their signature goodbye: See you later alligator…. after ‘while crocodile.