(1933 – 2023)
It is with profound sadness that we, the family of Helen Mary Wasylenki (nee Runnalls), announce the passing of our adored wife and mother on April 14, 2023, at the age of 90 years and one day. She leaves behind her husband of nearly 66 years, Raymond Wasylenki, and her daughters Mary Ann Diosi (Charles, deceased) of Sudbury and Kathryn Peet (Lennard) of Oro-Medonte Township.
Helen was predeceased by her parents, Cecil and Mary Runnalls. She is lovingly remembered by her younger brothers Oliver Runnalls (Barbara) of Barrie Island and Bill Runnalls (Olga, deceased) of Narol, MB, as well as by her husband’s siblings: Eugene Wasylenki (Barbara), Orysia Weedmark (Howard; Bob Chalmers, both deceased) and Stanley Wasylenki (Sandra, deceased); she is predeceased by her brother-in-law Morris Wasylenki (Pat, deceased). Helen will be dearly missed by her nieces and nephews in Canada and the US and by many cousins within her extended family.
A Haweater, Helen was born on the family farm on Barrie Island (Manitoulin Island) on April 13, 1933. She loved horses, especially her own work horse, Jess, with whom she would ride one-and-a-quarter miles to school and back every day. Through the guidance of her mother and her natural inclination of spending time outdoors (as well as through being a bit of a tomboy), Helen developed a lifelong interest in and appreciation for birds, plants and wildflowers.
In her late teens, Helen decided her ambition of being a horse trainer wasn’t a very practical career choice, so she pursued the teaching profession and attended North Bay Normal School in 1952/53. She loved teaching in the primary grades, and her musical abilities and kind and gentle nature were well suited to connecting with the younger students. In fact, her normal school yearbook stated the following about her: “Little children will be her support, In a kindergarten she will hold her fort”. Her entire teaching career was spent in the public school system in Sudbury, where she taught Kindergarten primarily at Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth, Wahnapitae, and C.R. Judd public schools.
Helen met Ray, a fellow teacher, through mutual friends and they married in 1957. When their daughters were toddlers, Ray and Helen built their camp on Lake Kagawong on Manitoulin Island. The family often sang songs in harmony while driving the two hours back and forth to camp, and the girls and Helen picked wild strawberries and raspberries, played games and read stacks of books all summer long. It seemed Helen knew where every bird’s nest, jack-in-the-pulpit and wild raspberry bush was located for miles around. Both parents inspired in their children a lifelong love of the outdoors through ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, hiking and camping. Helen considered it a disadvantage for a person to be afraid of spiders, snakes, worms, and other species generally considered by many to be “yucky” and ensured her girls were comfortable coexisting with these aspects of nature.
Helen had many varied interests, most of which reflected her quiet and graceful nature: reading novels, studying history and geography, growing houseplants, birdwatching, working on jigsaw puzzles, completing the daily crossword and sudoku puzzles, curling, playing bridge and Scrabble, travelling, walking, watching Jeopardy, camping and gardening. She definitely was not a woman who was even remotely interested in make-up, shopping or fashion!
Of all her many interests, Helen’s greatest passion and joy was music, particularly playing the piano. She possessed perfect pitch (an out-of-tune note would make her visibly cringe) and could both sight-read music and play by ear. When her daughters were young, Helen was a rather cool mom because she could play the themes from Batman, Hawaii-Five-0 and The Partridge Family after hearing them on TV just once! Although naturally quiet and introverted, Helen loved nothing more than to entertain a crowd from behind the keyboard; she often played piano for friends and family at parties while singing in harmony with Ray, who accompanied her on his guitar or mandolin. She also sang in choirs in Sudbury and at their beloved winter residence at Sweetwater Golf and Tennis Club in Central Florida. Later in life, while living at Southwind Retirement Residence in Sudbury, Helen adored playing the baby grand for the fellow residents on Friday afternoons a couple of times per month. Helen had many wonderful friendships at Southwind and thoroughly enjoyed living there.
People were always drawn to Helen's kind nature, positive outlook on life and sense of humour. She will be missed by everyone who knew her.
The family would like to express its gratitude to the kind and caring staff at Southwind, and to Drs. Bansal and De Blacam. We would especially like to thank everyone on 7 North at Health Sciences North for their compassionate and exceptional care of Helen in the final days of her life.
At Helen’s request, there will be no funeral service or visitation. A private gathering to remember Helen will be held with family and friends at a later date. Should you wish to honour Helen’s memory through a charitable donation, please consider the Kidney Foundation of Canada (www.kidney.ca), The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association Sudbury Chapter (https://www.chhasudbury.com/donations/) or Health Sciences North Foundation (https://hsnfoundation.com/).