There was celebration in the streets of Lunenburg on Sept. 12 when 101-year-old Joy Saunders set out to complete her final 0.8km walk in support of the VON.
At the start, along the route and at the finish line people of all ages cheered and applauded as Saunders was accompanied by her six great-grandchildren as well as other family and community members who walked along to show their support.
“I love walking. I’m not going to stop,” said Saunders at the finish line. “I think I might have to get another dog.”
Lunenburg Mayor Rachel Bailey presented Saunders with a rope necklet with an orange heart and a gold seal as a symbol of the Town of Lunenburg’s highest achievement. “You are the gold standard,” said Mayor Bailey.
“The rope represents Lunenburg. What’s more nautical than rope. It also represents help and helping hands and strength. The spiral shape represents resilience and this year you have shown us that we are resilient and how resilient we can be.”
Saunders began her walks earlier this year after hearing about 99-year-old British war veteran Captain John Moore who had walked 100 laps around his garden to raise money for British charities before his 100th birthday.
“I said to my daughter, I walk all the time. I could do that and I’m older than he is,” said Saunders in an interview. “That’s what instigated it. I have a friend, Nancy Regan. She put it together.”
Saunders’ goal was to walk 102 times in support of the VON before her 102nd birthday on Oct. 31.
Saunders said she has “great admiration” for the VON. “I worked for them for 30 years running a foot clinic here, she said.
Saunders began her walks around the same time as the pandemic hit Nova Scotia. “I started but then had a terrible accident. I fell downstairs and broke both arms. It was six weeks before I could do anything again so I had that hold up. As soon as I was able to walk again, I went right back at it. I did a walk every day and finished a little bit early.”
Saunders said she is amazed at how much her walks have raised, which currently stands at $73,000. “I thought I’d just make a few bucks for them but had no idea… I’m just delighted it was a success. I never thought for a minute it would raise that much.”
The funds raised by Saunders will directly support VON's community programs across Nova Scotia, including meal delivery and transportation services for seniors and persons with disabilities.
“Joy is an inspiration to all of us at VON. She has brought much ‘joy’ to our hearts and we are incredibly grateful to her and to those who have donated in support of her mission,” said Derrick Babin, Senior Manager, Community Support Services, VON Nova Scotia.
Given the times, Saunders said she also wanted to create some positivity. “People are walking more. I think perhaps I gave them a little incentive to get moving,” she said.
“This pandemic is quite amazing. You see people walking and cooking again, doing things they haven’t done. I think the first bad thing I saw was the Great Depression and that was worse than this. There was no money. We still have money now. Money rules the world. It didn’t then. People would do anything for a cup of tea and something to eat. They didn’t ask for money. They asked for food. It was quite a different life. It was very different.”
Born in England, Saunders’ father was in the Army. “We lived all over Canada but never in the Maritimes,” she said. “I just happened to marry one. I’ve been in the Maritimes for 70 years so now I’m a Maritimer. We brought our family up in Cape Breton and then when he died, I moved to Lunenburg. That was 30 years ago.”
At the time of the Great Depression, Saunders lived in Winnipeg. “When we moved to Toronto war came so I joined the Army. I spent four years in the Army. I was overseas. It was interesting. Don’t ask me what I did in the Army because I can’t tell you that,” said Saunders laughing, “but I enjoyed it. In those days you replaced the men so they could fight. The women took over all the jobs they did. Now of course the women are on the front line like the men but no thank you. Not in my day.”
Saunders has eight children, 16 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
When asked what has contributed to her longevity, “Just moving,” said Saunders. “I really think I don’t do anything right. I don’t diet or anything. I eat what I want and I have a drink every night. I behave myself and I walk every day. I’ve always had a dog. I’ve had five golden retrievers. When my dog died, it was pretty awful. I sort of lost my incentive to walk and this gave me another incentive to get going, so it’s all good. I’ve lived a very ordinary life but it was long.”
The VON will be accepting donations in support of Joy’s walk over the next few months. To make a donation to VON in support of Joy, visit von.ca/donate-joy.