By MICKI FINDLAY
These days, when so many of us feel disconnected and lonely, belonging to an active, vibrant community is invaluable. And, more often than not, it is a handful of volunteers that make it all possible – not for the recognition or praise, but because they understand the importance of community.
Susanne Pursley Vigneault, of Errington, B.C., is one of those volunteers. The wealth of ways she contributes is extraordinary. As board member and acting president of Errington Memorial Hall, she helps organize numerous concerts, dances, shows, craft fairs, coffee houses, and musical acts for the local farmer’s market.
Vigneault wears many hats, but one she is especially proud of is yellow, and given to recruits who pass all the necessary requirements to become full-fledged firefighters. Captain George Klemm of the Errington Fire Department has this to say, “Susanne has been a dedicated member with us for several years. She’s a hard worker, good at organizing, and committed to helping people. She takes part in the debriefing process when we’re called out on traumatic incidents, and she is someone people can talk to when they have PTSD.”
Vigneault loves visiting the schools and having preschoolers come to the fire station to see what they do. “When a little girl realizes that she could become a firefighter, or anything she wants, I’m happy,” she says. “The boys notice it, too, and the world becomes a better place in the future.”
Raised by a transient, single dad, and burdened with adult responsibilities at a young age, she was unable to graduate from high school. She is primarily self-taught and, through various training opportunities offered at the firehouse, she discovered she was mechanically inclined. Her dad had taught her brothers how to fix cars, but not her. At the time, it wasn’t considered essential for a girl to learn mechanics.
A self-professed “music nerd,” Vigneault also performs at Errington Hall, and has passed her skills on to the next generation through the Youth Engagement Project (YEP). She is also an integral part of the BC Folk Song Project – a collaborative songwriting adventure created by and for West Coast women. If all that isn’t enough to make your head whirl, she also runs her own garden and fibre art/tie-dyeing businesses.
Denise Schmidt, another active and valued ‘Erringtonite’, says, “Susanne is very committed to everything she does. She has raised four delightful children who follow her model of volunteerism and community-mindedness. She is a genuine person – kind, helpful, talented and capable. I feel honoured to be her friend.”
When asked what International Women’s Day means to her, Vigneault replied, “I have taught my children about how important women’s rights are and how far women have come in the past 100 years.
But, as much as there have been many advances for women, all minorities and age groups, there is clearly still work to be done. I try to be a good example of being a woman while trying not to fit myself into any role or box, just because it is expected.”
Vigneault has sage advice for young women in today’s world: “Assume there are no barriers until you find one. Then, do everything you can to break it open for everyone behind you, coming up.”