Karen Lynch was just eight years old when she “repurposed” some money she had taken from a UNICEF donation box. When her parents found out what she had done, they determined the consequence to her actions would be to volunteer at a local charity. Her parents arranged for her to volunteer at GEF’s Meadowlark Lodge and play the piano for the residents. It is still unknown today if the real punishment was for Karen or the residents. This was the first time Karen was introduced to GEF Seniors Housing, and she has kept that memory with her ever since. Many years later Karen is still a part of the GEF Family. She has been a member of our Board of Directors since 2014 and the Board Chair since 2017.
Karen is a respected civic leader, with over 40 years of diverse experience. Her reputation for making things happen and getting things done is well known in Edmonton. Karen’s passion is creating and nurturing networks of people involved in building community leadership, which makes her a perfect fit for GEF. She has served on the boards of the Edmonton Public Library, Volunteer Canada and Alberta Ballet, and as the elected President of the Alberta Library Trustees Association. Her extensive experience in politics and her wealth of knowledge has proven to be an asset to our organization.
Being a Board Chair is no easy feat and chairing meetings is the least of what she does. “An important aspect of being the Chair is creating and shaping the agenda and conversations for meetings [to ensure the organization is always following the right path and the] board members can speak up and bring the value to the table to be able to shape what GEF does.”
“Part of my job is to help recruit new board members along with the rest of the Board. We look at our matrix to see who is retiring or leaving and then we try to encourage people to approach the City or approach us, to see if they would be suitable for the Board and if they have talents or knowledge they can share and contribute.”
When reflecting back on the past five years, Karen doesn’t think the organization or the Board has changed very much. “This is an exceptionally well led organization. What I think has changed, is the environment around us. We’ve had two complete changes in the government, both federally and provincially. We’ve had many new council members, so in that respect, the connections with the external community has changed. I think that we are starting to do a better job of reaching out to other community partners we may not have known about in the past.”
Karen has been a dynamic leader and visionary for the Board of Directors of GEF Seniors Housing. She has a vision for where we need to be as an organization and the talents and passion to help us strategically get there. Her desire throughout her time on our board has been to make GEF the best organization it can be and she will not stop driving the enhancements until we get there!
When Marlene started working for GEF Seniors Housing at Kiwanis Place, the starting wage was $3.50 an hour. That was on November 1, 1977. Over 40 years later, Marlene still worked at Kiwanis Place and was an integral part of the team there.
Marlene was a soft spoken woman and everyone she encountered felt special when they were with her. She was private, yet bold in her ideas about how to improve life for both residents and staff at GEF. She was persistent in her pursuit of getting the black and white dress code changed and realized her desire when GEF adopted a coloured clothing dress code in February 2017. Finally she could dress daily in her favourite colour of pink and flowered clothing, bringing warmth and a family atmosphere to Kiwanis.
Marlene is known for her appreciation of the food GEF provided to staff during staff recognition events. Coworkers would tease Marlene as she enjoyed her second and third trip through the buffet line. On other days, Marlene always ate healthy and moderately to ensure she kept herself well and fit to complete the work that was so important to her.
Marlene was an avid shopper who regularly spent her free time checking for bargains focusing on anything pink and shoes, lots of shoes! “At Kiwanis, we were always anxious to see her new outfits after her annual bus trip to New York to visit family” said Peggy Caine, Manager at Kiwanis Place. Being the woman that she was, she always wore dresses or skirts to work and also had her hair pulled back neatly; no matter how many times her coworkers begged her to let her hair hang loose.
Marlene was born in Trinidad and moved to Montreal when she was a young adult. She and another long term GEF coworker then moved to Edmonton. She eventually was able to sponsor both her mom and sister, Mary, to come to Canada.
In 2010, Marlene was diagnosed with cancer. Despite the diagnosis, Marlene fought a great battle. Even through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Marlene missed very little work. She knew the importance of her work and wanted to be there for her coworkers and the seniors GEF serves. It was only when she had to be in the hospital that Marlene would miss work and it was unwillingly. No matter how much coaxing from her co-workers, Marlene would not hear of retirement. She enjoyed her duties, the residents and her coworkers too much to not keep working. When one thinks of a dream employee, Marlene fits the bill in terms of reliability and dependability.
On June 12th, 2018 Marlene lost her battle with cancer but it was a battle well fought. She will be remembered for her courage, perseverance and mostly for her quiet strength. Marlene was an inspiration.
For those of us at GEF that were touched by Marlene’s presence, we will miss her greatly. To her family, please know what a difference your mom, sister, grandmother, aunt and friend made to our lives. With heart felt gratitude, we offer this tribute to Marlene for having had the pleasure of knowing and working with her.