For nearly 30 years, anyone coming into the Stettler Town and Country Museum would be cheerfully greeted by Wilda Gibbon and her miniature dachshund Coco, who would help draw back the curtain of time on the Stettler area’s history and people.
Now, the counter seems empty and that curtain a little heavier since Wilda’s passing on May 14.
“Wilda was a natural teacher,” Karen Wahlund, manager of the museum, said. “The museum wouldn’t be what it is today without her. She had her hand in everything.”
The flag at the museum has flown at half-mast since Wilda’s passing on May 14, and will continue to do so until the funeral on June 1.
“We’re hoping later this summer to do something (besides the flag) to honour her,” Wahlund said. “We have many ideas.”
Born Wilda Vesta Schreiber on Aug. 18, 1925 to William and Vesta Schreiber, Wilda grew up on the family farm located where the Church of Latter Day Saints is now located. She went on to study to become a teacher in Edmonton before eventually returning to spend some of her 36 years of teaching in schools in Nevis and Erskine.
In the closing days of the Second World War, on Sept. 15, 1944, Wilda Schreiber married RCAF airman Earl Gibbon. The two had three children, twin sons Bill and Bob and daughter Brenda. Wilda is survived by many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as her sister Jean Brown and many nieces and nephews.
The two purchased a farm south of Nevis, which they sold in the ’70s. After the sale of the farm, they moved into Stettler.
The Gibbons, both Wilda and Earl, began volunteering with the museum in the early 1980s, and when Earl passed away in 2005, Wilda increased the time she spent at the museum exponentially, according to Wahlund.
“She was here seven days a week, six hours a day,” Wahlund said. “This was her second home. She just wanted everyone to know about our history.”
It was Wilda, who involved Wahlund at the museum in the first place. Wahlund and her husband were in the process of selling their rental business in Stettler and Wilda approached her and convinced her to donate some volunteer time to the museum.
“And the rest just fell into place,” Wahlund said.
Over the years 30 years Wilda was involved in the museum, partly as volunteer, and partly as volunteer curator, how the museum was organized changed, Wahlund said.
“To my understanding, artifacts were just lined up, with no rhyme or reason, when Wilda started here,” Wahlund said, admitting that this was before she herself started at the museum.
“Wilda arranged them into ‘rooms’ and ‘scenes,’ creating displays and exhibits,” Wahlund noted. “She made it homier, more warm and welcoming.”
Wilda’s long memory played a part in how these exhibits were arranged, and the inclusion of mannequins at the museum was her doing.
“She remembered the lady who would stand behind the counter at the Nevis Post Office,” Wahlund explained. “In the Nevis building, she set up a mannequin behind the counter so it would be just like how she remembered that lady standing there. It was just those small little touches of hers that made it a bit more inviting.”
Wilda’s dedication to the museum, and passing on the community’s history to its next generations, did not go unnoticed. The Stettler Retired Teacher Association is presenting its volunteering awards on June 2, and Wilda will receive one of the two posthumously.
“Wilda was just a natural choice,” Neil Pinder, vice-president of the association, said. “She put in staggering hours, and she took so much pride in it. She wanted everyone to know her heritage.”
According to Pinder, the award process was begun even before Wilda’s health began to decline.
“I wish she was here to receive the award,” he said.
Wilda’s health began to decline early in the year, with the 89-year-old history buff experiencing pain in her abdomen. She was then hospitalized with pneumonia.
“We knew as early as February that she wasn’t as well as she normally was,” Wahlund said. “We knew her time at the museum was winding down, but we never expected this. Just poof. Gone.”
The loss of Wilda’s vast knowledge is painful, but isn’t comparable to the loss of a dear friend.
“Since my parents are both deceased, she filled that role of mother for me,” Wahlund said, her voice becoming emotional. “I think most of our summer students would say she was like a grandmother. She was very caring, very loving.”
Wilda always had time to help people learn something new or to pass on the many skills, tips and tricks she had learned in her lifetime.
Coco, Wilda’s aged Dachshund, passed away just days before Wilda died, while she was in the hospital. Wilda passed away at the Stettler Hospital, surrounded by her children and grandchildren.
Her funeral will be held June 1 at 3 p.m. at the Stettler United Church. Wilda’s family asks that donations made in Wilda’s memory go to the Stettler Town and Country Museum.