The way Wendy Richardson describes it, her journey to being elected the Wellesley District Board of Trade’s Wellesley Citizen of the Year was marked by a series of happy accidents and good collaborators.
“I think there’s probably people who volunteer more than I do, it’s just my name has been out in the news more lately,” said Richardson. “There are so many people that deserve it – they’ll never get through it all. I nominated somebody else.
“I don’t do anything alone,” she added. “I have a lot of people supporting me and helping me, right beside me. That’s what’s most important to me.”
One of the people she worked with – Township of Wellesley director of finance and administration Diane Lorbetski – is a little more forthcoming.
“Wendy is caring, compassionate and always puts others ahead of herself,” said Lorbetski. “When Wendy saw that something had to be done, she didn’t need to be told, she would go right ahead and do it, or she would collect up the people required and get the job done.”
Lorbetski, who collaborated on one of Richardson’s fundraisers for the Wellesley-North Easthope Agricultural Society’s Fall Fair fundraiser, has only fond memories of their work together. “She was always in an upbeat mood, despite difficult working conditions at times.”
Richardson was born in Baden, but moved to New Hamburg in 1972 after marrying her husband, Bruce Richardson, a farmer.
“I worked at the University of Waterloo, but I still came home and did some chores. But it was after we had babies and stayed home that I really got used to work on the farm.”
Richardson began volunteering slowly. “It was taking me a long time to have children, so I got into Cubs. I was a Cub leader for two or three years in New Hamburg. And then I had children of my own, and from there I kind of progressed with their age.” When her children were young, she worked as a secretary for Wellesley Preschool, then volunteered with the Wilmot Wellesley Dairy 4-H Club as a leader.
But it’s her 20 years with annual fall fair that have earned Richardson considerable kudos from fellow community members. Each year, she organizes the competition for the fair’s ambassador, in which young contestants from around the township compete to be the face of that year’s celebration.
In addition, she is known for her creative fair fundraisers. In 2010, Richardson and Wellesley resident Pat Snyder organized Wedding Dresses Thru the Decades, which showcased 51 dresses from around the community, dating from 1845 to the current millennium.
“We had models from the township, ranging from grade seven all the way up to adults,” said Richardson. “Somebody said it was really fun as a whole intergenerational thing, because there could be teenagers, grandmothers, mothers and every generation possible. I think every generation went out of there with a positive point of view.”
Not to say the event didn’t pose certain challenges. “If you got down to the 1960s, nobody fit in those dresses because the ribcages have expanded,” Richardson remembered. “That’s where we got into the Grade 7s and 8s.
“I’m not a competitive person, so these competitive contests are … fun for me, but contrary to my nature,” Richardson laughed. “And fashion is, too – I’m not fashionable, I’m an old farm wife! But I love seeing people’s wedding dresses.”
The next year, Richardson helped organize another fashion-centric fundraiser, Hats and High Tea, at which chapeau-clad Wellesley residents were served tea and biscuits by local firemen.
“We decided to ask dignitaries if they would send a hat that their wives wore when they met the Queen,” remembered Richardson. “We were touched when (Kitchener-Conestoga MP) Harold Albrecht sent the hat that his wife Betty had worn when they met the Queen. We had requested her hat just prior to her untimely death and did not want to approach Harold again in this regard. However, they remembered our request and sent the hat.”
This year, Richardson has solicited 297 recipes from around Wellesley for “Flavours of the Townships” in honour of the agricultural society’s 160th anniversary. “We’ve got a lot of apple recipes – because it’s a real apple area – and we’ve got some maple syrup recipes, because it’s also a maple syrup area,” she said. Expect to see the book for sale in March.
After so many years of volunteering, does Richardson plan to lighten her load?
“I did have that planned, yes,” said Richardson. “In fact, I told the fair board two years ago that I was going to retire after the 160th, but I think the fair board has been built up so much more since two years ago – it’s getting stronger and stronger, and we’re getting a few more volunteers.” She laughed: “So I resigned my resignation!”
She paused, and added, “I was thinking of slowing down, but then you get nominated as Citizen of the Year and it’s like, Oh my gosh, I have to keep going now!”
Richardson will receive her Wellesley Citizen of the Year award at the Wellesley and District Board of Trade’s annual Valentine’s Ball on February 8.