Joy Saunders, the Lunenburg centenarian whose fundraising walking regimen contributed nearly $80,000 to Victorian Order of Nurses (VON), received a significant honour bestowed on exceptional Canadian volunteers.
The 102-year-old was presented with the Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers, a decoration from the Governor General's office recognizing her contributions on behalf of the VON, in a private ceremony February 26 outside her home.
Last year, Saunders made good on her commitment to finish 102 walks of 0.8 kilometres in her neighbourhood before her 102nd birthday, all in support of the VON. The first 20-minute jaunt was in May. Walk No. 102 happened in September with some fanfare; her six grandchildren carrying Nova Scotia flags, along with dozens of community supporters, joined her for the trek and celebration at the finish line.
"The whole reason I did everything is for the VON," Saunders started, before cutting off that line of messaging. "No, I wont say that," she told LighthouseNOW via phone. "I'm a volunteer. I was fortunate enough to be in a position to volunteer. I had a big family but I always had time to volunteer to different causes ... somebody had to do it, so I did it."
She plans to continue her daily walks for exercise, although the "paralyzingly cold" temperature the day she spoke to LighthouseNOW prevented an excursion. She considers the medal "a great honour," and she was pleased some members of her family were present. Saunders was also happy the weather cooperated that day as it wasn't snowing or raining.
"She is an extraordinary woman," said Emily Mansour-Hemlow, the VON Nova Scotia's fund development manager, whose expertise is in fundraising. She presented Saunders with the medal. She first met her in April 2020, when the walking fundraiser topic came up and not knowing its future impact.
"She's given of herself her whole adult life to her community," Mansour-Hemlow told LighthouseNOW. "She's someone we should all aspire to be like."
Saunders took a page from another centenarian across the pond with the idea of pounding the pavement daily in her neighbourhood to benefit a worthy cause.
Leading up to his 100th birthday in late April 2020, the late Tom Moore, a Second World War veteran in the U.K., gained notoriety for raising money for hospital charities by walking laps around his garden. He was later awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II after raising millions of dollars.
Saunders chose to follow Moore's lead, deciding to walk to raise money for charity; in this case, it was the VON, a registered charity for which she volunteered for 30 years, and used its services.
With the ongoing challenges surrounding the global pandemic, she felt motivated to "do something." That sentiment accelerated in the wake of the April mass-shooting and arson tragedy in the province when she decided the walk would be in honour VON staffers Kristen Beaton and Heather O'Brien who were killed in the massacre.
The VON, a nationally-recognized non-profit organization, was the easy choice as a recipient of her deed.
Funds raised by Saunders supported VON's community programs, such as meal delivery, transportation programs and other services that aid seniors and persons with disabilities.
The VON honoured Saunders last year with its VON Canada Lady Ishbel Aberdeen Award. The award can go to a volunteer or staff member who has rendered service of great distinction or of singular excellence that impacts all levels of the organization.