The people who know Susan Pretula best filled row upon row in the Stoney Creek Legion as the long-time HWDSB volunteer joined a select group of just 14 recipients of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Long-time HWDSB volunteer Susan Pretula (front row, with medal) is surrounded by friends, family and supporters at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal presentation.
Some were family, like her daughter Nicole, 23, always proud to have her mom around while growing up at Viscount Montgomery. Others were friends, fellow dedicated parents who met Pretula at Home and School or Parent Involvement Committee meetings. Everyone knew her as a dedicated, modest and giving volunteer who is focused on students.
Quick to deflect attention, Pretula remembers the day she got the letter from MPP Paul Miller (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) confirming her as an award winner. She nearly tossed the envelope out without opening it. Then she called Miller’s office to see if they’d made a mistake. She told Nicole not to tell anyone about it, or post it on Facebook.
Well, now the word certainly is out.
With notable recipients from a diverse cross-section of the community, Pretula received one of only 14 Jubilee medals that will ever go to a Hamiltonian. They will not be giving out again. “Anyone who knows Susan can attest that she is the living definition of ‘community engagement,” Miller said in his introduction as Pretula joined him on stage.
The commemorative medals mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizebeth II’s accession to the throne. To celebrate the milestone, outstanding Canadians of all ages and walks of life are being honoured for their contributions to their fellow citizens, their community and their country.
For Pretula, it began decades ago at Viscount Montgomery even before her children went to school. On maternity leave, she dropped in to learn more about the school her son would attend. She began volunteering in the school library, and never looked back.
“We were using the Dewey Decimal System, that’s how long ago it was,” Pretula laughs. “In my early years as a volunteer, I always dreamed of a time where parents could have many different vehicles to come together in a meaningful way.”
Fast-forward and now Pretula’s known for helping organize top-rate parent conferences, for asking challenging but important questions, for mentoring parents with young children just starting their experiences at HWDSB. She stuck with it long after her own kids graduated, she says, because she’s still passionate about the work; she wants to “see the continuation of the all of the parent engagement work we have been doing.”
On that note, she says parents should be proud of HWDSB.
“We should be very proud at HWDSB, as our PIC is highly respected throughout the province and is used as an example for others to emulate, under the incredible direction of Superintendent Sharon Stephanian,” Pretula said.
As the event unfolded, Pretula found herself amazed at the company she was in. Other recipients included tireless environmental advocate Don McLean, Battlefield House curator Susan Ramsay, Winona Peach Festival president Linda Shuker, National Gallery artist Josh Tiessen, taxi drivers’ safety campaigner Zahid Butt, Stoney Creek’s longest-serving councillor, John Copland, among others.
“There are many of us who aspire to be like her,” said Sandra Binns, herself a long-time member of Home and School and PIC, who has been president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Council of Home and Schools. “Susan has so many qualities we admire: she is warm, she is welcoming to all people, we can always count on her and she helps everyone improve.”
At the awards ceremony, Stephanian said that Pretula is “one of those volunteers you can always count on in any situation. She gives 150 per cent to everything that she does, she is always positive, she has a great way with people, and she always puts others ahead of herself.”
Pretula remembers touching moments during her time as a volunteer. She remembers a student she was paired with for remedial reading help, who would tell her every day that he hated her. He couldn’t read. A tear forms as Pretula recalls that same boy returning years late as a co-op student. The boy thanked her for always believing in him.
That, she says, made it all worthwhile.
“Getting an award for something that has been a pure joy to me is like winning the lottery. I have honestly received much more than I have ever given,” she said.
“I am a true believer that it's imperative that each one of us – in whatever capacity we can – recognizes that a small investment in a child now will reap great rewards in their future.”
And yes – after calling the MPP Paul Miller’s office in disbelief – Pretula did learn that the letter had arrived in exactly the right hands.
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