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MONTREAl, April 19, 2002— The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) held its first Parent Volunteer Appreciation Evening on April 18 at St. Pius X High School in Ahuntsic, as a prelude to National Volunteer Week in Canada. Front and center was Gwen Duerden. She has the distinction of being the longest serving volunteer in the system.

Ms. Duerden, in fact, just stopped volunteering following 35 years of service at Parkdale Elementary School in Saint Laurent. She had served as a teacher’s aide, carried out odd jobs to assist the secretaries and organized fundraising tea parties for which she did most of the baking herself. EMSB Chairman Dr. John Simms and Commissioner Athanasios Lambropoulos presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a special gift as the audience of more than 500 people gave her a standing ovation.

"I do not need to be honoured," said Ms. Duerden. "It is the school which did so much for me. It gave me a purpose in life. Why else would I get up early every winter morning for 35 years and brush the snow off my car if I did not have a place to go? I love that school, the staff and the kids so much."

Said Principal Mary Theophilopoulos: "I just love talking to her. She is a walking history of Parkdale School."

Ms. Duerden said that she began volunteering when her three children, now all in their 40’s, attended the school and until recent hip replacement surgery she never felt a need to stop. Ms. Theophilopoulos said that Ms. Duerden worked above and beyond the call of duty, working most days from 8 a .m. to 5 p.m. "She’d even come in during the summer months when staff were on holiday to help prepare files."

The only other person who has volunteered for more than there decades is Penny Fenwick. She has helping out at Willingdon Elementary School in N.D.G. for 32 years. It began when her two children attended classes there. She initially helped out in the library and assisted some children with their reading. However, virtually all of her time has been spent in the area of tutoring. She spends two mornings a week at the school working with students who need help with math, spelling and reading. "I just love it," she says. "When my kids went on to high school, I still had a connection with the school and the teachers so I stayed on. And I have no intention of leaving.!

Last week marked the first time that the EMSB has honoured its volunteers at a reception. More than 500 people, all of who have volunteered for five years or more, were on the invitation list. Time and space did not permit organizers to honour in person the entire group of 1,260 volunteers. However, each of these individuals have been sent special certificates. Events are expected to take place at the school-level during National Volunteer Week.

The emcees were Jonathan Freed and Jamie Orchard, co-anchors of Global TV News. Entertainment was provided by the EMSB Senior Chorale choir, led by Patricia Abbott.

Michael J. Cohen
Communications and Marketing Specialist
English Montreal School Board
Tel: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7243
Fax: (514) 483-7213