An 85-year-old in Calgary's Bridgeland neighbourhood became a minor celebrity amid the COVID-19 pandemic this spring for the simple way she supports her community — waving from a street corner, blowing kisses and greeting everyone who passes by.
Helen Jusic now has a stack of fan mail in her garage from as far away as Brazil, and on Sunday, the local community also gave back.
The ward's city councillor worked with local businesses to organize a party and a local design firm surprised her with a new recliner to rest her feet after hours on the street corner. A couple dozen neighbours cheered hard and Jusic looked overwhelmed.
"Wow, wow. I don't think that I deserve that," she said, sitting on the new chair in her driveway in central Calgary. "This is for me? Wow. Thank you. I'm lost for words."
After the ceremony, Jusic explained how this all came to be.
"It was kind of a strange thing," she told CBC Calgary. "Before the virus came, I was very busy. I was volunteering a lot … here in a nursing home (and with children with disabilities).
"But when the virus came, they don't need volunteers anymore. I live by myself. I was in the house and I was like a bird in a cage. I lost contact with people and I become depressed and had really bad anxiety.
"So what I'm gonna do? That's not me just doing picture puzzles or something like that. I needed something. I said, dear Lord, please help me. Lord, help me find something to do."
It was a dark time. But one day, she was doing for a walk and saw a bus coming. On an impulse, she raised her arm and waved. The bus driver smiled and waved back.
Then she waved to the next driver, and then to a truck.
"I said, there is something I can do. There is something. That's how I started."
She moved to the nearby four-way stop and is now out nearly every day, even on days when she needs her walker.
"I'm just greeting, just saying hello and have a good day or God's blessings," she said.
"I don't have any more depression and no anxiety," she said. "I cry with the goodness of a hug that I touch so many people in a such a small way, you know, just to say hello…. Hello, good-looking. Something small becomes so big."
Jusic's story spread across the world in April and May, first on local news and then through social media. Her brother in Austria called after catching a story about her on the news there.
It's been heartwarming for neighbours, too, said Matt Mister, who lives just down the street from Jusic.
"If your windows down, she says: 'I'm sending you love; I love you. You're beautiful.'"
"The first time that I saw her, it got me really in the heart, you know?" added his partner, Alli Marshall.
"She was taking this time, with her life's energy, to share a lot of love with the neighborhood during a time when we all need some hope. I think she's just an amazing person."