Jasper Treasures: Lynda Betkowski

·7 min read

Her matter-of-fact, kind manner has been Lynda Betkowski’s trademark throughout her life, including a long career in nursing and travelling.

Betkowski was born in Mimico, Ont. on Dec. 3, 1937 to Marion and William Ruse. Her sister Patricia was born April 24, 1940. The Ruse family lived in nearby Port Credit until Betkowski finished Grade 4.

Betkowski’s dad worked for Bell Telephone and that meant the Ruses moved around a lot. Betkowski finished elementary school in London. Later on, in high school in Belle River, Ont., the student population was around 200, half Francophone and half Anglophone.

For three summers before graduating, Betkowski said, “I worked in the summertime at the Grace Salvation Army Hospital in Windsor in the kitchen, washing dishes.”

In those days, Betkowski said the main career choices were being a secretary, a nurse or a teacher.

“I didn’t figure myself to be a secretary or a teacher.”

One day when she was busy scrubbing pots and pans, the director of nursing called Betkowski into her office. It had nothing to do with dishes, she discovered.

“She encouraged me to go into nursing and advised a degree would be required in that field in the future,” Betkowski said.

That visit was impactful enough to spur Betkowski to start studies in nursing at the University of Toronto that fall of 1956, the year she graduated from high school.

She said the education routine has changed considerably since then.

“In those days we didn’t go home for the summer,” Betkowski said.

“We got assigned to various hospitals in the area to gain experience. We went to Toronto General Hospital for medical surgical experience. I remember vividly the long ward on College Street. We also went to Mount Sinai for obstetrics and the Hamilton Sanatorium for tuberculosis. It was the last place Inuit people came down to from the north to be treated for tuberculosis. That was in 1958.”

Armed with loads of knowledge, Betkowski graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing in 1960.

After four years of hard work, it was time to relax, take it easy for a bit. Actually it wasn’t.

“You didn’t do that then,” Betkowski said. “I worked for two years for the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) in the East York office in Toronto. I was (doing) home visiting.”

Betkowski had been sent there to gain experience during her last year of university for the summer time.

While conducting home visits, Betkowski said, “We had to do insulin injections, bed baths. We boiled the syringes and needles for those injections, in people’s homes.”

In 1961, Betkowski married Ronald Steers, who was in Toronto training to be an Anglican minister. After three years, he was assigned to work at the Edmonton Cathedral to complete a curacy.

“While we were in Edmonton I worked with the VON again - they were needing people too,” Betkowski said.

“Edmonton was very different then. I didn’t know it was a place I wanted to stay, but we both knew another location would be coming.”

Steers was ordained an Anglican minister in May 1965.

It was around that time that an Anglican minister was needed in Jasper and off to the mountain town they went. Their son Roger was born in 1966. Betkowski stayed at home to raise Roger until 1972. By then, she and Ronald were divorced.

By that time too, Betkowski’s nursing registration had expired.

“So I had to take one of these refresher courses at Grant MacEwan Community College (GMCC) to register again,” she said.

“It was a month-long course, in the winter of 1972, through the Alberta Registered Nurses Association.”

That allowed Betkowski to work in the nursing field again and in the summer of 1973, she continued the career she started years before, at the Seton General Hospital. But it wasn’t a joy-filled restart.

“That experience was terrible because so much had transpired in medicine all those years,” Betkowski said. “There was a lot to learn. The course at GMCC wasn’t really a help.”

Fortunately, help came in the form of two co-workers who became Betkowski’s mentors: Edith Gourley, a registered nurse, and Marg Sand, a licenced practical nurse.

“The first year I worked nights with them,” Betkowski recalled, “because you can learn more at night.”

In May 1974, the new hospital was opened and Betkowski was blessed with two more mentors there: Sheila Vuksanovich and Donna Lane, both registered nurses.

“Eventually, I found the place where I was the happiest was in the operating room,” she said. “Whenever there was surgery going on, it was a combination of Sheila, Donna or I helping. We took turns being on call at night.”

Betkowski noted that schedule changed when obstetrics went to Hinton and surgery went elsewhere toward the end of the ‘80s.

Her new husband, Dr. George Betkowski, who she married in 1986, retired in the mid-‘80s. She and George lived on a ranch in Dunster, B.C.

“So I worked a little in Jasper and a little in McBride, B.C.,” she said. “And we spent winters in Puerto Vallarta from the end of November to the end of February.”

Betkowski returned to Jasper after she and George were divorced in 1989.

“There were always job openings here,” she said. “I didn’t work full time. I was doing anything that was required. In a small hospital, you have to do everything.”

Betkowski said there was a long term care wing in the hospital all through the ‘90s.

“The lodge didn’t exist then. I asked to work nights. I preferred nights.”

During the 12-hour shifts, Betkowski said, “I was mostly doing outpatients and emergency. If there wasn’t anything happening in that area, you helped on the ward.”

After a long career in nursing, Betkowski retired on Jan. 4, 2001.

“As I went out the front door of the hospital, computers were coming in the back door,” she joked. “I was afraid of them. It was something new.”

But the industrious lady kept the door open.

“That summer, Dr. Jill Konkin was influential in the clinic then, and I said to her, ‘If you need help in the summertime when the tourists are here, I wouldn’t mind doing whatever you need doing.’ So that summer I did relief work for the person who was the nurse in the clinic. I learned from her what the nurse’s responsibility was at the clinic.”

When that nurse finished working there, Betkowski had to decide if she wanted the position herself or to stay as a relief worker.

“I decided to take the full time position as a nurse in the clinic and worked there for 13 years,” she said. “I loved it.”

Computers obviously became an integral part of running the clinic.

Betkowski said she was blessed again with wonderful co-workers, especially Katie Poirier, and even though she hadn’t taken a computer course, she learned valuable skills from Poirier and the rest of her co-workers.

With the decades she had worked, Betkowski “knew people second generation, even going on third generation. I’m known by ‘Lynda B.’ because it’s easier to say.”

“It was amazing how one door closes and another one opens - all through my life,” Betkowski said.

“I never looked for work. Everything seemed to fall in my lap as I went along. That I’m particularly grateful for, including the need to know how to work with computers, to the point where I can do stuff at home now.”

Betkowski retired from the clinic in September 2014.

“The main reason was my health,” she said. “I have mobility issues. I use a walker and a cane.”

Betkowski said she’s known for travelling.

“From 1975 onward, I travelled every time I got a chance, first with my mother, who was a good judge of places to go,” she said.

“I’ve been to Russia seven times. I went around the world three times on ships, usually with tour groups.”

Betkowski likes the clean air and the scenery in the area and the small-town atmosphere.

“And it’s the community feeling you have in a small town,” she said.

“It’s nice to be able to go out for a walk along the street, meet people, talk to people. I continue to travel, even with a cane and a walker, but Jasper is home.”

Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh