Renowned Swan Hills artist Gerry Kruse was born Geraldine Bernice Horricks on July 14, 1922, on a small farm near Forestburg, AB, southeast of Edmonton. Gerry had a large family; she was the youngest of 10 children.
Upon graduating from high school, Gerry continued on to complete a one-year post-secondary program at Normal School (an educational institution created to train primary and secondary school teachers) to become a teacher. She began her teaching career in a small wood-heated country school by Daysland, AB. From there, Gerry went on to teach at Willow Park School.
After World War II, Gerry met Otto Kruse, and they were soon married. Otto had served with the Canadian Scottish Regiment during WW II, including the D-Day invasion on Juno Beach, and was wounded in October 1944 at the Leopold Canal battle. When he and Gerry met, he worked in oil and gas for Home Oil. Gerry and Otto had four children, Heather, Richard, Michael, and Kelly. The Kruse family moved to Swan Hills in 1963, when Kelly was four years old. Gerry had decided not to go back to teaching, but after receiving a call from the school in Swan Hills asking if she could teach the grade two class, Gerry agreed and continued to teach the second grade until she retired in the 1980s.
Gerry started on her career path as an artist during her years in Swan Hills when she took painting lessons in her free time from Mrs. Nadeau, who would drive up from Barrhead to teach art classes.
Gerry and Otto retired in 1986, buying a house in Barrhead and moving to that community. Gerry had determined that she would get involved in volunteer work in her retirement, and she became active in the Barrhead community, volunteering in hospitals, with the church, and visiting nursing homes. She was honoured for her volunteerism multiple times. Gerry started an art class at a senior’s lodge with June Woods during this time, continuing to teach art to the lodge’s residents for 20 years.
Gerry has continued to paint through the years, even up through to the present time. Gerry says that she mainly paints wilderness scenes of Swan Hills “Because that’s what I loved painting.” She especially loves to paint the trees in the Swan Hills landscapes “Because the trees are very different there.”
Gerry has painted on numerous surfaces over the years, including canvas, handsaw blades, and wooden rounds. She has given many of her completed works as gifts over the years and has taken paid commissions. Most of her works were given to friends, especially friends from Swan Hills. Her paintings are displayed in homes and private collections throughout Canada and the US, and she has had two series of limited edition prints of her work produced to date.
Gerry’s family threw a 100th birthday celebration for her in July, and she reports that “I enjoyed it thoroughly. They made it so that I was sitting in a certain place, and people could come and talk if they wanted.” She fondly recalled her 4-year-old great-grandson coming up to help her blow out the 100 candles on her birthday cake, “He kept blowing until he finally got them all out. But then he made the announcement to the people, ‘I’ve waited for this for a hundred years!’”
When asked what have been some of the most striking changes she has witnessed during her long life, Gerry recalls the war years of World War II as being the most impactful. She also mentions being a grandmother; Gerry now has numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
After reflecting on reaching her 100th birthday, Gerry said, “I can hardly believe that I’ve done all those things.” She continued on to say, “I’ve had a good life and feel that I’m very lucky to have the health I have at my age. Of course, I don’t know how long that’s going to last, but right now, I’ve had a wonderful life. A wonderful family and a wonderful life.” Gerry also had this to say, “I’ve known a lot of good people through the years, certainly, both in Swan Hills and Barrhead. Yes. Wonderful people.”
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette