Sister Margaret Mary Baumann will be basking in the love of her church, surrounded by friends, family and plenty of chocolate as she officially rings in her first century on Monday.
The Tofitian nun is celebrating her 100th birthday at St. Francis of Assisi Church on Aug. 26, though the festivities started early as 18 family members arrived from California, Oregon, Illinois and Minnesota the week prior to revel in Baumann’s immense accomplishment.
“It’s very meaningful. It’s not very often you get to turn 100,” Baumann laughed to the Westerly News in an interview on Aug. 21. “It just feels sort of important for some reason.”
She enthusiastically added that she was looking forward to her birthday cake.
“I love chocolate,” she beamed. “Anything chocolate: candy, cake, cookies, ice cream, you name it.”
Tenaciously quick-witted and good-humoured, Baumann remains both socially and physically active in Tofino and attributed her long life to an active lifestyle and spending time outdoors.
“Doing everything I can do. I get outside. I go for walks,” she said, adding her love of walking is intensified by a love for her surroundings.
“How can you not love Tofino? I just love Tofino. I love the views, the ocean, everything and the people are just wonderful here. Everything about Tofino is beautiful.”
She added that she uses a walker affixed with a chair in case she gets tired, though her walking partner Sister Anita Tavera was quick to point out that chair frequently goes unused.
“She never sits,” Tavera laughed.
“I don’t sit,” Baumann confirmed. “I always say, ‘I’m here to walk.’”
The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart provided a history of Baumann’s life that suggests activity has not been hard to come by these first 100 years.
Born in Detroit on Aug. 26, 1919, Baumann grew up working on her family’s berry farm, later joining the American Navy as a nurse’s aide during the Second World War where she was stationed in Hawaii.
Following the war, Baumann worked as a hairdresser in California and entered into the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1951. She became a teacher and was assigned to Christie Residential School on Meares Island in 1960, working as an infirmarian, seamstress, craft teacher and childcare worker.
In 1971, she moved from Meares Island to Tofino and continued teaching until retiring in 1975, though she volunteered at Tofino’s Wickaninnish Community School until 2000.
Speaking to the vast change in Tofino’s landscape she’s witnessed over the years, Baumann said the town went from dirt roads to packed ones.
“Cars are coming this way and that way. Sometimes it takes 10 minutes to get out of the driveway,” she said, adding she’d like to see the district create more parking for tourists.“Tofino needs parking.”
Baumann lives in Tofino with her fellow Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters Tavera and Laura Distaso and continues to be active in her church, St. Francis of Assisi.
“She is absolutely amazing. She gets up every morning and, after we have our quiet prayer time, she’s up carpet sweeping, dusting; she does all the dishes because she figures that we’re the cooks, so she can help by doing the dishes,” Tavera told the Westerly. “She’s really inspiring. She keeps us going…It’s great to have her in our lives. We really think it’s a gift that the Lord has given us. To have her in our lives is a special gift from God. That’s the way we see it because her example is inspiring.”
Tavera added that Baumann never shies away from activity and particularly enjoys jigsaw puzzles, playing cards and dice.
“If I’m out in the garden, she’s out there helping me pull weeds…Whatever I’m doing she’s out there doing it with me. She’s very active. She really enjoys being outdoors and enjoying nature,” Tavera said. “It’s great because she’s just so eager…She’s game for anything and everything and she’s always wanting to help…She doesn’t want to miss out on anything.”
Baumann received an early birthday gift on Aug. 21 when representatives of the Alberni Lifeline Program she subscribes to announced that she would receive the service for free from now on.
The program offers a personal emergency response system where subscribers wear a button on a necklace that they can push if they need help.
“We will get them any assistance that they require, whether that be police, fire, paramedic or just a family friend or neighbour to come and assist them,” Alberni Lifeline Coordinator Dodi Clark told the Westerly adding the program is particularly important for seniors living in rural and remote communities like Tofino.
“Being able to get her help as quickly as she could potentially need is very important.”
Baumann said the lifeline program “definitely” provides a feeling of safety because she feels “very confident” she can get help if she needs it.
“They’re always very faithful about calling,” Baumann said. “I definitely do wish to thank all the caregivers in Tofino because they’re outstanding.”
Clark agreed and said she is perpetually impressed working with local first responders.
“The first responders on the West Coast are absolutely amazing and these communities are lucky to have all of them,” she said.
Ucluelet councillor and BC Ambulance Unit Chief Rachelle Cole visits Baumann often as part of Tofino and Ucluelet’s community paramedicine program and said spending time with locals like Baumann is the “best part” of her job.
“If I could think about five things that I love about my job, it’s the number one thing to get to go and spend time in people’s homes and being able to come by and say happy 100th birthday,” she told the Westerly before turning to address Baumann directly. “I commend you and everything that you have done to be you. I aspire to be you.”
READ MORE: Paramedics cheered in Tofino and Ucluelet