At the core: residents and their quality of life

Q&A with Sheryle Runhart, Grande Spirit Foundation site housing manager

At the core: residents and their quality of life
Sheryle Runhart at the Pleasant View Lodge in the Town of Spirit River

By Beverly Lomosad

Meet Sheryle Runhart. She had come out of an early retirement to become Grande Spirit Foundation’s (GSF) new site housing manager with oversight of its senior housing units in Birch Hills County, Rycroft and the Town of Spirit River, including the Pleasant View Lodge (PVL). She comes to her new job with a wealth of work experience that she thinks she can build off of.

Please share a little bit about your background.
I have a medical background and had worked as a medical aid with a specialization in emergency care at St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener, Ontario. The program was called medical attendant when I took it at Conestoga College of Nursing in Kitchener. After 15 years, the 12-hour work shifts, alternating between days and nights, had taken their toll on me – it was really hard to flip between nights and days quick. So, I decided to make a career shift. I went back to school for an accounting program, while working at the same time, and was subsequently hired as an accounting technician at the hospital’s finance department.

In December 2007, my whole family followed my husband to Grande Prairie, where he began working as a home builder. I applied for jobs ahead of our move and had a job waiting for me at the accounting department at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Grande Prairie’s old hospital. There was a little hiccup, however, on my first day on the job. The lady that I was hired as a replacement for had a change of heart and decided not to retire. In the interim, QEII had me working as a medical transcriptionist at its X-ray department, a job I unfortunately didn’t particularly like. After three months, and learning there was no job readily available for me at QEII’s accounting department, I sought employment elsewhere and landed a job as a receptionist at the County of Grande Prairie’s public works department.

Soon after, my boss, the former public works superintendent who has since retired, talked to me to gauge my willingness to go back to school and pursue government studies with the County’s full support. So, I went to the University of Alberta and completed the Certified Local Government Managers (LGM) and National Certificate in Local Authority Administration (NACLAA) program. I worked for a total of about 12 years at the County, changing positions from receptionist, to executive assistant to the chief administrative officer, to manager of legislative services. In the fall of 2020, I decided to take some time off work after my son fell ill and then proceeded to take an early retirement to enjoy time with our new-born grandchildren.

How did you spend your time in retirement?
About a year-and-a-half into retirement, I got just about everything done that I wanted to do in my acreage. Then I got so bored. I couldn’t sit and do nothing. So, I took a three-month online course to be a baker even though I already knew how to bake. I was born to be a student, I guess. I grew up on a very large farm in Sebringville, which is situated very close to Stratford in Ontario, right smack in a Mennonite and Amish community. Back there, we never bought our bread and cinnamon rolls; rather, we baked them ourselves. After I completed the online course, I went on to start a little home-based bakery business. My customers mostly come and pick up their orders, but I’ve gone to farmers markets as well; in fact, I was a vendor at the Rycroft Farmers Market for a month and a bit up until my hiring as GSF site housing manager with oversight of the foundation’s housing units in Rycroft, Birch Hills County, and the Town of Spirit River, including the PVL, effective July 15, 2023.

How are you liking your new job so far?
I love my job. I love working with seniors. They are a fountain of wisdom and a wealth of knowledge to be learned from – for our generation as well as for future generations. I can talk to seniors, and they could tell me, from their own experience, what it was like during World War II, how the community was developed, and how it came to be what it is now.

I like to be one of the first points of contact when residents have any concerns. Diane Boivin, the PVL assistant manager; Norma Tracy, our administrative assistant; and I work closely together, and it’s all about the residents and their quality of life.

When office work gets a little overwhelming for me, I like to take a break, head out to the common area, and have a visit with residents. Part of my job is to spend time with residents. Or, time permitting, I would go in the kitchen and bake something for residents – exactly what I did when I first started on the job. The kitchen was short on staff – one staff had gone on medical leave, and others have called in sick – so, I went in and baked some cinnamon buns. One resident had particularly liked my cinnamon buns, and she came up to me to request that I try her own recipe next time I go back in the kitchen and make something.

At the core: residents and their quality of life
Central Peace-Notley MLA and Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen and Beaverlodge Councillor Judy Kokotilo-Bekkerus, Chair of the Grande Spirit Foundation (GSF) Board of Directors, unveiled the sign for the 26-unit Seniors Apartments project, which is concurrently being built next to the under-construction 92-unit Spirit River Lodge in the Town of Spirit River. The ceremony held on Friday, October 27, was attended by representatives from all the municipalities that make up the GSF Board – County of Grande Prairie, City of Grande Prairie, Municipal District of Greenview 16, Saddle Hills County, Birch Hills County, Town of Spirit River, Municipal District of Spirit River 133, Beaverlodge, Wembley, Rycroft, and Sexsmith.

How big of a help is it in your job having a medical background?
Is it required? Probably not. Is it an additional asset? I would say it is. With my medical training and professional background, I could look at somebody and be able to spot symptoms that needed to be addressed. When situations like that arise, we can call for help right away. In reality, PVL is an independent-living facility, so Home Care looks after medical issues involving residents.

What’s your typical day like?
Staff keep daily logs during their shifts, which are compiled in a big book kept at our communication room. So, the first thing I do at the start of my work day is read the big book to see what transpired overnight – basically, from the time I leave at around 4pm until I’m back at work the following morning – and what staff had written in. Sometimes, a lot of things could happen, and we deal with those that needed to be dealt with. At any given time, I have several projects going all at once. So, I prioritize. Throughout the day, I get a copious amount of e-mails. Again, I prioritize. Then residents would either call and leave messages on the phone, or knock on my office door.

How many residents does PVL have right now?
We are at full capacity with 44 residents.