Still Blazing Trails in Her 80s
By all accounts, Sheila Winder was a revolutionary and trailblazer for her time.
She arrived in Canada from England in 1966 as a young bride of 29. Ambitious, fearless and entrepreneurial, Sheila would go on to run an international company in Vancouver, and start a cleaning company. She earned a bachelor’s degree while raising a young son, and later, as a single parent, earned a master’s degree in the evening while working full-time. She taught marketing at BCIT and Douglas College well into her 60s.
Now 81, the octogenarian isn’t taking life easy. In fact, since retiring at 65, Sheila has been coming to UBC to take part in UBC Elder Scholar and Ageless Pursuits courses. For the past 16 years, she has been driving herself from New Westminster, sometimes twice a week, to the UBC Point Grey campus to pursue her interests that range from architecture to the classics.
When asked if she has a favourite course, Sheila gently admonishes, "I have to remind you I’m 81." But she adds, "I always take International Scene. It’s about what’s going on in the world." If something new is offered on a topic she knows little about, all the better. "I’d really like to see a course in artificial intelligence," she says.
While she prefers to simply listen rather than take notes, some stories have stuck with her. She recounts the history of Hans Island, which she learned about in a course on the Arctic. A rocky, barren knoll between Canada’s Ellesmere Island and Greenland, the sovereignty of the island has been in dispute for decades. For the past 30 years or so, the Canadian military has been leaving bottles of whiskey and raising the flag on Canada Day, while the Danish prefer to leave a bottle of schnapps along with their flag.
"It just affected me so much, this story. If only the other countries in the world could act in the same way," she says.
Sheila plans to keep coming to UBC. As she explains, "What I’m really looking for is mental stimulation. I want something that’s interesting, something that I know nothing about, such as architecture. I want to be stimulated and I want to be interested. It’s so important to keep your mental health alive as well as your physical health.
"If I don’t come back, I’ll vegetate!" she laughs.