Wellington North senior recognized for community volunteer efforts

MOUNT FOREST – Kay Ayres is such a treasure to Wellington North she was twice presented with the township’s 2022 Senior of the Year Award.

The first time was virtually, during an April 11 council meeting, as the beloved 73-year-old dabbed tears from her eyes with a tissue.

“I don’t know why I got this, but I am truly grateful,” Ayres told councillors.

But of course, she does – she admittedly doesn’t feel deserving.

The award, part of the province’s Ontario Senior of the Year Award program, was presented by council to Ayres in recognition of her volunteer work with the Mount Forest Seniors Group, the Seniors Centre of Excellence, and 100 Women Who Care Rural Wellington.

“There are very few events where you will not find Kay,” Mayor Andy Lennox remarked during the meeting.

The presentation brought a human touch to the nature of bland officialism in municipal council meetings.

Many laughs were shared and wide smiles seen — a testament to Kay’s character, praised in nominations by township recreation staffer Nick Brock and former recreation staffer Tasha Grafos.

Senior of the year – Mount Forest resident Kay Ayres, second from left, is this year’s recipient of the Wellington North senior of the year award, presented at the Mount Forest and District Sports Complex on April 13. From left are: Wellington North councillor Sherry Burke, Ayres, Tasha Grafos and Nick Brock. Photo by Jordan Snobelen

“Kay’s positive attitude is a joy to work with,” Grafos wrote in her nomination.

“Throughout the pandemic, Kay and I kept in touch to see when she could get the seniors back in action in the community hall.”

Fittingly, the community hall at the Mount Forest and District Sports Complex is exactly where Ayres was presented with the award again – this time in person on April 13, surrounded by the very seniors whose lives she endeavours to improve.

Councillor Sherry Burke presented the physical copy of the award to Ayres with Brock and Grafos standing nearby.

Reading remarks from Seniors Centre of Excellence program coordinator Helen Edwards, Burke said: “When meeting Kay, you might think that she has never had a bad day in her life, but she has lived through adversity; she makes the best of every day.

“We could all learn a thing or two from this wonderful lady.”

Ayres stepped away from a game of cards (which she said she was winning) to speak about her volunteerism and receiving the award.

Each Wednesday afternoon, a group of men and women, elderly in age but young in heart and mind, gather over high-stakes card games with $3 a game up for grabs.

Pandemic restrictions put a stop to the fun, isolating the elderly from their peers and their chances of striking it rich.

“They don’t have family and they don’t have anybody to keep them up to date,” Ayres said of the pandemic isolation.

Ayres began making weekly calls to the group’s 105 members, as a sort of welfare check-in.

The calls continued throughout the pandemic with the exception of July 2020, when Ayres’ second husband, Don Yake, died of Alzheimer’s disease.

“It took almost a whole week out of every month to phone them all, it was great,” Ayres said.

Some would just want to hear Ayres deliver one of the many jokes she has at the ready.

“If I couldn’t do anything else in the world, I’d love to make people smile,” she said. “Seniors love to laugh.”

With everyone back in-person in the hall, Ayres’ joyful energy and Churchill-like wit belies her age – one she’s quite proud of, thank you very much.

“Damn right I’m proud to be 73 and still alive and still think and walk,” she declared. 

“I go to a lot of funerals and they didn’t all reach 73.”

In close to two years away from the hall, 17 people from the group died, including Ayres’ husband.

Ayres began playing cards with her late husband at the seniors group after she moved to Mount Forest from Teviotdale in 2014.

She married Don a year later, in 2015, and in 2018 she became president of the group.

Ayres has no intention of quitting, and the volunteering keeps her busy and moving when she’s not on one of her daily walks with her dog, Joey.

“It’s a lifetime job,” she said with a laugh. “I’m going to have to die to get out of this one.”