“It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
Neil Young’s famous lyrics, from My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue) were never more true than this week when Barrie lost Carol Boonstra. For those who knew (and automatically loved) Carol, there’s strong consensus that she just burned out. She left her earthly address sometime between Thursday, Nov 1 and Saturday two days later, and with her passing, a light goes out.
It’s impossible to sum up Carol Boonstra. Round face. Curly hair. Twinkly eyes. Eager stance. Moving, moving, moving. And always, always, a little hand holding hers, whether it was the hand of adored grand-daughter Karyna, or one belonging to any number of little folks who needed her.
Since 1969, back when Eileen Hankin was championing rights and services for people in Barrie who were intellectually handicapped, Carol Boonstra was giving voice and energy to her beliefs. She was an early advocate and support for adults and children who needed help and it was typical of Carol to reach out to people often shunned by others. For nearly 35 years (more than half of her life) Carol was taking people places, bringing them home for weekends, integrating them into her own family. Long before the term “family relief” was coined, Carol was doing just that. She’d commit three days a week to a family with a special needs child so they could take in activities, break from their eternal vigilance. Carol would take kids out, never embarrassed or ‘ashamed’ to sit in a restaurant, carry on a conversation, translate, troubleshoot, advocate and support someone who needed her voice.
She drove wheelchair-bound, intellectually handicapped people to medical appointments. She mediated with levels of government. She was their friend. And when the Barrie and District Association for People With Special Needs started its parent relief program, Carol was its first contractor. She was also a recent recipient of their Gifts From the Heart award.
When Edgar Occupational Centre housed profoundly intellectually handicapped adults, Carol was there. She brought people home for weekends, adding them to her own busy household of three children. She taught them how to do laundry, how to go for a walk and socialize, how to live in a family. She was their friend.
As a member of Second City Civitan Club, Carol was an energy behind Barrie’s first fully accessible playground, opened in Centennial Park in the summer of 2000. And it was Carol and one of her special kids, Jessica, who attended that official opening. Jessica’s 10 now and Carol has been part of her life for a decade.
Jerry McDermott, recently featured for his role in an autobiographical film called “I Can Do It Myself,” calls Carol a best friend. Jerry carries a card with him in case he or his wheelchair run into difficulty. The card bears Carol’s phone number. When others give up, Carol is the one who can understand Jerry’s words, pick up the nuances of his movements as Cerebral Palsy afflicts his speech and mobility. When the idea for Jerry’s film took root, Carol was very involved, mobilizing the professionals who did the production so well.
Carol was there for every BDAPSN fundraiser–promoting, supporting, and then cleaning up. She encouraged the integrated baseball league. She took her empathy to the Telecare phone lines. She ran social events, bingos, sporting activities at the Oak Ridges division of the Penetang Mental Health Centre. Oak Ridges houses the criminally insane.
Her commitment to people who often get ignored was total. When her three kids, Tanya, Ian and Eric, were students at Steele Street Public School, Carol was a moving fixture in school and parent activities. She was on top of everything, involved in everything, pushing teachers to give her activities that would help her kids do better. She sat on parents committees. Carol’s commitment as a parent could be unnerving… when daughter Tanya developed diabetes, Carol got so involved with the disease and its support organization that she became the president. This was typical Carol.
She supported her kids in their Y activities, and she encouraged each of them to see beyond looks, to see people for who they are, and to give them unconditional love. As a result, each Boonstra offspring, now adults, works with special needs people in one capacity or another.
Last April Carol’s friend Annette Latter Bourne was killed by an impaired driver on Essa Rd. The mother of three children, one a special needs child, Annette’s death hit hard to not only her friends and family but to the youngsters in her life. Annette’s funeral service was held in Kincardine; it wasn’t enough for Carol. She mobilized an entire community of kids and held a huge celebration of Annette’s life, involving her Westminster Presbyterian Church, handing out balloons and candy, playing celebration music and partying it up for Annette.
When Tanya’s daughter Karyna was born eight years ago, Carol became her second mom. She picked her up at nursery school, she attended each special event. She enabled Tanya to be at work and moved her own schedule so that her grand-daughter had total attention.
Did she ever rest? At night she’d sit at Chapters or near the trees planted in her parents’ memory in the public library courtyard and she’d read. Carol could absorb (and dole out) amazing amounts of information. She knew so much. She was hungry for information.
As the Boonstra household began with just Carol and husband Bert (whom she met at ballroom dancing classes in 1964 and married in 1967), it expanded in 1970 with the birth of Tanya, followed by Ian (who’s attending chiropractic training) and Eric (a student at Queen’s University). But the house on Cook Street never housed just the Boonstra’s.
And behind that energy, that open heartedness, that impulsive bringing together of more people the world had forgotten, behind that chaos of love and laughter, stood a quiet, centred, supportive husband. Bert Boonstra insisted that Carol put her nursing career on hold while the kids were little. And while her Bachelor of Science sat on the shelf ever-so-briefly, Bert ensured the family had what it needed and made it possible for Carol to give so many special needs young people a place.
When Carol did return to work it was to teach nursing students at Georgian College. And while she juggled an impossible schedule, she managed daily visits to Grove Park Home where her mom lived for five years. She served on the home’s residents council; she decorated her mom’s room for every possible celebration. She brought a quick smile and kind eyes to everyone who connected with her.
It goes on and on. Thousands of people remember a word, a gesture, a moment of kindness from Carol Boonstra. And though she was able to give undying support to so many people, Carol found it almost impossible to give herself the same attention.
Carol’s light went out last week. But, the glow. Oh! The glow!