A month ago Corky Ayerst made a decision to leave this world under his own steam. Sidelined with kidney trouble and daily dialysis, marooned away from his darling wife of 61 years, about to have both of his legs amputated, he looked at his 80 years of living and decided to let nature take its course.
That was a tough decision for a man who lived his entire life in the Barrie area. Born in Thornton, Corky moved with his parents to Essa Rd, to a house that stood back from the road, near Anne St, about where Barrie Burger is today.
A student at King Edward School, Corky absorbed education like most boys his age. And yet, despite the blackboard and chalk and outdoor games after recess, this quiet man with the impish smile touched more lives in Barrie than almost anyone else. Playing shinny before and after school, you could count on Corky to be with his best friends… Fred Jones, Ron Gosney, John Coutts. Rayner McCullough was a good friend and all the boys from air cadets. In fact, it was in grade 8 that he met Aileen Hooper and they married four years later, moving into her parents’ garage, insulating it with sawdust and lime, and scuttling into the house to use the family bathroom. The thrifty couple managed to save $2000 in three years and buy their dream home, a new $9000 Gordon Spring 1944 house at 139 Codrington St.
“Corky, can you let the dog out?” “Corky, can you let the dog in?” “Corky, can you just give us a hand with this big box?” Yes, yes, and yes. Those were the days, Corky’s happiest employment days when he sat behind Dolly, the horse and delivered milk all over Barrie. His employer? Smith Dairy. The Dairy farm, and the horse, were on Bradford St, just beside the property that was to become General Electric. [now it’s Barrie by the Bay] In the shed at the back, was the horse. Corky would harness up horse and wagon, load up the milk and set out on his route. Bottle after bottle, cream on the top, hustled into side door mailboxes just before dawn, a tip of his hat and collection or tokens… depending.
One Parkside Dr resident pleaded with Corky to have the horse stop a few doors up. But Dolly had her route and wouldn’t be moved. Turned out Dolly had other regularities as well… the man resented his daily shovelful of Dolly Droppings and wished it could be moved along to some other resident!
Corky’s first job was in 1944 with Les Cooke at Cooke Cartage, the new moving company. It was 1946 when he left Cooke’s for Smith’s Dairy and there he stayed for 15 years. It was actually worry over job security that caused Corky to leave the job he loved most and move to the post office to become a letter carrier. For 30 years he was the mainstay in the Oakley Park Square part of Barrie, a subdivision chock full of new post war bungalows and busy, growing families.
As Aileen remembers, the pay was less, there were no benefits, no hospitalization at all, but as it turned out the job was secure. He was there until he retired in 1990.
Life was simple and the Ayerst kids came along and started at the newly built Codrington School. They played with the Partridge kids and the Hardy kids and the Hunter kids of the neighbourhood. And Corky knew them all, as his mail route eventually moved around until he knew just about everyone in Barrie.
Retirement wasn’t a word Corky recognized and he took to helping out at Steckley Gooderham Funeral Home when he retired. He knew everyone in ‘old’ Barrie and people knew Corky. His presence during the funeral home’s busiest times was really appreciated.
He held true to his commitments and gave 60 years of his life to the International Order of Odd Fellows, a charitable organization that gives incredible gifts and services to old and young alike. In fact, recently Corky and Aileen moved into the Terraces at Heritage Square, the Dean Ave life lease units that were built by the IOOF. He was a member to his death of Grey and Simcoe Foresters. He was an active Masonic member and past master of Corinthian Lodge. Last year he joined Probus, a service club for retired service club members of all types.
He was an accomplished (and generous) stained glass artist. He enjoyed leather work and carpentry and photography and cooking. He put himself out as a bartender for lawn parties and was frequently behind the bar at the Essa Rd Curling Club.
Last month when Corky’s simple funeral service was held (at Steckley’s, of course) the lineup of those paying respect was a microcosm of the foundation on which this community has been built. Long time postal carriers Steve Bolgg, Gerry McBrtide, Bob and Joe Smethurst, Lyle Graham, Bob Sinclair all made sure they were there. Friends like Jack McAllister, former fire chief and Ena Horton, widow of Corky’s postie friend Gib was there. The lineup was long and the guest book is thick.
On May 3 when Aileen Hooper wakes up, it will be her 62nd wedding anniversary. Almost 62 years with a guy she met in grade 8. It’s amazing, isn’t, how a life of simple service, of saving in order to acquire, of living with an eye on the future can be full of an immeasurable richness.
Corky! Thank you. For every bottle of milk. For every letter. For every dog you let in. For every box you helped lift. These offerings are the fabric of a life. The warp and weft of our very incredible community.