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Even at 97, it's never too late to chase your dreams

'You have to get old, but you don’t have to stop living,' says Leona Minnikin

At 97 years old, Leona Minnikin is steadily chipping away at her bucket list, and she loves anything big, mechanical and with a motor.

She went up in a hot-air balloon for her 80th birthday, and has also ridden in a bush plane and a helicopter, but Leona recently also crossed 18-wheeler off her list.

When told they call that adrenaline junky these days, she replies with a laugh: “Hey, I refuse to get old."

“I’m aiming for a hundred,” she tells BarrieToday in a small room at the Amica residence in the city’s north end. “I’ve been blessed.”

Leona casually mentioned one day her interest in 18-wheelers and the folks who drive them, who she describes as skilful and helpful.

“They’re professional about what they do, but they get a bad rap,” she says, adding a trucker’s maverick attitude and independence also appeals to her.

Soon enough, she was told some of the staff at Amica, where she can see tractor-trailers barrelling into town on Highway 400, had made it happen for her.

“The tears came,” she says. “I was amazed. I didn’t think people would make such a fuss over it.”

A gentleman from Crossroads picked her up Aug. 28 at Amica’s front door, which is no easy feat as its driveway winds through a long parking lot and up a hill near Little Lake.Then he had to back all the way back down.

They went out Cundles Road and then hopped on Essa Road and Highway 400.

“Then we went right down main street,” she says with a hearty laugh. “That was interesting, seeing as there’s all those sidewalk cafes out there now.”

The duo then chugged out Highway 93.

All in all, Leona rode shotgun for a good 90 minutes.

“They called us and said, ‘Where are you?’ An hour and a half went very quickly.”

Leona doesn’t see it as any big deal, really.

“You have to get old, but you don’t have to stop living.

“As you get older, you should still enjoy things,” she says with a huge, infectious smile. “You know, live every day for itself. And I think one of the most important things is to keep your sense of humour.”

Born in Barrie in 1921, Leona grew up in the city. She lived on Victoria Street, near the location of the former fire hall which has since been razed, for many years along with her family and three older brothers.

“I had to compete,” she says mischievously, her memory and recall belying her age, but her quick qit doesn’t hurt, either.

Leona has been intrigued by machines since she was tiny.

“My dad was an engineer on the railroad and I always loved those old steam engines,” she says. “I used to go down and wait for them at Allandale Station. At that time, they would be coming around the bend from Orillia. It was such a thrill.”

With a memory that stretches back to the 1920s, Leona has seen the population of Barrie explode.

“It was a beautiful railroad town,” she says. “We had Barrie and then ‘Halfway’, where I lived on Victoria Street, and then Allandale. It was time when neighbours looked after neighbours.”

Along with her husband Elmer, who passed away in 1999, the couple lived in the area of Barrie North Collegiate where they raised their family.

Elmer worked at Canadian General Electric, which had a factory on Bradford Street, while Leona was employed by Bell Canada for more than three decades, including a run as a telephone operator, as well as a service advisor, travelling around to train people in communications, followed by a stint in installation and repair as a clerk, and then with the toll department handling long-distance calls.

She retired in 1982.

Leona only moved out of her Bothwell Crescent home two years ago, taking up residence at the Amica building, which offers independent living for seniors.

“I have a wonderful family, but I don’t want to ask them to do everything,” she says. “They were very surprised, but I made (the decision) myself, which is a good thing. They’re very good to us in here and try to make it like a home. They’ve certainly made my dream.”

Leona has also seen many parts of the world, such as the former Soviet Union, Israel, the Dominican Republic on a mission trip and all over Europe.

“But I’ll tell you where I’d like to go is up to the Arctic,” she says with a gleam in her eye. “But I don’t know. My daughters just kind of look at me.”


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Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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