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Dedication of tree to late Shirley Rowbotham, mother of Pioneer Walkway, planned for Friday
The exceptional community service of the late Shirley Rowbotham will be recognized on Friday at a brief informal presentation at the Pioneer Walkway.
The location is appropriate. The picturesque pathway along Osoyoos Lake next to the bridge was one of Rowbotham’s major legacies for the community.
“I would have to say Shirley was a driving force,” said Carol Boan, whose life was changed in the early 1990s when Rowbotham initiated the project on behalf of the Osoyoos Soroptimists and asked Boan to become involved.
Since then, Boan has put years into tending the plants along the walkway, until recently co-ordinating the volunteers on the ongoing project.
“Shirley had a vision and she wanted the walkway to be beautiful and an asset to our town, something that the town folk could really be proud of,” said Boan. “I think she just forged ahead and worked toward that.”
Friday’s presentation, at 11 a.m., was organized by Doreen Janko and Joanne Mepham of the Osoyoos Soroptimists. The public is invited to attend the dedication of “Shirley’s Tree.”
That tree, said Janko, was already planted by Town of Osoyoos public works staff in May and the Soroptimists provided a concrete base, a metal tree guard and a bronze plaque with raised letters.
“We will have just a little very casual informal gathering there to dedicate the tree and to remember Shirley,” said Janko. “She was a huge mover and shaker in Osoyoos, and that walkway was her baby.”
The tree is a flowering plum tree, which has purple leaves and in the spring it blooms with fluffy white-pink flowers, said Janko.
Boan, who chose the type of tree, points out this is the same kind of tree that Rowbotham and her husband John planted by the walkway years ago for their grandchildren, who are now grown.
The walkway, which opened in 1993, was built almost entirely with donations by local businesses and individuals. The area between the road and the lake was widened with rocks and fill put there by Bob Knight from construction work on subdivisions near the golf course, Janko said.
Rowbotham, who died in Vernon on March 1, 2013, two days shy of her 90th birthday, is one of 13 local women honoured by the Osoyoos Museum on a website called “Class Acts,” dedicated to influential women of the South Okanagan.
She was born to an English-speaking family in rural Quebec and raised there as one of seven children. She was fluently bilingual.
After Rowbotham left Quebec, she worked in radio and television in Victoria and for a while played the role of Miss Shirley on the children’s television show Romper Room.
Her other community projects included fundraising for the South Okanagan General Hospital and organizing Cherry Fiesta.
“She brought Cherry Fiesta into the modern age,” said Janko, noting Rowbotham and her husband took classes on how to build a proper float so the town’s float would not be something towed behind a pick-up truck.
When Rowbotham tired of asking town council for money for the festival, she and Janko produced a cookbook.
“We went around to all the old cooks in the community and we got their favourite recipes,” said Janko, noting the book helped to pay costs of the fiesta for several years.
“This resourceful woman didn’t leave a stone unturned when she got an idea in her head,” said Janko. “She was very, very generous with her time, money and creativity.”