Margaret "Phemie" Hunka was a very special person. No doubt if you live in Wainwright, Alberta, you might know her and may have been hugged by her. She gave out hugs everywhere she went: the cashiers in Walmart, the mail deliverer, the paper boy, you name it.
Perhaps what people will remember her most for is how she would faithfully, day after day, year after year, wave to all the kids on the school buses that drove by her house each day. As Phemie aged, her own grandchildren became more independent and she felt she had a void in her life that needed to be filled. She needed a way to connect with children again.
She lived on a street where several school buses passed by on their way to and from school. Phemie decided she would reach out to these children. She would write a message on her little white board for them to read as they went by. Over the years, many school buses would drive by her house even if it was out of their way just so the kids could wave at Mrs. Hunka. On special holidays, they would sometimes stop and the kids would come out for hugs and maybe give her a card or a drawing.
The messages on her white board varied. Sometimes it was a word of encouragement, sometimes it was a simple question. Shortly before she died, central Alberta had suffered a dry and windy spring. Her message was simple. The white board read “When will it RAIN?” Of course, there were the holiday messages as well, wishing the students a Happy Easter or a Merry Christmas.
She truly had a knack for making you feel like you were the most important and precious person in the world. She loved kids, she loved flowers, she loved dogs and cats, she loved life.
When Phemie passed away suddenly at the age of 95, students paid tribute to her by bringing flowers and cards and decorating the fence in front of her step where she had always sat to wave to the kids and held a sign with a special message for that day.
Phemie touched the hearts of a whole community. I'm sure that anyone who knew her will strive to be more like her. We need more Phemies in the world. Perhaps the ones who need it most these days are the little children, who loved her so dearly. Thank you, Phemie! We will miss you!
Debbie Hunka, Phemie's daughter-in-law, is a school bus driver for Battle River School Division in Camrose, Alberta.