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St. Albert's volunteer gardener dies

Carol Rankin was fixture in local enviro scene

By: Susan Jones

  |  Posted: Saturday, Dec 07, 2013 06:00 am

Carol Rankin
Carol Rankin
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There was a time in the Gazette newsroom back about 10 years ago when reporters nicknamed Carol Rankin as "Mrs. Volunteer." It seemed during those early years at the beginning of the century that whenever there was an environmental project or a meeting or an Arbour Day event, if a Gazette reporter was there, then so was Rankin. If you asked, "Who was there at the meeting?" the answer would always come back, "Carol Rankin. Mrs. Volunteer."

Carol Rankin died Sunday, Dec. 1 in a way that was much as she had lived her entire life, with grace and dignity and peace.

"She died quietly and gracefully at home in the space she loved, cared for by the family who loved her," said her husband, Brian Rankin.

Rankin, who died of cancer, was only ill for a short period of time, her husband said. She was 67 years old.

Brian explained that Carol had a lifelong love of the environment and of gardening that went back as long as he can remember in their 43 years of marriage. But when Carol retired 17 years ago to spend more time with her grandson Justin, her commitment became even more focused.

"She was environmental before it was the fashion to be environmental," he said, as he recalled that Carol had numerous garden plots throughout the city.

"I did the flunky work for her. So I'd dig whatever she wanted dug," he said.

But outside the family home, Carol dug in wherever her help was needed.

"She'd just call up and ask, 'What have you got going on today, Belley?' Then she'd come out to the schools to plant trees on Arbour Day or she came down to the river to plant trees in the River's Edge Enhancement Project. When others complained, Carol would instead ask, 'What can I do for my community?' And then she'd do it," said retired parks and recreation coordinator Roger Belley.

Belley remembered that Carol came out to help rescue plants such as ferns and rare orchids whenever they were encountered on various public works sites. She then replanted them or gave them to fellow gardeners who she knew would care for them properly.

"My favourite memory of her is from a time when we were searching for the site of the former Oblate lumber and grist mill from the late 1800s. We kept moving downstream on the Sturgeon and she had come to help search. I remember her out in the middle of the Sturgeon standing on a beaver dam," Belley recalled.

For some years Carol served as president of the community garden in Riel Park. She also served on the city's parks and open spaces master plan committee and fellow volunteer Elke Blodgett remembered that Carol always did her homework.

"She would take information and she would never criticize but she would go home and research what she needed to know and bring it back to the committee. She was always thinking a bit more than most about the environment," Blodgett said.

While planting trees was important to Carol, so was building community bonds. She was always active in the Partners in Parks program and with fellow neighbours helped beautify her street in Deer Ridge by planting flowers and tending to the central island on her crescent.

"Carol believed in the word 'connectedness'," said her sister Corinne Helliker. "She believed that planting seeds at the community level made things happen. She believed that if she did her part, then maybe it would inspire others to do their part. The seeds she set out in the community would grow and with it the community would grow too."

Her passion for the environment extended to a love for all living things, Helliker said. In her own back yard Carol had a special bee house and of course bird feeders. If there was a spider or a bug in the house, it had to be carefully placed in a tissue and carried safely outside.

"One time she phoned me at my own home in British Columbia because in trying to save a bee that somehow got into the house, the window screen had dropped on it and squished it. She was upset because she believed every living thing had its place. Even weeds had to be carefully pulled and placed in the compost heap so they could be useful again," Helliker said.

This past summer Carol grew a pumpkin that her husband Brian believes weighs 75 or 80 lbs.

"We're going to make sure it's there with her at the celebration service," he said.

That Celebration of Life service will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Enjoy Centre.

Carol is remembered by her husband Brian, sons Nolan (son Justin) and Brett (wife Sue, children Thomas and Juliet); siblings Keith Helliker (Colleen), Christine Harboway (Doug), Corinne Helliker (Len Parkin), Kent Helliker (Sandy), Maureen Faulkner (Peter), Rick Rankin and many beloved nieces and nephews.


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