When family and friends said goodbye to former St. Albert Citizen of the Year Wendy Stiver last week, at her request, they rounded the funeral service out with the YMCA dance. Between 300 and 400 people got up in the aisles of North Pointe Community Church and danced one final dance with her.
“She knew many of her Special Olympics friends would be there and she did not want them to be sad. She wanted them to celebrate life and the athletes always had the YMCA song at their Friday night dances,” said her friend Diane Wozniak.
Stiver, who battled cancer for some time, died Sept. 12 at the age of 66. Yet even through her illness, she continued to put in hundreds of hours with the Special Olympians, just as she had since 1988.
“We’re just beginning to find out just how much she did. She dedicated everything to Special Olympics and she inspired me and my husband because she did so much and she worked at it every day. She made it fun for the athletes as well as for the volunteers,” said Special Olympics board member Chelsee Pedwell.
Stiver was named St. Albert’s Volunteer Citizen of the Year for 2012. That year, St. Albert hosted the hugely successful National Special Olympics Winter Games and much of the credit for the joy of that amazing event began with Stiver’s hard work. It was estimated that she dedicated 250 days to Special Olympics that year.
“She helped St. Albert get the bid for that national event,” Pedwell said.
St. Albert‘s Special Olympic chapter grew under Stiver’s leadership. When she began volunteering at the Saturday morning bowling league there were just 25 athletes and only two activities available to them: bowling and swimming.
“Now there are 140 registered athletes and nine or 10 sports they can take part in, as well as more social events such as the Friday night dances,” said Eric Schickle, who also served on the Special Olympics board of directors with Stiver.
Schickle said the growth of Special Olympics is to the credit of Stiver’s organizational skills, her love for people and her sense of fun.
“She was ahead of her time in wanting things to help the athletes integrate into society by offering things she would like to do or that anyone might like to do. She liked to dance and she thought, ‘So would the athletes like to dance. Why shouldn’t they have dances?’ so she organized dances,” he said.
Giving to others was always Stiver’s way, said Wozniak, but her gifts were always presented with a handful of fun and jokes.
“She was a great one for one-liners. I met her, at a church activity in 1977, when our kids were babies. She had a car and I had a sense of direction, so it worked. She would joke, ‘I don’t know why I always get lost. I keep following the hood ornament on my car,’” Wozniak remembered.
Even back in those days, Stiver was volunteering by driving folks to and from church, with Girl Guides, at the Arden Theatre and as a Sunday school teacher.
Her commitment to Special Olympics began the way it does for many volunteers. She simply felt the need to do more volunteering and she went to the St. Albert Volunteer Centre looking for something to do.
“She fell in love with Special Olympics,” Wozniak said.
Wozniak said that in her usual unselfish, but organizational way, Stiver made it clear that her funeral should be held as a celebration of thankfulness for life.
“She made me promise that it not be about her but instead should be about thanking the people who were there for being in her life. She was always amazed that people thanked her for what she did because she said it came so naturally to her,” Wozniak said.
Bob Morgan, another long-time Special Olympics volunteer, remembered Stiver as a special lady with extraordinary talents.
“I always said about Wendy, that she was small in stature but I always looked up to her,” Morgan said.
Wendy Stiver is lovingly remembered by her son John (Yvonne), grandchildren Madison and Ethan Stiver, stepmother Jean Stiles, sister Jacquelene (Ivan) and stepbrother Ted (Sharon) Stiles.