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Elsie Kawulych is a leader in Alberta’s Ukrainian community who has made a lasting contribution to the multicultural fabric of the province. Her resume of accomplishments ranges from her pioneering work to preserve and promote Ukrainian culture, to her many contributions to the educational and recreational opportunities enjoyed by youth across the province, to her commitment to building strong community supports in her home town of Vegreville.
Elsie was born on September 21, 1932 to John and Helen Kubrak. Her parents had immigrated to Canada from their homeland of Ukraine in search of a better life for themselves and their children. Many times in her youth, Elsie had to overcome barriers that young Ukrainian women faced growing up in that era. She demonstrated her great perseverance and determination by becoming one of the first women from Vegreville’s Ukrainian community to be accepted into University and earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Home Economics from the University of Manitoba.
Elsie chose a profession that allowed her to combine her passion for sewing and handicrafts with her natural love for teaching. She returned to Alberta in 1955 and became a home economist for the Alberta government. She spent much of the late 1950’s traveling extensively throughout east central Alberta teaching and advising families on everything from nutrition and food safety to sewing and homemaking. In 1958, Elsie married Mike Kawulych and began teaching home economics in Mundare and Vegreville.
As her family grew to include five children, so did Elsie’s involvement in the community. She served as a 4-H leader and judge, specializing in sewing and public speaking. She volunteered with the Boy Scouts, Air Cadets and countless other youth recreation programs, and also served as a Girl Guide leader and district commissioner and as a Tester for the Duke of Edinburgh awards. In the late 1980s, Elsie was called upon to use her energy and public speaking skills as a member of a group selected to represent western Canada during a national unity mission to Quebec.
Elsie has been a long-standing volunteer for the Canadian Cancer Society, serving as a provincial board member and logging countless hours on local and regional initiatives. She currently serves as chair of the Vegreville Senior Housing Board. In recognition of her many volunteering efforts, Elsie has received numerous awards including the Alberta Volunteer Achievement Award, the Alberta Hetman Award, the Volunteer of the Year Award for Vegreville and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.
While Elsie has offered valuable support to a wide range of endeavours over the years, her greatest contribution to the province can be found in the great energy and hard work she has poured into the preservation and promotion of Ukrainian culture. She is a long-standing member of the Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League and also enjoys a solid reputation as a respected Ukrainian dance teacher and authority on traditional patterns for Ukrainian dance costumes. She has also served as director of the Alberta Ukrainian Dance Association and as a member of the Alberta Folk Arts Council.
In 1973, Elsie began work to help develop what has become an iconic expression of Alberta’s Ukrainian culture as a charter member of Vegreville’s Pysanka festival. In 1984, Elsie took on new duties as a charter member of the Friends of the Ukrainian Village Society. Her many efforts have helped the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village become a world-class living museum. She currently serves as chair of the Village’s advisory board.
More than a way to preserve her own cultural heritage, Elsie sees the Village and the other work she does to promote Ukrainian culture as ways to build acceptance of, and appreciation for, the great cultural diversity that exists in the province.
When asked to describe what she most values about being an Albertan, Elsie points out that the province is a place where you can achieve anything you want to if you’re hardworking and determined. Elsie Kawulych is proof of that. Her hard work and determination have done more than fulfill her parent’s early hopes for their daughter. Her efforts have also helped create lasting tributes to the contributions made by all of Alberta’s early Ukrainian settlers.