A Life's Story
October 22, 2022
Perfect balance between work, service, family
Vera Chernecki, 81, led Manitoba nurses in 1991 strike
By: Janine LeGal
An admired and inspiring leader with a 36-year career in health care, both at the bedside and bargaining table, Vera Chernecki had a passion for educating and mentoring.
In work, community and family, Chernecki’s life was one of dedicated service to humanity, a caring spirit at the heart of everything she did.
Married to her soulmate for 59 years, mother of four daughters and baba to six grandchildren, Chernecki died July 15 of pancreatic cancer, at 81, surrounded by family grateful to be by her side the way she’d always been for them.
Born Vera Shewchuk, she grew up on the family farm at Garland and attended school in Ethelbert, where she met her high school sweetheart, Ray Chernecki.
She graduated from the St. Boniface Hospital School of Nursing in 1962, devoting her life to health care and later served as president of the Manitoba Nurses Union from 1981 to 1999. Chernecki will long be remembered for her many years of leadership in, and passion for, the fight to improve nurses’ working conditions and the quality of patient care.
Chernecki was MNU president during the historic 30-day strike in 1991, as thousands of nurses walked out of hospitals across the province Jan. 1.
When they finally returned, registered nurses had a two-year contract with an almost 13 per cent wage increase, licensed practical nurses got a 10 per cent bump, and the agreement included creating nursing advisory committees.
MNU president Darlene Jackson said Chernecki was “always very eloquent and always the voice of reason.”
“Vera will be so missed by her family, many friends and her MNU colleagues. She has left a lasting legacy at MNU, as our members can attest, and she waded into every conflict – both big and small – with unwavering grit and determination.”
Two of Chernecki’s daughters (Denise and Leanne) followed her into the nursing profession.
“She inspired each of us to be strong and independent women, exceptional in the fields we chose for our careers, and the best that we could be,” said Denise.
“We don’t know how she did it, but mom always found the perfect balance between work, service and family. We are in awe of how she managed being a wife, mother, grandmother, and professional — and she made it all look effortless,” she said.
“Our mother was truly the centre of our family. She was our guiding light, our mentor and our hero.”
After retirement, Chernecki became certified as a professional parliamentarian and an expert in Robert’s Rules of Order, actively working with clients, presiding over annual general meetings, and teaching at Red River College.
Chernecki was awarded the Governor General’s commemorative medal in 1992. In 1995, she received the Bread and Roses Award from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union for her outstanding contribution to nursing unionism.
“Mom enjoyed a second career after she retired from the MNU,” said daughter Donna.
“In addition to her work with numerous organizations and individuals across Manitoba, she also served on the board of the National Association of Parliamentarians and was the District 5 director responsible for North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut. She was active as a parliamentarian, working with and supporting more than 20 organizations across Manitoba, until her illness forced her to resign in July.”
Jean Piche, former chief executive officer of Holy Family Home in Winnipeg, worked with Chernecki for 20 years.
“Vera was a true leader in every sense of the word, as well as a board volunteer par excellence,” Piche said. “She was kind, caring and respectful of people at all levels of the organization, but she could also serve as a strong advocate in promoting the organization’s values and the religious order’s mission to serve the elderly with love and compassion.
“Vera was highly regarded and respected by everyone, including government and health authority representatives alike… I will always be grateful for her strong leadership, her genuine friendship, and for her unwavering support.”
Even with her fierce dedication to career and community, Chernecki found ways to keep family at the centre of her life, celebrating every milestone and achievement.
In the summer, she enjoyed family road trips across North America. Her home welcomed family and friends, and her active lifestyle kept her gardening, biking, walking, golfing, curling and cross-country skiing.
After retirement, she and Ray travelled extensively.
“Mom was always interested in everything we did, always there with advice, support and encouragement,” said Denise.
“When something was wrong, she would comfort us. She was a very positive person and would never dwell on the negative. Mom was very strong in her faith and an active parishioner at St. Paul the Apostle for 53 years. Her strong commitment to her marriage and her family has been something we have always strived to attain in our own lives.”
Denise said her mother was also up for fun, whether entertaining family and friends or playing card games or cribbage with her children and grandchildren.
“She was a fabulous cook and relished sharing and passing down her many delicious recipes and traditions to her children and grandchildren.”
Chernecki embraced her Ukrainian heritage, supporting the local dance community. She also attended recitals and benefits, raising money for a school she had visited in Bukavets in the Carpathian Mountains, and more recently to raise money to support artists affected by the war in Ukraine.
Chernecki twice traveled to Ukraine with her daughters and grandchildren to visit her parents’ birthplace and family.
“Every year, she would host the traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner and prepare 12 meatless dishes and tell us stories about growing up and spreading hay beneath the table and looking for the first star before dinner could start,” said Donna. “Then she would do it all over again the next day and host Christmas dinner.”
Chernecki’s daughters said their mother set an exceptionally high standard for them — and for all who knew her.
Added Donna: “We’ve always said, if we can be half the woman our mother is, then we think we will have done very well.”
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