A Life's Story
September 09, 2023
Joyce Wyrchowny had endless drive and energy whether she was curling, golfing or helping others
By: Malak Abas
Joyce Wyrchowny had a strict rule: if you danced with her, you had to carry her oxygen concentrator.
It didn’t stop friends and family from lining up to dance with her all night long. It’s just one of many stories her sons, Neil and Garth Wyrchowny, tell about their mother that often sounds like the escapades of a young woman, until they mention that she was well into her senior years at the time.
At 72, she suddenly decided she needed to take her grandchildren to Disneyland. She went on every single ride with her two 12-year-old grandsons, but held off and let them take second rides themselves.
At 82, she phoned Neil and apologized for not phoning him on his birthday. Why? She was out golfing.
“This is a woman who was on an oxygen concentrator. She had it at the maximum that that oxygen concentrator would do,” Neil says.
“She said, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t phone you, it was such a nice day, I went golfing, and after 18 holes, I was doing so well that I had to do another nine holes, and then I had to get home really quick because I was going to the dance that afternoon.’”
They lost their mother when she was 86. Her life was lived constantly in motion — Neil uses the word “instigator” to describe his mother, an indomitable woman who “did not let grass grow under her feet.”
“Lead, follow or get out of the way, that was pretty much her mantra. If somebody wasn’t doing it, and she felt it needed to be done, better get the hell out of the road,” he says.
“One thing I can say is the 11th sin for my mother was to nap. You weren’t allowed to nap, nobody napped,” Garth says, laughing. “There’s a life to be lived, and you’re not going to be living it laying on the couch. Get up and do something.”
Born in 1936 on the family farm near Ste Rose du Lac, she and her big sister, Carmel MacCarthy, were often outdoors. They enjoyed it, whether they were raising a pet lamb or competing in a game in which they would try to shoot clothespins on the line to make them spin.
Her grandfather was Maurice Dane MacCarthy, a farmer and Liberal MLA backbencher for 26 years, whom the Free Press described as “quiet-spoken” but active in his constituency, after his death in 1953.
The community was tight-knit, and Joyce found comfort in her family. Some of her toughest times were in the early 1970s, when Joyce’s mother, father and sister died within two and a half years of each other, a “devastating” time for her, Neil said.
“She was surrounded by aunts and uncles, and people who we call aunts and uncles who I didn’t even realize weren’t related to us until decades later,” he says. “It was that kind of community where that’s it, it’s your family.”
The curling rink was the heart of the community. The first curling rink in Ste. Rose was built not long after Joyce was born, her sons said, and her family was involved in its construction. She began curling as soon as she could.
Her focus and energy in sport was intense; Neil jokes that he and Garth had to learn to curl “or else we’d never see her.”
She and her husband, Nick Wyrchowny, even went golfing on their honeymoon in 1956. When they moved to Stonewall on a Saturday in 1961, Joyce was part of the local curling scene by Monday. She and her teammates went far, and in the decades that followed, they’d won 17 club championships and competed provincially 30 times.
But she was never too competitive. That’s not what it was about. Not to say she wasn’t proud — Neil remembers bowling, golf and curling trophies dotted around the house — but it wasn’t what drove her.
“She tried to grow more competitive a couple of years, and just didn’t enjoy it. For her, it was being with people she liked to be with, who liked to laugh, who liked to have a good time,” Neil says. “Her sportsmanship was absolute.”
She also liked to mentor others. She introduced stick curling to Stonewall, and she and Nick were part of a group that created a junior curling club in Stonewall in which they taught children to curl in the 1970s. That team lasted 25 years, as did the after-party tradition — after two draws of curling, the families would go back to Joyce’s place and play bridge every Friday night for 25 years.
Two other organizers, Barb Fenske and Shirley Shinney, remember the weekly get-togethers well.
“We have so many happy memories with her curling, but there was not only our curling, there was our friendship over the years. There was our get-togethers,” Shinney says.
“The fellowship, the friendship, we just became family,” Fenske adds. “It was an amazing time.”
The three women remained, and were part of a small group of curlers who would take each other out to celebrate birthdays. Joyce wasn’t here for her last birthday, but Barb and Shirley were.
“Her birthday is on the 29th, and we knew that was the date for the funeral. So we went in early July to have a gathering and everybody remembered something about Joyce,” says Fenske. “We had a good time.”
Joyce coached curlers for Special Olympics and led her team to a gold medal in 2000, and a silver in 2004.
She was honoured with a lifetime achievement award from Curl Manitoba months before her death.
Joyce was always determined to do what needed to be done. Diagnosed with breast cancer at 60, she had a mastectomy without telling her sons and went back to golfing — one-handed, until she recovered.
She wasted no time to become a key collaborator on the Liliane Baron South Interlake Breast Cancer Support Group, started by Baron’s daughter Claudette Griffin in her mother’s memory. There, she collected pledges, organized funds, and perhaps most importantly, became a beacon of hope and guidance for women with the disease — Joyce had had breast cancer, but she was still there and still strong.
“She would dress up crazy for when we had our walks, dress up in pink,” Griffin says, laughing as she recounts the memory. “She was just something else, and such a generous person with everybody she met.”
Griffin keeps a picture of Joyce up. When she looks at it, she misses her terribly, but feels inspired.
“I always said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be just like you, Joyce,” she says.
In her final years, she was less able to do the things she loved. That’s when her friends stepped in.
“All her friends carried the ball … She couldn’t have survived in that environment for that long without the help of friends, and her friends are absolutely amazing,” Garth says.
Joyce died on Dec. 28, 2022.
It took her family two months to clean out her suite, because under every nook and cranny was a note from her explaining the significance of things large and small — the history of dishware, play sets, albums, all written out in detail for her loved ones to find.
As Garth puts it, she told her own story.
“She still speaks to us now.”