Stories - Community Champions
Devoted To Caring
Colleen Horbay always knew she would devote her life to helping children. Having volunteered at the Children’s Hospital for more than 50 years, it’s a mission accomplished.
“Pediatrics was always where my heart was because I have always loved helping and being around children,” says Colleen. “I’ve always been a very positive person. I enjoy people, and I like to help out whenever I can.”
Colleen went into training in 1953 at Children’s Hospital at the corner of Main and Redwood, also known as the Aberdeen Hospital. Colleen was part of the last class to graduate in 1956, and shortly after graduation spent 10 months in Norway House and God’s Lake Narrows.
“It was an amazing experience,” says Colleen. “It was just myself and another nurse up there, so we ended up delivering babies, treating major medical problems and doing all sorts of things with our only way to talk to a doctor being via a two-way radio.”
After returning from the north Colleen spent the next 2 years traveling throughout Europe, periodically stopping for nursing jobs. Colleen was 23 when she briefly returned home, before heading up to Whitehorse to open up the pediatric wing of their new hospital.
“The Children’s Hospital Matron wrote me and asked me to come to Whitehorse and I agreed to go for one year,” recalls Colleen. “It was wonderful. We built ski hills, started drama clubs, went panning for gold and set up the entire pediatric unit. It was very exciting.”
After the year was up Colleen came back to Winnipeg, and straight back to Children’s Hospital. Her nursing career would be short lived and her volunteerism was about to take off.
“Before long a toothache led to a dentist, who quickly became my husband,” chuckles Colleen. “When I married my husband he had 4 children, and soon we had another child. I was around 26, and that’s when I went from being a nurse, to being a wife, a mother and a volunteer.”
For more than 50 years Colleen has worn many hats at Children’s Hospital. Among her accomplishments Colleen has been on the Book Market Committee for 52 years, an original committee member for the Teddy Bear’s Picnic and in 2014 played a pivotal role in starting the hospital’s food-cart program.
“Oh, I couldn’t even begin to remember it all,” says Colleen. “I did fundraisers, raffles and fashion shows. It’s been wonderful for me to be able to do all of those things.”
Her inspiration continues to be a little girl from long ago.
“At the old hospital in 1953 I met a 10 year old girl named Genevieve who had leukemia,” remembers Colleen. “She looked at me and said ‘Nurse, I don’t want to die’ and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want you to die either’. Our dear Genevieve did pass, but these days kids with leukemia are being saved all because of pediatric research and money raised by organizations like the Children’s Hospital Foundation. I think of Genevieve as the reason I do what I do.”
Over the years, along with her incredible commitment to Children’s Hospital, Colleen has also been the Chair of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, on the MB Opera Board, and has given her time to many charitable causes including the United Way, Heart and Stroke and Junior League of Winnipeg. Colleen was nominated as Woman of the Year 3 times and named one of the Top 20 women making a difference in Winnipeg. In 1952 Colleen even found time to be one of the Bomberettes, the original cheer-leading squad of the Blue Bombers.
But of her many adventures, it all comes back to the Children’s Hospital.
“The most wonderful of all of my volunteering has been my time at Children’s Hospital, “says Colleen. “It’s opened up many doors for me to explore all sorts of avenues in all sorts of directions. Our legacy is what we leave behind and we must make pediatric research and child health a priority. Times have changed because the world has changed, but those memories are so precious, and I will continue to volunteer always.”
Colleen is aware of the need for younger generations to embrace the gift of volunteering.
“I know people are so busy today and that many homes have both parents working outside the home, but I still encourage folks to find the time to give just a few hours to volunteerism,” says Colleen. “It’s so very important, and I promise it all comes back to you.”
So grateful is Colleen for what volunteering has given her, she dismisses the notion that her 50 plus years at Children’s Hospital should be seen as remarkable.
“My life has been like a garden of flowers, and the varieties that I’ve had in my garden has been and still is its own reward,” says Colleen. “There is nothing more leveling than when you have a child that’s not well, and that has been the focus of my life. It’s a better place for the Genevieve’s of the world, and if I’ve had a small part of that then it’s wonderful”
Bear hugs to you Colleen for your life-long devotion to helping sick kids feel better.
If you’d like to make a difference like Colleen, click here to learn how.