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HELPERS: Variety is truly the spice of life for local volunteer

Few are as fit for volunteering as local charmed retiree Wendy (Birdie) Roper who can’t stop moving

If you haven’t met her yet, chances are you will one day. Wendy Roper, otherwise known as Birdie, is a woman about town.

She volunteers at the Huronia Players as a make-up artist; at the Ship’s Company in Penetanguishene as a crew member; as a member of both the local Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association Club, and Friends Who Cycle; and with the Victorian Order of Nurses as a fitness instructor.

With so many volunteer positions, it’s hard to find time to chat with the stock car racing champion, because she is always on the move.

That’s right, she’s also a stock car racing champion who won a race back in about 2005.

“I used to race go-karts. Then my husband became interested in Canadian Vintage Modified racing,” says Roper, explaining that the race cars are pre-1935 stock cars.

“I was writing a book about racing,” explains the humble champion, “and I wanted to put in the book that I raced and won.”

So, she did just that.

Her book called Track Tails, published in 2006, looks at the rich history of stock car racing in Ontario that started in the 1960s and filled local tracks six nights a week through the 2000s.

This is only the start of her charmed tale built around a life that keeps moving.

Shortly after Roper won the race, her 90-year-old mother raced, placed, and then made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest race-car driver in the world.

Roper laughs as she remembers her mother saying ‘If you can do it and win, I can do it and win. And, I can do it at 90.’ The 90-year-old placed seventh overall at the Powder Puff race at the Sunset Speedway in Stroud.

That’s not the only proof that Roper comes by her love of movement honestly.

While she was teaching fitness classes at Georgian Village and Manor Retirement Home, her mother attended her classes until she was 103 years old.

That experience led her to volunteer with the VON as a SMART (Seniors Maintaining Active Roles Together) fitness instructor.

“It’s all about keeping active,” says Roper. “I love doing it. It keeps me fit, and it keeps a lot of seniors in the area fit as well.”

The classes are designed for anyone over 55.

“It’s for all levels. People are doing what feels good for them. If they want to sit down and move their legs and arms, they can do that. It’s really all about keeping fit however that feels good for you.”

Roper teaches on Tuesdays and Fridays at the Penetanguishene Arena. Visit VON for more information about classes in the area both online and in-person, or call the local office at (705) 355-2200.

Roper doesn’t only teach fitness classes, but keeps herself on the go with Friends Who Cycle, which is a group of cycling seniors who are also members of the Ganaraska Hiking Club.

She cycles with the group 30 to 40 kilometers twice weekly from spring to fall on trails across the region and into Barrie. Roper says each member takes turns leading a ride, and takes the pole position five or six times a year.

At 76 years young, Roper says everyone in the group are older adults

“One couple got [electric-assist bikes], and we couldn’t keep up with them on the hills, so now we all have them,” explains Roper.

“We all used to do the whole ride without the power assist, but it makes biking a lot easier.”

Roper fell in love with the area as a sailor with the boat she and her husband kept here at Beacon Bay. The couple retired here, then after her husband’s passing, she sold the boat, and looked for a way to stay on the water.

Enter her initiation as a crew member with The Ship’s Company of Penetanguishene where she works on the replica 1812 gun boats to help people better understand the War of 1812 that helped shape Canada.

“It’s surprising how little some people know about the War of 1812,” says Roper, noting that new members of the Company often learn more about the war than they had previously known.

As part of the crew, Roper participates in reenactments. Since 2010, she has become the president and events coordinator with the group of mates.

In the summer, you can spot her in a tricorn hat crewing one of the ships you may have seen parked at the port in Penetanguishene.

The sails of those ships will be incorporated into another aspect of the tireless volunteer’s pursuits as they take the stage with the Huronia Players upcoming production of The Old Man and The Old Moon.

Before coming to Canada, Roper was a make-up artist with a company in New Zealand.

She has not only helped the company with her blush brush since 2010, but she’s also helped audience members naturally blush and laugh along to the hilarity delivered through plays —she’s on the script committee that chooses the productions the company will perform.

Gushing about the most recent production — a comedy called Stag and Doe (which she helped select) — Roper says she typically does the performers’ make-up and goes home. 

“This play is so funny, I stay to watch every performance,” says Roper.

That speaks volumes about the quality of the script, and even more about the quality of the performers that bring those words to life.

“We are a cut above community theatre at the Huronia Players,” says Roper.

Speaking as a person who is clearly a cut above as a volunteer, we’ll take her word for it.

Roper recommends finding something you’re interested in after you retire.

“People that get busy, get busier,” says the constant helper. “You get interested in something, meet new people, and get interested in something else. It just escalates, and broadens your horizons.

“The main thing is, once you become a senior is to get active. Get involved.”

Coming from a woman who is nothing if not involved, we’ll take it on good authority from one active Birdie to another.

If you’re looking to get active with the VON, Ganaraska Hikers, Huronia Players, or Ship’s Company of Penetanguishene, check them out, and maybe you’ll meet Birdie along the way.