Mildred Shipman and a friend had just come from church and were walking along Main Street in Plenty, Sask., when they spotted a man riding a beautiful horse coming toward them.
Shipman turned to her friend and said, “There’s the cowboy I’m going to marry.”
She was working at the general store in Plenty at the time and George Shipman — the man on the horse — was a weekly visitor. In those days, some men would place their orders and pick them up after the bar closed on Saturday night.
Mildred Shipman worked until the last of the orders went out the door.
“About nine guys would come in to pick up their groceries,” she said. “Some of their wives would be sitting in the store waiting for them.”
Those were different times to be sure.
A year and a half after seeing him on the horse, Mildred married Shipman in 1951. He was a farmer, so Mildred had a fair bit to learn.
She soon knew how to deliver calves, raise chickens and tend a large garden. She would name the calves after things she needed for the home.
One calf was Washing Machine and another became Windows. On the day she was going to order windows, George came in from a field with bad news.
“My husband came and said, ‘Did you go to town this morning?’ I said, ‘No, I will go right after lunch,’ and he said, ‘I’m afraid your windows are going to have to be tractor tires.’”
They farmed and then moved onto an acreage where they had a bed and breakfast, a catering business, an 18-hole mini golf, a petting zoo, horseback riding and wagon/sleigh rides.
Then George became ill.
“He had been sick for quite a while, but refused to go the doctor about it,” Mildred said. “Finally he came (to Saskatoon) and they operated but it was too late. It was the same day as Uncle Ed’s furniture store burned down.”
George died from cancer on Christmas Eve in 1996 at the age of 76, just months after their 45th anniversary.
In 1998, Mildred decided it was time to retire and moved to Saskatoon. She didn’t have family or friends here, but decided it’s where she wanted to be.
A couple of years after moving to Saskatoon, she joined a group — the Saskatoon Community Contacts for the Widowed. The group went from Widows to Widowed when men started to join.
Shipman has been a member of the group for almost 20 years.
“They are family and I feel I can tell them things and it won’t go any further. They are a really great group,” she said.
In a pamphlet, the group is called a friendly, non-denominational, self-help organization providing social interaction, guidance, encouragement and support to widowed persons.
There is a weekly Wednesday morning get-together at St. Martin’s Church and a general meeting on the third Sunday of every month.
The Wednesday event is called Knit and Natter.
Shipman is prolific when it comes to crocheting. Last year, she made 556 toques. Her goal this year is 600. Each takes about two hours to make.
She drops off the first 100 at St. Martin’s Church for distribution. Then 100 go to the Westside Community Clinic. During the winter of 2017-2018, she passed out 187 on the street to those who weren’t wearing a hat.
“Whenever I walked downtown, if I saw somebody who didn’t have a hat — if he could afford one or not — I would hand him or her a hat.”
She recently dropped off 50 toques at the Salvation Army on Avenue C South.
There are 68 members in the main group. The general meeting is every third Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at St. Martin’s Church (2617 Clarence Ave. South).
The meetings include topics such as home maintenance, living alone, medications and safety at home. There is often entertainment at the meeting. There are also outings to places such as the Berry Barn, the Festival of Trees or a picnic in the park.
Shipman’s list of volunteer roles is long. She is president of the Saskatoon Stroke Recovery group and the secretary of the Community Medical Clinic Handicraft Club.
Someone once said she should move her bed to the Western Development Museum, given how many hours she was spending there when she arrived in Saskatoon.
She was often one of the women dressed in a period piece, including a scarf more than 200 years old. It is safely tucked away now.
She drops off toques at the museum and visits once a month or so.
She laughed when asked why she hasn’t remarried.
“Not the right person asked me, I guess,” she said with a laugh. “I am happy and have lived my life how I wanted it.”
She has four living children, 14 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.
Shipman, who is 86, has a number of serious health issues, including having suffered a heart attack and stroke. She has had open heart surgery and has osteoporosis.
None of those have slowed her down too much.
“I don’t get angry, but I get upset with people who tell me at my age and all that’s wrong with me I shouldn’t be running around like I am. It hurts if I stay home, so I might as well go somewhere and let it hurt there.”
For more information on Saskatoon Community Contacts for the Widowed, call 306-343-7101 or 306-242-3905, or write to the group c/o St. Martin’s Church (2617 Clarence Ave. South, S7J 1M5.)