Whitfield, Averill May

Averill Whitfield – educator, historian, musical and creative volunteer, mother, Nana, beloved wife and business partner of Ralph – passed away peacefully on December 15, 2022 with family by her side. Averill lives on through her family and the legacy of contributions she made to her community of Souris, Manitoba.

Averill was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba to Evelyn ‘May’ and George Iliffe on April 2, 1938. She was the baby sister to brothers Jack (Barbara) and Barry ‘Bar’ (Donna). Despite growing up through the Second World War, there was no shortage of inventive and creative fun in the Iliffe house on Niagara Street.

After graduating with an Associate of Manitoba Music – Piano Performer, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Manitoba, Averill was hired to teach at Souris Collegiate. She  arrived in Souris in 1959 and fell in love with the community, and the local pharmacist, Ralph Whitfield. The two married in 1960 and before they knew it, Ralph and Averill were raising four children while operating their business ventures of Whitfield Drugs, Woodsong Farms Simmental Breeders and Whitfield Enterprises. Averill held the integral roles of business manager and secretary-treasurer and was avidly involved in all  aspects of each business, from behind-the-scenes to the front store operations. Her kindhearted nature and cheerful smile  welcomed every person who walked through the doors of Whitfield Drugs. She ensured the drugstore staff upheld the standards of customer service, leading by example and reminding them to “Smile through the phone when you answer it”. When Woodsong Farms held the annual bull and female sales, she supported Ralph as hostess,  ensuring everyone was well fed at the lunches that she prepared and served, and then oversaw all the cattle transactions.

It is difficult to describe the impact that Averill had on Souris and the greater community of Southwest Manitoba. She was a devoted historian, feminist,  nature lover, environmentalist, and infinitely creative with storytelling, writing, music, sets and costumes.  The history of Souris is preserved in the Hillcrest Museum and The Plum – 1883 Souris Heritage Church Museum, both of which Averill played an integral part in salvaging from demolition and    turning into self-sustaining charitable organizations. Averill wrote a number of   musicals for The Plum that depicted the heritage of Souris and surrounding area. It was a great joy for her to bring these stories to life and share community heritage with the young staff of The Plum and with visitors both local and from around the world. Averill chaired the Souris and District Heritage Club from its inception in 1988 for almost 30 years and led the club’s research and procurement processes. This resulted in the full restoration of The Plum, which opened to the public in 1993 as a designated Canadian Heritage site.

Averill was a founding member of the Southwest Trails Association for Regional Tourism – now known as Tourism Westman – where she introduced collaborative marketing strategies to draw tourism to Souris and surrounding municipalities. Through Averill’s  time on the Executive of the Souris Figure Skating Club, she directed the annual ice show, chaired the Hobbycraft  Sale, and originated the name ‘The Souris Sophistiskates’ for the synchronized skating team. She shared her love of music through teaching music in Souris School as a volunteer for a pilot project until a school music teacher position was created; leading The Merry Wives and the St. Luke’s Anglican Church Choir; writing and directing Christmas concerts and pageants; and organizing endless opportunities for youth to  experience the joy of music, such as the Souris Valley Festival for Music and the Arts. In 1968 Averill introduced Brownies to Souris and she subsequently led Girl Guides, Cadets, and Sparks for the next 36 years. She encouraged girls and women to be all-round citizens through the creation of countless opportunities to explore the Girl Guide Motto, Promise and Laws, and later introduced the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.  She led camping, wilderness and music training; acts of service such as visits to Victoria Park Lodge to     record and publish stories of elders ( “Stories Old and New”, etc.);  initiated the town spring clean-up, paper and bottle drives, and water conservation projects.  She also promoted international awareness and arranged opportunities to connect with Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from other countries. Her mission was to ensure that each Spark, Brownie, Guide and Cadet in her care gained knowledge, confidence and skills to be leaders in their community. Averill is an   Honorary Life Member of the Provincial and National Council, Girl Guides of Canada.

Averill always felt that volunteerism was her leisure, that it provided a feeling of time well spent. She received many prestigious awards for her volunteer work but would always gratefully acknowledge the support of the Heritage Club members and fellow volunteers of the Figure Skating Club, Guiding and her family.

Averill was honoured to be recognized as a Brandon YWCA Woman of Distinction in 2011, and to receive the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

Ralph and Averill sold their businesses in 2005 and 2006, and slowly shifted into a life of retirement. It seemed that although Averill was supposedly retired, she never really hung up her volunteering hat and stayed involved with the Heritage Club for as long as she could. Ralph and Averill moved into the Souris Personal Care Home in January 2017, where Averill was very happy.  She enjoyed activities that included music or singing.  Her face would light up to familiar music – Girl Guide songs, The Sound of Music, and hymns.  She loved the carols of Christmas.

Averill is survived by her husband Ralph and children Pam Whitfield, Daphne Schmidt (Grant) and Rod Whitfield (Melissa). She is reunited with her late son, Chris, who died December 22, 2008.

Averill and Ralph have seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren: Caleigh Walker Pambrun (Gabriel, with children Evelyne, Kadin and JS), Brynna Walker (Harry Curtin), Seth Walker; Spencer Schmidt and Carissa Schmidt; Reese Whitfield and Benjamin Whitfield.

The family extends sincere appreciation to the staff of the Souris Personal Care Home and Dr. David Cram who cared for Averill during her final years. You showed great kindness, respect and care, so she could live in comfort and joy. Thank you with all our hearts.

Funeral service was held at St. Paul’s United Church, Souris, Manitoba on Wednesday, December 28, 2022 with The Ven. Jonathan Hoskin officiating. Private interment in the Souris & Glenwood Cemetery.

In memory of Averill, donations may be made to the Souris and District Heritage Club c/o Municipality of Souris-Glenwood, PO Box 518, Souris MB, R0K 2C0, or to a local charity of your choice.

Please click the link to view the service.

35 thoughts on “Whitfield, Averill May”

  1. My prayers and support are with the Whitfield family at this time. I first met Averill at glee club and wow she had us singing in no time. Then girl guides where she taught me to be a leader. She had so many ideas to grow our community and is well known for ‘the brownie garden,’ that was created at the parks east entrance.. She was energetic and enthusiastic and always greeted with a big smile on her face. Peace has come to her now along with the everlasting Love of God.

  2. Our thoughts and prayers are with all at this very difficult time ! Averill was such a cheerful lady !

  3. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Whitfield Family. Averill was always a classy lady with a true heart for her community.

  4. Ralph and family,
    Sorry to hear of the passing of Averill. Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this sad and difficult time.
    It was always a pleasure to visit with Averill at The Plum. Our mother( Cec Kelesnik) thought very highly of Averill and was a good friend to her and Ralph. She did a lot for her community and will be greatly missed.
    Cherish your memories.
    Fred and Sharon Kelesnik
    Dean and Donna (Kelesnik) Couvier

  5. Sincere Condolences to the Whitfield family. Averill was a lovely lady and did so much for the Community. RIP Averill

  6. Dear Ralph and family,
    Our sincerest condolences for the loss of your beloved wife, mother and grandmother, Averill. We remember her as a dynamic women with boundless energy, infectious smile and a profound love of her community and her family. We always enjoyed getting her annual Christmas card, her words beaming with pride in her children’s accomplishments. During this holiday season, may you find strength and comfort knowing others, like our family are thinking of Averill with love. We are so sorry for your loss.
    Lois (Banks) Mayor and Family
    Cameron, Greg, Kathie and Warren Banks

  7. So sorry to hear, I was just a young kid who always helped her at the Souris Fair on the kids rides, when my family helped run the burger (pork on a bun) shack!(Dodd is the family name)

  8. We were so sorry to hear of Averill’s passing and send our sincere condolences. Ruth and Trevor Mealy

  9. Sincere condolence to all Averill family. Averill loved her music. Was great to watch her get so excited about a song she loved. And that big smile she had was wonderful.

  10. Our sincere condolences to Ralph & Family . Averill always had a cheerful smile for everyone and loved her community and the guiding organization.
    Hold your memories close.
    Marilyn & Robert Pearce

  11. All of our condolences to Ralph and his families. She was a great lady that The community Will miss dearly

  12. Averill will be long remembered for her love of family and community. Please accept our condolences at this very sad time.

  13. Deepest condolences to you all. Keep your memories close to help comfort you in the days, weeks and months ahead. Losing a mother isn’t easy. I’m so sorry

  14. Our sincerest condolences to Ralph and family. Averill will be missed by friends & community. Al & Lorna Robertson

  15. Pam
    Sending my most sincere condolences at the loss of your mother. I have such fond memories of her from my time in Brownies,Girl Guides, Rangers and then Cadets. What great times we had camping, working on badges and making new friendships with the Girl Scouts in Bottineau. She was a very energetic, special lady who was always so encouraging with her big friendly smile and contagious laugh. She will be missed.

  16. We are sorry to hear of Averills passing and send our sincere condolences. Helen and Merlin Mcmurray

  17. Our sincere condolences to Averill’s family during times of grief let her memory fill your hearts and bring a smile to your face and know that she would want that .
    Sincerely Traci & Clive

  18. Sincere Condolences to Ralph, Pam, Daphne and Rod and their families.
    Averill was a friendly, kind and wonderful lady. A huge community supporter.
    Thinking of you all at this sad time and hoping you find comfort in your memories.
    R.I.P. Averill

  19. Our hearts go out to Pam, Daphne, Rod, Ralph and all the extended family. She was a truly amazing lady. She was so community minded. Gave of herself to many worthwhile causes.
    I pray she rests in peace now and that you sense the God of all Comfort giving you the strength you need. I am so sorry I had to miss her funeral as was not well that day. Again, I wish you sincerest sympathies.

  20. Sorry to hear about Averill’s passing.
    Sending my sympathies. I will be thinking of you today.

  21. Pam
    Very sorry for your loss. Your mother always had a smile and kind word for everyone. She will be sadly missed.
    Elaine Phillips

  22. Our thoughts are with you all. That beautiful smile! May you hold your memories of Averill close to your hearts. Peace be with you all.

  23. We extend our Condolences to the Family
    on Averill’s passing, So Sorry.

    Bill & Bernice

  24. Rod and Whitfield family
    I am so sorry for your loss. You come from a strong, caring family and your Mom was a great model for you. Take care as you heal from this.

  25. Dear Ralph, Pam, Daphne and Rod

    Ron and I send out heartfelt condolences at Averill’s passing. Averill was Ron’s school teacher and he thought she was the best ever. When she started teaching she was barely older than her students but maybe that and her vivacious personality was what made her such a great teacher. Averill went on to do many amazing things in her life. Her presence will be missed by all who knew her. When I told Ron that Averill had died, he said he loved her.
    May she Rest In Peace.

  26. Sending our deepest sympathy to the Whitfield family in the loss of Averill. Know that you are all in our thoughts at this sad time.

    The Turner’s at Carroll

  27. We are sorry for your loss. You will have many special memories of Averill to keep in your hearts. We send our condolences. Deepest sympathy from Ruth, Garry and family

  28. I moved to Souris, on the same street as Averill and Ralph. She stopped at my house to introduce herself and to make sure that I was invited to their anniversary party. Such a sweet lady and what a lovely guesture, inviting a stranger to an event so that I could meet the community.
    She always held onto her sweet and optimistic outlook. You could never be unhappy after spending any time with her.

  29. Averill was fortunate to have been able to do things that she loved to do throughout her life. She was an advocate of achievement, fairness and helping others. She never wavered in trying to bring out the best in all of us. All who knew and admired Averill are grateful for her energy and devotion. Her gifts of care have benefitted us all.

  30. I was always greeted by Averill with a smile. She was unfailingly kind to me. What I will remember most about her is how much she cared for the community she lived in.

  31. Your Mother was a very kind and loving , and hard working lady. She accomplished so much and just seemed to know how to get things done, and done right. Averil was such a Happy, Kind and Caring lady! WE will all miss this wonderful Lady. Her voice alwyas brought smiles and inspiration to us all. I will miss her as will those who were lucky enough to have know this very Special lady.

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