Newmarket has lost one of its beloved seniors with the passing of Maureen Huismans, who celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year.
Huismans had lived in Newmarket since the mid-1990s and after retiring from a long career as a banking manager with CIBC, she filled her time helping the community.
“Everything she did, she always did it from the point of view that you help if you can help,” daughter Wendy Huismans said. “If she saw a need, she couldn’t leave it alone.”
One of her biggest causes was the Newmarket Food Pantry.
“That one in particular was very dear to her. To think that people wouldn’t have enough food was too overwhelming,” Wendy said.
Huismans became the chair at the food pantry board and it was then that she developed a friendship with Keith Profit, who also served on the board.
Profit said she was an amazing woman who was always forward thinking and coming up with new ideas.
At that time, he said they were running the pantry out of Old Town Hall and had to store food in the old jail cells.
Huismans was instrumental in finding them a new place to operate, but Profit said there was an even bigger impact she had there.
“The thing that she really pioneered, that I think is wonderful, was allowing individuals who were coming to get food to actually shop,” he said.
Previously when they gave people pre-packed boxes they would find food was wasted as it may not have met that families need and allowing them to shop changed that.
“This way they could get what they need so they could have a choice and that’s been amazing,” Profit said.
He said that Huismans stepped back a bit when they moved to their current spot on Gorham Street, but the pantry remained an important cause to support.
Recently, Huismans won $250,000 playing the instant crossword scratch card.
When Profit heard about the winnings, he called her to see what she was going to do with it and she said she didn’t know because she had never had that much money.
“She said, ‘I think I should get some new clothes’ and I said, ‘Well, my God, Maureen, you could probably buy the whole store,’” he said.
However, she knew for sure that she wanted to support the Newmarket Food Pantry. Not only did she donate part of the money to them, she invested some of it and set it up so that the interest cheques went to the food pantry,
Outside of that, Huismans was involved in creating opportunities for the community to come together.
She founded the Women’s Probus Club of Newmarket, the East Gwillimbury Quilters Guild and played a big part in getting the Newmarket Seniors Meeting Place up and running.
“She never backed down. She thought if there’s something we want to do, we should do it,” Wendy said.
There, she played badminton and also sang in the Keynotes, a seniors choir that Profit conducts.
He said they had a lot of fun there.
“One thing about Maureen was that she never hesitated to tell you what she thought. We had a lot of laughs,” Profit said.
In 2012, she received the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition of all her contributions to the community.
Her daughter said that she was fierce and that she never backed down from a challenge, a perspective she believes is shaped by the adversity Huismans faced in her life.
Born in Liverpool, England in 1931, Huismans survived a bombing that killed her father. She was evacuated to Wales but was separated from her sisters. She eventually moved to Canada in 1956, however, shortly after that her husband died, leaving her a widow with a three-year-old child.
It was due to her “British grit” that she carried on, met her second husband, had two more kids and went on to open her home to a number of foster children.
However, when COVID-19 hit in 2020, it presented a new challenge. Wendy said it was terrible for her mum who was a social butterfly.
“Especially in the beginning with grandchildren in school and nobody vaccinated, we couldn’t come around,” she said.
Huismans' front porch became her main source of socialization and she would sit out there and wave at people going by and got to know her neighbours on Victoria Street.
Profit said that Huismans was always “sitting out there, holding court and she did that almost every single day.”
Her daughter said even one of the workers at Margaret Bahen Hospice, where Huismans spent her final days, told her they lived in the area and used to wave to her as they went by.
When she passed away, Wendy said the man who owned the house where Huismans lived set her chair out front and centre with a Rest in Peace sign on it.
“The next day I got there and there were flowers and notes from the kids who had passed by every day. It was really nice,” she said,
One of the people who regularly waved at Huismans on his walks was her ward councillor, Bob Kwapis.
He paid tribute to her in a council meeting on Monday, Nov. 15.
“She has been a major contributor to Newmarket. She’s always refused to slow down, especially when she was retired. As a major contributor she was well known for her volunteering,” Kwapis said.
He went on to highlight her many volunteer endeavours and accomplishments.
“She definitely has served Newmarket and is well known within the area,” he said.
Mayor John Taylor also shared his thoughts.
“I knew Maureen fairly well, quite well, and knew her for many, many years, for 15 years, and she was also, among all of those things, she was also a force to be reckoned with. She had very strong opinions and she was often very, very right with her opinions,” he said.
Taylor said that Huismans never hesitated to reach out to him and share her thoughts about what they could be doing better.
“She was always advocating for the betterment of the many and she was very effective in all that she did,” he said.
Maureen Huismans passed away on Tuesday, Nov. 9 after spending just four days in the hospice in Newmarket.
Independent to the end, Wendy said her mum had already made the necessary arrangements for her cremation.
“That was all taken care of, she did it herself. That was all very true to form,” she said.
She said Huismans did not want a funeral or formal service, and just wished for her ashes to be spread over rose bushes.
Wendy said they will plant some in the spring at her brother Mark’s property north of Barrie so they will have somewhere to go together and remember her.
Huismans’ other wish was for a celebration of life tea party at the Newmarket Seniors Meeting Place and Wendy said she hopes to be able to do that for her in the future.