She’s raised over $90,000 for charity, including $10,800 this year alone, but remains quietly reserved when asked about it.
“I don’t want to come across as pompous,” said Wendy Callahan.
Governor General David Johnston presented her with the Caring Canadian Award in recognition of her efforts in April.
“These volunteers are examples of everything that is right and good about our country,” said Johnston.
The award recognizes living Canadians and permanent residents who have made a significant, sustained, unpaid contribution to their community.
She and a friend were flown to Ottawa for the ceremony.
“I was honoured that she asked me to go along with her,” said Nancy Irvine. “I’m honoured to have her as a friend.”
“Look what one local person has contributed,” she said. “One person can make a difference.”
Callahan found the ceremony, complete with a barrage of photographers and journalists, to be overwhelming.
As for the trip and the way she was treated, she said simply, “It was really very nice.”
She is quiet and modest, but this diminutive dynamo is an example what can be done by single-minded effort.
It all started with her participation in CIBC’s Run for the Cure fundraiser in 1998.
The catalyst for her involvement was Flo Kitz, a regular customer at the restaurant where Callahan was a server and who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“She was vivacious. She had so much to offer, she was just a very nice person,” she said.
Watching Kitz battle with cancer had a profound impact on Callahan.
“She was so positive and I never thought that she wouldn’t make it,” she said. “But she didn’t, and I thought that was just very sad, and what a waste of a life.”
That year $18,000 of the $40,000 raised remained in Yukon, as the organizers were a national group.
“It was the first deposit towards our mammogram machine, so it was very useful,” Callahan said.
A new mammogram machine cost nearly $700,000. The entire amount was raised through a new program, Run for Mom.
Run for Mom was started by two local women, Tamara Goeppel and Donna Jones, along with an organizing committee made up of volunteers, community members and hospital staff.
Callahan joined the first Run for Mom that was launched on Mother’s Day in 1999. She hasn’t missed one since.
That year she had the name of a woman whom she babysat as a child emblazoned on her bib.
“Her mother had asked if I would do that and I was very happy to do that for Karen. Karen had survived. She’s a survivor.”
There is no history of breast cancer in Callahan’s family, and she has had no personal battle with it. But there has been no lack of motivation for Callahan to continue her journey with Run for Mom.
She’s watched others courageously battle cancer. Some have been victorious, others have not.
“It just makes you realize they really need a lot of support,” she said.
Callahan works in the Yukon government’s mailroom.
“Even in this building there were two women in less than a few weeks, both diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said.
“That was three or four years ago. They’re both survivors.”
They were in the same department and worked a few doors from each other.
The people that sponsor Callahan do so year after year.
“The people of Whitehorse I find are very generous,” she said.
“Even before I get my campaign started some years, people are coming up to me going, ‘When are you starting your campaign for Run for Mom? Don’t forget me. You know I have such loyal support.’ I’m very lucky.”
Her quiet, unassuming manner belies a fierce dedication to the cause. The amount of money she’s raised has consistently increased each year.
Run for Mom has funded the publication of a handout for women on what to expect when they come for a mammogram, supported the Paddlers Abreast canoe team, and made it possible for two local breast cancer survivors to attend the International Congress on Breast Cancer.
They continue fundraising for diagnostic equipment, delivery of services, education, public awareness, and development and support of community projects and programs related to breast health.
All proceeds from this fundraiser remain in the Yukon.
Callahan says she is not an active volunteer for other groups. But she did volunteer for the Canada Winter Games and the Arctic Winter Games.
“If someone asked me to do something, I definitely would help with other things. But as far as being someone who goes out and volunteers all the time, I wouldn’t say that I’m that kind, or have that much time.”
Some people believe otherwise.
“You know you can always depend on her,” said Irvine. “Certainly she is out for the community in general.”
The accolades continue for the unpretentious Callahan.
Besides receiving the Caring Canadian award, a tribute to her was presented in the Yukon legislature by MLA Kate White.
She is about to be further recognized by being the recipient of a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award for her volunteer efforts.
Callahan’s mother, Janet Couture, received a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award in May for her creation of the Yukon Tartan.
Apparently, community service runs in the family.