Frances Gwendolyn (Gwen) Parker and her twin brother, Hartley were born in 1927 to Tom and Nellie Wilson on their farm northeast of Deloraine. Her education to Grade 8 was obtained in a one-room country school and Grade 9 by correspondence courses. She continued her education in Winnipeg, graduating from Grade 12 at Kelvin High School in 1944. She received her Bachelor of Science (H.Ec.) degree in 1948 from the Faculty of Agriculture and Home Economics at the University of Manitoba.
Her first job was as an Extension Home Economist with the Ontario Department of Agriculture. This began a lifelong career of working with women and their families.
Gwen married Lorne Parker of Sanford in 1949. They moved to the family farm near Ste. Agathe where three daughters, Sharon, Denise and Joanne, and one son, Scott, were born and raised. Scott is now the fifth generation to operate this farm. When other agricultural commitments kept Lorne absent for periods of time, Gwen managed many of the farming decisions as well as her family and household duties.
In 1966 she became the first Provincial Executive Secretary of Manitoba Women’s Institute – a position she held for 26 years, working with 13 different provincial presidents and a countless number of board members. In her quiet unassuming way she was a mentor to all. She was always there to listen, offer advice, cultivate potential and develop self-confidence. Gwen’s gentle pushing resulted in many women doing things they had never imagined possible as they sat on boards and committees at provincial, national and even international levels. Women would feel Gwen’s support and appreciate her expertise as they wrote briefs and reports, developed resolutions, critiqued legislation and met with legislators. Her work in the WI extended far beyond Manitoba borders as she attended national and international meetings and kept Manitoba women aware of the broader issues as editor of the MWI Newsletter.
She was an innovator in helping develop programs such as Manitoba Farm Vacations, Rural Leadership Training, Ag in the Classroom and Rural Stress Line. She is an enthusiastic supporter of any cause that improves the quality of life in rural areas. Gwen is a valued member of her church, local W.I., University Women’s Club and Manitoba Association of Home Economists. Following Lorne’s death from cancer in 1990, her caring nature led her to complete volunteer training for Hospice and Palliative Care Manitoba. Gwen now gives practical, emotional and spiritual support to those needing her compassionate care.
Gwen’s life exemplifies her belief that “if you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem”.