Yolanda Fleming’s 90th birthday party in 2008 was such a hot item on the Holy Rosary parish calendar the fire department had to be summoned.
“I remember the candles on the cake set off the smoke alarm in the parish centre,” recalled former pastor Father Ron Cote, “firefighters came and ended up sharing in the cake!”
It’s rare for a church organization to honor one of its parishioners with a special party. You do it for one, you feel you have to do it for them all.
However, Fleming has contributed so much to the parish and Aldershot community during the almost 60 years she has lived there that an exception to the rule was a no-brainer.
Fleming, who will turn 98 in December, does all her volunteer work with a smile on her face.
“Yolanda has one of the best smiles in the parish, a very generous personality and is ready to help anybody and everybody,” said Cote, now retired and living in Dundas. “She has energy to burn, for her age.”
And that’s no pun!
A widow for the last 44 years, Fleming has served two separate terms as president of the Holy Rosary Catholic Women’s League and has not missed working at a single Bell Bazaar for the 58 years she has been a member of the church.
What’s more, she was responsible for starting a weekday afternoon drop-in centre for senior citizens, one which has evolved into a bridge club and welcomes participants of all religious persuasions, many of them like herself widows or widowers.
Fleming still attends weekday Mass, knits all sorts of clothing year-round for sale at the bazaar and is chief money-counter on the big day, usually the first Saturday of November. On weekends, she keeps her mind sharp by doing challenging crossword puzzles.
She learned her craft knitting socks for soldiers during the Second World War while she was working as personnel manager for Zeller’s on James St. in Hamilton.
Over the years the Holy Rosary CWL has supported a host of worthy causes including Canadian Food for Children and Development and Peace.
Fleming drove a car, often transporting boxes of goods back and forth on the extremely busy Plains Road, until the age of 95 when she surrendered her licence.
“I got to a point where the traffic just got a little out of hand,” she says.
For her efforts, Fleming was one of 45 volunteers recognized recently with a Sesquicentennial Citizenship Award for welcoming newcomers, helping the less fortunate and displaying a passion for a variety of causes, in her case, the well-being of senior citizens.
Burlington MP Karina Gould presented each recipient with a special limited edition 150th anniversary pin that contains a special piece of Canadiana, copper from the roof of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.
Fleming, who is an aunt of the late Bernie Morelli the Ward 3 representative on Hamilton City Council for more than 20 years, and her husband Francis once operated both the tea room in the Rock Garden of the Royal Botanical Gardens and a food facility in the Rose Garden. It was in the Rose Garden that she met and served Princess Margaret during one of her tours of Canada in July of 1988.
The tea house, which featured a light lunch and fancy pastries, was started by her husband Francis.
Long before that they operated Fran’s Catering in Hamilton and had a restaurant at the corner of King St. and Longwood in Westdale. They also ran the cafeteria at the original Bishop Ryan high school on Queenston Road when Father Cote was serving as principal.
Fleming grew up in St. Anthony’s Parish in the Steel City. She attended Cathedral Girls high school and marched in the annual Marian Day celebrations at Civic Stadium in May. Father Charlie Mascari married the couple in the old church on Clinton St. on April 22, 1950.
Fleming’s children Denise, Gerard, Mary-Ellen and Paul all helped out with her catering. She also has 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
When Francis died in 1973, Fleming said it felt like the end of the world.
“He had bookings for a full year ahead, including one with the Children’s Aid Society for a dinner for foster parents,” she said.
She offered to find the society another caterer, but a woman from the CAS encouraged her to carry on, telling her, “You’ll do it.” “That’s what kept me going,” Fleming said.