Twenty-nine years and 362 days from the day Wendy McConnell started her career in the insurance business, she retired. Wendy says it had been her plan to retire precisely on her thirtieth anniversary—April 1—but she felt, and rightly so, that the opportunity to turn her retirement into an April Fools joke should be avoided.
Doppler sat down with Wendy recently to talk about her impending retirement, her active second career as a volunteer and leader in the community and what retirement will feel like for her.
Although it seems like Wendy has been in Huntsville forever, her family is originally from the Niagara Peninsula. She moved to Huntsville with her parents and two sisters in 1969.
Wendy recalls that her first job in town was at the Huntsville Forester. “I worked at the Forester for many years,” Wendy said. “I have fond, fond memories of working for Peter Rice. He challenged us every day. It was a great experience. I worked with the likes of George Morrison, Ev Van Duuren and Garth (Schatzi) Thomas.”
From there she went on to work for the Craig family, tending bar at Grandview Farm, and then joined Jeannie McLennan at This is It Hairstyling for 15 years. “I really enjoyed my time with her,” Wendy said with a glint of mischief in her eyes.
Then, “thirty years ago,” Wendy says, “my parents for whatever reason thought I needed a career and asked me if I wanted to get into the insurance business.” Wendy joined the family firm. When her Dad, Russ, retired in 1991 the brokerage was sold to Martin’s Insurance and in 1996 BrokerLink took it over. “I sort of went along with the furniture,” Wendy jokes.
Wendy’s self-deprecating humour belies her achievements. As Branch Manager, Wendy made sure that BrokerLink had a presence in the community and was thought of as a ‘local’ insurance company. “I wanted people to know who we are and that we are not this big bad corporation that has offices all across Canada and doesn’t care about hometown people,” Wendy said.
Under Wendy’s leadership, BrokerLink has been hosting a breast cancer awareness barbeque for over ten years, raising about $15,000 for the cause. They were also the lead sponsor for a number of years in Huntsville’s Golf for the Girls tournament. “I’m proud of our sponsorship of Golf for the Girls,” Wendy said. “I took the idea to management and they said it was an awesome idea. So we jumped on board with a five-year commitment, which translated to about $30,000. Supporting breast cancer treatment and research is important to me but I also think it’s important to have women in business helping other women.”
In addition to working full time for much of her life, raising two children and being involved in the lives of her three grandchildren, Wendy could always be found working hard on behalf many of Huntsville’s sporting groups.
Her involvement with sport started almost immediately after she moved to Huntsville when her little sister Gail said she really wanted to play hockey. Wendy and her husband Dan were instrumental in organizing, promoting and advocating for girls hockey in Huntsville. In that role Wendy got herself on the board of the Huntsville Minor Hockey Association where she pushed for equal access to ice time for the girls. She then served on the board of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association for 14 years. She was there in 1987 when the OWHA hosted the very first World Women’s Hockey tournament. That tournament was a precursor to women being allowed to play hockey in the Olympics; a couple of years later women’s hockey was admitted into the Olympics.
Wendy was president of Huntsville Minor baseball for a number of years, a role for which she was recognized by the government of Ontario in the days of Bob Rae for volunteerism and sport for minor baseball. She organized the volunteers for the Canadian National Pond Hockey Championships that were held at Deerhurst and was chair of the 2015 National Women’s U18 Championships hosted in Huntsville.
Not surprisingly, Wendy was inducted into the Huntsville Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 as a Builder. She is proud of the work that group has done and especially proud that after a 10-year hiatus the organization is thriving and that her dear friend and Hall of Fame founder, Mike Greaves, was alive to see it blossom again.
My 30 years has come down to two boxes,” Wendy joked said as she reached in to pull out an award of recognition from the government of Ontario in the days of Bob Rae for volunteerism and sport for minor baseball.
Wendy says she is going to miss the team at BrokerLink and the many people she has had the pleasure of serving over the years. “I am going to miss the team here. We have become like family. I personally hired every
one of them and I think I did a pretty good job. They are really dedicated group,“ Wendy said, choking up. “And I am going to miss the clients too. They are clients, yes, but they are friends.”
Wendy’s not sure what retirement will bring to her and Dan. She said her stomach has been in turmoil thinking about it. They may buy an RV and drive around North America. There will definitely be more golf in her life and maybe a garden will finally get planted this summer. However, anyone who knows Wendy knows that retirement won’t involve much down time. She has already agreed to take on the role of Chair of Volunteers for next year’s Ontario 55-plus Winter Games. No doubt Wendy will co-opt Dan, and anyone else she comes across, for a role in that as well.
It’s not retirement. It’s more time for volunteering.
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