Like most lifelong community volunteers, Zita Muise doesn’t do it for accolades.
But her work certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed or unappreciated, and on June 29 her 45 years of volunteer work for the community of South Branch and beyond were officially recognized by the province when it was announced Muise had been chosen as one of this year’s Seniors of Distinction.
It was a former student, Ron Aucoin, who nominated Muise for the award.
“We kept in touch all through the years,” said Muise, who taught school for four years. “He was on different committees that I was on.”
When he approached Muise about nominating her for the Seniors of Distinction award, she told him she didn’t want it.
“I said, ‘Ron I don’t like publicity. I don’t like the limelight.’ But he kept insisting,” she said.
In addition, the nomination came around the same time Muise was going through a particularly rough patch. The mother of 12 lost a daughter to breast cancer in February.
“It was a bit stressful,” admits Muise. “Darned stuff.”
She eventually conceded and allowed Aucoin to proceed with the nomination and helped him by collating the information about all of the volunteer work she had performed. Having volunteered in one capacity or another since she was 17, the list of her contributions is a long one.
“I started when I was only a teenager, having to take my turn unlocking and locking the church every evening and sweeping the church, that type of thing,” she recalled.
After she was married Muise remained involved with the local church group, and it seemed to snowball from there. She joined a recreation group, then the Codroy Valley and Area Development Association (CVADA) and served on the board for the Credit Union and the credit committee.
“They had a child protection team in Port aux Basques for a couple of years. I was on that team,” she said.
She also served on the Southwest Coast Tourism Association, and even ran her own bed and breakfast for a while.
Muise has also helped out in other communities besides South Branch. For six years the Muise family lived in Deer Lake, and naturally she volunteered on at least three committees there as well. She also found time to work with the town council.
Eventually the Muise family returned home to South Branch and she picked right back up where she’d left off, rejoining the CVADA and helping to set up a summer craft shop.
Those are just a few of the highlights that Muise can list off the top of her head. She didn’t keep a copy of the list Aucoin eventually sent in.
“He wouldn’t give up. I have to give him credit. Ron put a lot of work in it,” said Muise. “He’s the one who should get the award, not me.”
Once the list was ready to submit, Aucoin asked for and found even more support for Muise.
Doreen MacIsaac stepped forward to second the nomination, while Cory Munden and Darrell Kelly stepped up to pen strong letters of recommendation.
Muise is truly grateful for their support, and a bit overwhelmed.
“They gave me really good references,” she acknowledged, repeatedly expressing gratitude to her supporters.
Once the nomination was sent in all Aucoin and the other supporters could do was wait. A few weeks ago, Muise got a call saying she had been chosen to receive the award, should she be willing to accept.
Muise admits to some initial hesitation.
Accepting the award meant a trip to St. John’s in early October, a ceremony and a reception.
“The thought of that scared me half to death,” said Muise, who says she isn’t much of a traveler and prefers to sleep in her own bed every night.
But Aucoin had put so much work into securing her nomination that Muise felt compelled to accept.
“The least I could do is go along with it, you know?”
This isn’t the first time Muise has been presented with an award recognizing her contributions. She was also presented with one of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medals in 2012.
So where exactly did the mother of 12 find time to volunteer so much?
“Well I used to do it all in the evening,” said Muise.
These days the 83-year-old says she has scaled back her volunteer hours.
“The only thing I’m on now is the South Branch waste disposal,” said Muise. “I’m still involved in organizing the square dances. We’re trying to keep it going but it’s not easy.”
It’s mostly seniors who participate, and there’s never enough men. Three women who recently joined are learning to dance as a male partner.
Muise would love to see more young people take an interest in square dancing. She’s been square dancing since her teens.
“They put up a square dance at the folk festival every year, because it is part of our culture, our heritage.”
She also highly recommends volunteer work to others.
“That’s a great way to meet people,” said Muise, who knows a wealth of people from Codroy to Deer Lake thanks to volunteering. “People I met on different committees and organizations.”
At the end of the day, Muise boils down her lifelong commitment to a single ideal.
“I did volunteer work because I felt it was my duty as a parent, and also my duty as a resident of the community.”