88-year-old a busy community member who has no desire to move 

The walls are dotted with pictures, which elicit memories and stories stemming from a very busy life — all spent under one roof. For 88-year-old, Doreen Orman her home is much more than a house; it’s part of deep roots that connect her family to the community.

“Yeah, it’s home,” she says with a smile.

“I have no desire to move,” Orman says with laughter. “The street has become very busy, but you know, they have done so much to enhance Memorial Drive. It’s a wonderful place being near the river.”

Living in Sunnyside for 65 years, Doreen Orman has been a very busy lady.

Photo by Shannon Galley 

She pours two cups of tea and sits down at the table in her kitchen. It fills with light because of the large windows that overlook the tiny backyard. The backyard is decorated with plants and shrubs that surround a small brick patio.

“I love the trees, I love to garden,” she says. “I have no desire to go into a condominium.”

A house with history

Orman has lived in the 102-year-old home on Memorial Drive since 1948. She and her husband Jack first rented it from his grandmother for $75 per month. The couple bought the house in 1960 for $11,500.

“It’s built so well, you cannot hear the traffic outside,” Orman says. “Someone once said it’s like a whole other world out there,” referring to the noise of the street when you step outside.

Orman says she can remember a time when milk was delivered to the front door. There was no Safeway, but North Star Grocery and a butcher shop down the street.

When the house turned 100 in 2011, Orman and her family had a big party. For the party, she dressed up in clothing from the era and her granddaughter sang Frank Sinatra’s On the Sunny Side of the Street in the backyard for family and friends.

Photo courtesy of Doreen Orman When the house turned 100 in 2011, Orman and her family had a big party. For the party, she dressed up in clothing from the era and her granddaughter sang Frank Sinatra’s On the Sunny Side of the Street in the backyard for family and friends.

This past summer she displayed a sign on the lawn explaining the history of her home as part of the annual Century Homes, Calgary Historic Homes Week.

A strong family

The house and the community were full of Ormans. Doreen’s husband was raised in Sunnyside, her mother-in-law lived down the street, and Jack’s grandparents lived on the corner.

Doreen and Jack raised two children — Rick, who would become Alberta’s energy minister (1989-1992) and Maureen, a qualified proofreader and editor now living in Vancouver.

The children attended Sunnyside School as did their dad, Jack. Now, grandchildren and great grandchildren routinely visit the matriarch, with grandson Riley living at her home in 2012.

She and her husband thought about moving to the suburbs with their family but they decided against it.

“As long as we had a strong family, we would remain in Sunnyside,” she says. “Everyone in Sunnyside felt like family.”

Orman credits Sunday dinners as a tradition that kept the clan together. They still get together for Sunday dinners when everyone is available.

“Now with the great grandchildren, when they all come for dinner, they just head right upstairs to the bedroom with the toys that my kids had and my grandkids had and they go and they play with them,” she says.

Jack Orman died in 2006 and Orman has been living by herself in the old home, with the occasional live-in family member. She still feels safe in the community, though she wouldn’t go out at night alone.

Serving the community

Always a very active member of the community, Doreen has maintained a passion for making a difference.

She was part of the planning committee with the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association.

“It was a big plus. I felt like I had some input in how I wanted this area to be. I became very involved in the ’60s,” she says.

There were times when Orman says she could see the community changing and she wanted to do something to keep the family-friendly feel.

In the ’70s and ’80s she helped fight high-rise, high-density developments and the widening of Memorial Drive. She notes that there are mostly low-rise apartments in Sunnyside and this was very important to her and the community at the time.Orman ran for MLA in 1979. The campaign headquarters were in the kitchen of her Sunnyside home.

Photo by Shannon Galley 

She helped to get the developers to come to the community association with building requests, before going to the city. This allowed residents of Sunnyside to have first say with what was going on in the community.

Orman, the former president of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) received the Governor General’s Award in 1992 for her work for women’s rights.

All of this volunteer work caught the attention of Premier Peter Lougheed who asked her to run for MLA in the riding of Calgary Mountain View in 1979.

“When I ran for the nomination for the conservative party, this (the house) was my headquarters.

“Premier Lougheed had asked me to run and it took me a long time to decide because I didn’t think I was conservative, I wasn’t anything, I was very apolitical at the time,” she says.

Lougheed gave Orman the summer to make a decision and she decided to go for it. She says she had a really good manager and they all met in the kitchen of her Sunnyside home.

“It was fun, I really enjoyed it and I got great support,” she says. “Lougheed was a great guy and I wouldn’t have considered running with anyone else.”

Orman lost, but looking back she says it may have been for the best.

“I don’t know if I could have handled it,” she says. “Politicians go in very idealistic, thinking they’re going to change things and it doesn’t always happen that way. It would have been tough,” she says.

Keeping the history

With all these memories, accomplishments and community connections she says the old house would be a hard place to leave.

Preserving the history of the home is paramount for Orman. Looking ahead, she says she wants to get the 102-year-old home on a protected list which would ensure nothing on the outside could be changed and the home could never be demolished.

And looking back, she says, “It’s been a busy life, but I’ve been very blessed.”

sgalley@cjournal.ca 

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