‘Brown Owl’ to gen­er­a­tions of women in Bon­av­ista

Frances Sweet­land hon­oured for 80 years in Girl Guid­ing

The Packet (Clarenville) - - Community - BY JONATHAN PAR­SONS

As Frances Sweet­land walked into the Matthew Ele­men­tary gym­na­sium in Bon­av­ista, over 100 Sparks, Brown­ies, Guides, Pathfind­ers and Rangers — past and present — stood and ap­plauded the con­sum­mate vol­un­teer and life­long Guider.

Tears im­me­di­ately welled up in her eyes as many of the women who she af­fected over her life­time in Girl Guides sur­prised her with a cer­e­mony on Satur­day, Nov. 3.

Sweet­land, days shy of her 88th birth­day, had also marked an­other mile­stone — 80 years as an ac­tive mem­ber of Girl Guides, a feat that is not only a record for the prov­ince, but likely the en­tire coun­try.

The woman who is af­fec­tion­ately known to gen­er­a­tions of women in the Bon­av­ista area as “Brown Owl” — the ti­tle of the Brownie leader for a group — still sings and dances around the toad­stool each Thurs­day night with the cur­rent Brown­ies, while also hav­ing been Brown Owl for women as old as their 70s.

Sweet­land be­gan her life­time in Guid­ing as a Brownie in 1938, fol­lowed by time as a Guide, Ranger, Leader and Com­mis­sioner — even the “cookie con­veyor” for the area, amongst a host of other roles. She even be­gan the Rangers pro­gram in Bon­av­ista.

In ad­di­tion to the Girl Guides, she has also vol­un­teered with count­less other or­ga­ni­za­tions in the com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing the Red Cross, Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices, Sun­day School su­per­in­ten­dent, Girls Friendly So­ci­ety, Health Care Aux­il­iary and is a re­cip­i­ent of the Or­der of New­found­land.

Lured to the event think­ing it was a cake walk fundraiser for the Green Trees camp in Trin­ity Bay she had spent so many sum­mers at­tend­ing — and played an in­stru­men­tal role in re­open­ing af­ter hur­ri­cane Igor rav­aged the area — the hum­ble vol­un­teer was met with con­grat­u­la­tions and thanks, as well as cer­tifi­cates rec­og­niz­ing her longevity and gifts.

She was also joined by her fam­ily, the ma­jor­ity of which were also a part of Girl Guides over the years, in­clud­ing her daugh­ters and grand­daugh­ters.

Sweet­land told The Packet, dur­ing a round of “Camp­fire Burn­ing” sung by all in at­ten­dance, she was sur­prised by the event be­cause she doesn’t par­tic­i­pate in Guid­ing for the recog­ni­tion.

“I don’t know how they got all these peo­ple to­gether!” she mar­veled.

Pathfinder leader Leigh-Ann Ry­der helped or­ga­nize the event, hav­ing worked along­side Sweet­land for 13 years, she — like most — was also in Brown­ies in Bon­av­ista with Brown Owl.

Ry­der fondly re­mem­bers work­ing on a sew­ing badge in Brown­ies with Sweet­land. She laughs when she re­calls Brown Owl’s prag­matic re­sponse to the stuffed owl she sewed. Decades later, Ry­der’s own daugh­ter had the same ex­pe­ri­ence in Brown­ies. Jor­dan is now in her last year of Pathfind­ers.

“We can both sew a but­ton on be­cause we were in Brown­ies,” she told The Packet. “And Brown Owl knew that was im­por­tant.”

At the event, Ry­der spoke of the em­pow­er­ment Girl Guides gives young women, declar­ing that Brown Owl was “girl power” be­fore “girl power” was

PHO­TOS BY JONATHAN PAR­SONS/THE PACKET

Frances Sweet­land was pre­sented with a flower by one of her Brown­ies, Claire, who is seven years old.

Dis­trict com­mis­sioner Mar­sha Goodyear presents a cer­tifi­cate of Longevity of Ser­vice to Frances Sweet­land. Bon­av­ista MHA Neil King also gave a cer­tifi­cate from the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to Sweet­land at the event.

Pathfind­ers leader Leigh-Ann Ry­der col­lects flow­ers from the girls and women in at­ten­dance, who of­fer their con­grat­u­la­tions to “Brown Owl”.

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