Lakehead University Alumni Magazine

The Unconventional Life of Annie Werbicka Childs

A legacy for students – a generous donor leaves more than $650,000 in her will to Lakehead University

Published February 07, 2014

A Fighter is Born

Annie Werbicka Childs

Annie Werbicka Childs never backed down from anything.

Born in 1919, she was the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who settled in Thunder Bay's East End. Annie grew up facing hardship and malnutrition.

Many would break under the weight of such a life – but not Annie.

She had a steely resolve as well as a deep-rooted kindness nurtured by the love of her mother. Annie always sought the truth and anyone who met her was struck by her honesty. Her long-time friend, Stan Dromisky, recalls that Annie would invariably say, "Stick to the facts."

As a young girl, it would have been impossible to foresee the incredible impact Annie Childs would have on her community.

The value she placed on education and her generosity is now providing Lakehead University students, as well as many Northwestern Ontarians, with opportunities that were beyond Annie's reach.

Her formal education ended immediately after Grade 8 when she got a job as a waitress at a Woolworth's coffee shop to support herself and her mother.

"If she got a 5 cent tip, she went across the street to the bank and deposited it in her account," Stan says. "That started her on a pattern of saving."

Annie waitressed until World War II broke out when she was hired at a Canada Car plant to build airplanes. In 1954, she married Ernie Childs, a war veteran, and the couple bought a house, fulfilling one of Annie's dreams.

An Exceptional legacy

Annie wasn't content to relax after finding some stability in her life.

She was fiercely intelligent and creative. "If she had continued with school, she would have been a top notch student," Stan explains.

Annie Werbicka Childs surrounded by a few of her crafted cakes

She loved music and taught herself to play the mandolin, becoming a member of a string orchestra. But, always practical, Annie channelled her creativity into a new career – fashioning elaborate wedding cakes.

Her breathtaking confections won prizes locally and nationally. "Annie brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people. We found wonderful letters from brides and mothers of brides thanking her," Stan says.

Every time we met, you gave me a hug.

Annie continued to live frugally throughout the decades. When she became ill, Stan learned that Annie had made him the executor of her estate. He was touched at Annie's trust in him and asked why she had chosen him.

"Every time we met, you gave me a hug," she replied. "No one else ever did that."

As her life was drawing to a close, Annie wanted to open doors for young people. That's why Stan approached Lakehead University to get information about scholarships for "kids who can't afford to go to university, who work hard, who are bright."

Nonetheless, Annie and Stan were shocked to discover exactly how much money she had managed to save – over a million dollars. The two friends worked together to select community organizations to support. When Annie died at the age of 93 on April 9, 2012, she had lived courageously and with integrity.

Lakehead University is proud to announce that Annie Werbicka Childs has donated well over half-a-million dollars to give students opportunities they might not otherwise have.

A legacy gift is a powerful way to change a student's life. For more information, please contact Lee-Anne Camlin at rlcamlin@lakeheadu.ca or by calling 807-346-7792.

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