“I’ve always been busy, all my life, because I was a working mom and it becomes habit that you stay busy.”
That’s how Pat Gotto explains her curriculum vitae as a thrice-retired registered nurse and inveterate volunteer.
“I enjoy helping other people and I feel very strongly about North Battleford and that it needs to be a good place for people to live,” says Pat. “I think volunteerism helps to keep it a good place.”
She’s been volunteering not just in retirement, but throughout her employment years as well. A registered nurse at Battlefords Union Hospital for most of her nursing career, she managed the surgical unit and the intensive care unit and eventually became the director of nursing.
When their children were young, Pat and her husband Al got involved in sandlot baseball, which carried on even after their kids got older, and Pat also volunteered as a CPR instructor with the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
She has been involved with the Battlefords Union Hospital Foundation since its inception in 1992, joining the board in 1994. In 1997, she was also invited to sit on the board of the former Battlefords Health District and was then appointed the health district’s liaison with BUHF. She retired from this position in 2008 but continues to volunteer with the foundation.
The organization nominated her for the Diamond Jubilee Medal in August 2012, which she received in 2013 from the lieutenant governor at Government House in Regina.
“When I see or hear of a patient who has been very ill and has really been helped by something that the foundation was able to supply, some equipment that was special, that just really gives you a boost,” says Pat of her work with the BUHF. “It really is all worthwhile, you know it is.”
She adds with a laugh, “Because health care has been my life, I’m bound to be stuck in there, but it is very, very satisfying to think that, ‘Yes, we really did help, we maybe even saved a life.’”
Pat says she can’t honestly say why health care became her focus.
“I just somehow knew that that’s what I was going to do. I can’t say there was anyone that I knew that was a nurse, I was never hospitalized ... I just somehow knew, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’”
Originally from Outlook, she grew up in Regina, and trained at Regina General Hospital. She married in 1954, moved to Swift Current in 1960, then to North Battleford in 1963 when Al, who was a Firestone tire representative, was transferred here.
She has been associated and volunteers with the Associated Canadian Travellers through her late husband Al, for the past 50 years, fundraising for BUH, River Heights Lodge and Battlefords District Care Centre.
She has served on the Edwards Society Board in many capacities for the last 17 years and also helps out at the Western Development Museum with their fundraising efforts.
Pat has also delivered food for the Meals on Wheels program for more than 20 years.
Since the Dekker Centre for the Performing Arts opened, she has been volunteering there as well.
“It is a great, great place to volunteer,” she says. “The rest of the volunteers are marvelous to work with and the staff at the Dekker Centre are just superb, they really are.”
She says volunteering at the Dekker Centre is more selfish than philanthropic.
“It gets me out of the house. I’m not sitting looking at four walls and, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing on that telly that’s worth watching,” she laughs. “I have the opportunity of working with great people and meeting old friends, so it’s pretty much a selfish thing.”
She says volunteering for the Western Development Museum is similar.
“It’s the same type of thing, plus the museum takes me back to my childhood because I’m antique now, like the things they have,” she laughs again. “I remember when many of those antiques were working utensils for me.”
Pat has received numerous awards for her volunteerism and community support including the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal in 2005. In 2012, she received the Spirit of Giving Award at the 2012 Wayne Pruden Memorial Golf Tournament, an award that had been created by the Pruden family in 2010, with its first recipient being Pat’s husband Al, in a posthumous presentation.
In 2013, she was one of five Battlefords residents to receive a St. John Ambulance Silver Life-Saving Awards for their efforts to try to save the life of a man who collapsed at the North Battleford Golf and Country Club.
She’s been golfing since she retired.
“I had had the occasional game,” she says, having gone to the course with Al.
“When we’d go out, I would struggle even to hit the ball at all,” she says. “I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.”
Once she retired, it became an addiction.
“Al was addicted to golf, and I became addicted to golf,” she laughs.
During golf season, Pat golfs at least four days a week with a ladies’ foursome.
“Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Occasionally, if it’s really nice, we’ll sneak in on men’s day,” she laughs.
“We have what we call the ‘Tuesday morning ladies,’ which is usually retired ladies because we can get out during the day early,” says Pat. “We would welcome anyone that wants to join us. We’re certainly nowhere near pros. No one needs to feel uncomfortable with us as far as the skill of golfing is concerned.”
Pat laughs, “I have proved in no uncertain terms that practice does not make perfect when it comes to golf. But we have a lot of fun.”
Pat also volunteers with the Wayne Pruden Memorial Golf Tournament, a BUHF fundraiser.
“At one time I played in it,” she says, “but I just decided I can volunteer and do just as much good there by volunteering.”
She says, “I know there are people who really enjoy the tournaments and they do like the challenge of competing with other people, but that just isn’t my bag. I compete against myself.”
She prefers the challenge of trying to improve her game, rather than play in tournaments.
“It’s a challenge. You always want to try to do better, even though I know I’m never going to get better because practice is obviously not working,” she laughs.
Once golf season is over, much of her time is taken up with the BUHF’s annual $100,000 cash lottery.
“When we start the big lottery in the fall, the $100,000, that becomes almost a full-time job for a while,” says Pat.
There is also a monthly lottery held earlier in the year.
“I go in and help, but it’s nowhere near the time we do in the fall,” she says.
It’s been 20 years since the lottery was begun, and Pat has been involved from the beginning.
She tells a story about the lottery that not many people are aware of.
“Sharon Spence was the executive director of the foundation at that time and she came up with the idea that we should do a lottery. Neither of us knew a thing about doing a lottery so we hired a firm out of Regina,” Pat explains.
Working with the firm didn’t turn out to be an especially positive experience, but because they had insisted the database that resulted from the project would belong to the foundation, they were able to continue on their own the next year.
“The first year we actually lost $85,000,” says Pat. “There’s not too many people who know that.
I suspect that’s very common, but you never hear it.”
So they went to the foundation board and said, “We have a choice. We can take our $85,000 loss and sit in a corner and lick our wounds, or we can work at getting it back again.”
They decided to continue, but they knew they needed help.
“We were extremely fortunately because we were able to get David Dekker, Carey Tollefson and Chris Odishaw as our help,” says Pat. “They were an extremely big help to us. They really knew where to go and how to get there.”
Within three years, she says, they not only made back their loss, they were at a sellout.
“That’s almost unheard of, because doing a lottery is like starting a business,” she points out. “They figure it will take you five years to make a profit and we did it in three.”
It’s become a popular, much anticipated annual event.
“A lot of people, about the first of August, are starting to ask, ‘When is the lottery starting?’” says Pat.
The Battlefords have been extremely supportive of the lottery, she says, as are the surrounding communities, pointing to centres such as Meadow Lake, Wilkie and Unity.
The lottery involved long hours, but Pat is no stranger to hard work.
In the early years of her career, she worked many night shifts as evening supervisor.
In about 1978, she moved to day shifts as the unit manager of the intensive care unit and surgical ward.
“Unit managers worked eight hours, and that was plenty as far as I was concerned,” she says. “It was keeping me busy enough ... You’re managing the unit, but you’re also doing a lot of bedside care as well.”
She continued in that role until about 1988, when she moved into an office position and eventually became the director of nursing.
“The first time I retired was about ‘96,” she says.
She went back to work about a year later because she was again needed to manage the ICU and surgical ward.
“I went back and did that a year or two years and retired again,” she says, “and then they needed someone for director of nursing and I went back for that about ‘98.”
The exact dates of her three retirements aren’t that meaningful to Pat.
“I’m not a person who keeps track of dates, it’s never important to me,” she says. “It’s what’s happening in my life. To me, [dates] are just numbers.”
On her first foray into retirement, Pat’s husband joined her. Having worked for years in the tire business, Al had changed careers and moved into real estate for a time, says Pat. Then they bought the Yellow Submarine sandwich shop, which they had for about 10 years. Not long after Pat retired, however, Al said, “I think we should just sell the Sub and both be retired.”
Al, who was a passionate volunteer like his wife, passed away in 2009.
“It’s hard to believe it will be six years this fall,” says Pat.
She and Al had three children. Garth lives in North Battleford and works at Anderson Pumphouse. Dave is retired and lives in Calgary. Sadly, their son Bruce passed away this past December at the age of 49. He was living in Edmonton.
Pat keeps Bruce’s memory close by keeping company with his pet, Davey, a quiet, middle-aged Shitzu. He came to live with her when Bruce moved to Edmonton.
“He’s very good company,” she smiles, petting Davey who is definitely a lap dog. “Sometimes a little too much, because this is where he’d be 24 hours a day if possible. He’s very content.”
Davey isn’t the first dog she’s taken care of for a son.
“My oldest son had a Siberian husky and he also could not keep his dog when they first moved to Calgary.”
If the much larger husky had had her way, she would have done the same as Davey does now.
“She would really have liked to have been a lap dog. But she was a little too big and it was a little too warm in the house for her,” Pat laughs.
Pat and Davey continue to live in the house she shared with Al. When at home, she enjoys hobbies of handwork such as knitting, crocheting and petit point.
“I make a little wine, which was Al’s hobby, and I just sort of carried it on,” she adds.
Now that spring is here, however, the hobbies will probably be put aside. It’s golf season!