From dishwashing to cooking, massage therapy to being a continuing care assistant – Linda Cuell has always been ready to accept different challenges.
Staying inside a comfort zone is not in her nature, even at 66.
Now she is embarking on a new adventure after putting her name forward for a vacant seat on Maple Creek Town Council.
Why is she doing it?
After coming to the community ten years ago from Shaunavon, and being about a year away from retirement as a continuing care assistant at the Southwest Integrated Healthcare Facility, she believes now is a good time to step up.
“Maple Creek has been terrific to me,” she says. “I want to give back. I feel I’m at the age where I can give time to being on Council.”
As someone who prefers exerting influence from the background, the next two weeks will require adjustment as she seeks to sway voters’ minds. She says she is approaching the September 22 by-election without an agenda; there are no particular issues driving her decision to run for council.
Her aim is to discover what people in Maple Creek want, and what processes are involved in realizing their wishes.
“I’m confident of my ability to learn, and will hopefully be of service,” she says.
Although new to politics, Cuell believes she has leadership experience that would stand her in good stead on Council.
She points to her 10 years on the board of the Cypress Hills Abilities Centres Inc. in Shaunavon, an organization comparable to Maple Creek & District Opportunities.
For five years she was chairman, dealing with budgets and finances, and developing public speaking skills. The job gave her an in-depth understanding, she says, of the amount of work required at committee level in achieving results.
This work ethic, allied to a willingness to listen, a curiosity about process, and wish to get to grips with local issues, is something she will bring to the Council table, she says.
“Being on the board was a most rewarding experience. I learned a lot and was able to contribute and make a bit of a difference in group homes.”
Cuell, who has been encouraged by friends to enter local government, says a lot of effort will be required in helping Maple Creek continue to navigate through COVID-19.
“I think it’s going to have far-reaching consequences,” she says. “It is going to take us a long time to get though this.”
Cuell was born and raised in Calgary; her father was a banker, her mother worked at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.
Although a big city girl, her heart pined for a smaller community.
“I wanted a little bit of a quieter, more relaxed working atmosphere,” she recalls.
Her first passion was cooking. While taking a massage therapy course, she worked as a chef/kitchen manager at a little neighbourhood pub in Calgary.
“I started dishwashing and worked my way up, ending up cooking and running the kitchen.”
She contemplated becoming a chef, but opted to pursue massage therapy. After completing a massage therapy certificate at Mount Royal college in Calgary, she moved to Shaunavon in 1996, setting up a business in space offered by a chiropractor, Dr. Murray Shadbolt.
For 15 years she ran Shaunavon Massage Therapy, becoming known in the community as “Linda, the massage therapist”; people have often struggled, she says, to pronounce her surname correctly.
“I loved the business,” she says, adding that the working span of a full-time massage therapist is usually about 15 years because of wear and tear on the body.
As that milestone neared, Cuell longed to return to her first love – cooking. She took a part-time job at the healthcare facility in Shaunavon to get into the kitchen.
While there, she studied to become a Red Seal Journeyman Cook. It required a lot of self-discipline, but the hard work paid off.
“I studied, studied, studied,” she says.
Around this time, she and her partner, Marg Barber, wanted to move closer to family in Medicine Hat.
“We looked at Maple Creek, and spent a day there, wandering around,” she says. “We really, really liked it. I loved the downtown area, the shops, the people. I loved the old houses. The general atmosphere was very similar to Shaunavon, different but similar.”
After arriving in Maple Creek, Cuell cooked part-time for about two years at The Star, the former restaurant owned by Tina Cresswell, her by-election rival.
She also took a kitchen job at the old nursing home in Maple Creek. When the Southwest Integrated Healthcare Facility opened, however, there was a change in kitchen staffing, and Cuell found herself looking for a different career option.
At 60, she “went back to school” to take a CCA course. While she studied via distance learning, she gained hands-on experience in resident care, a physically demanding, but rewarding experience. It also requires a thick mental skin, and compassion.
“I became a qualified CCA four years ago, in 2017,” she says.
Cuell says she is thinking about retiring from the hospital in a year; it means she is entering a good period in her life for starting something fresh.
When not working, Cuell likes to spend time with her rescue dogs, an Australian Shepherd Cross and pitbull, following her team, the Blue Jays, and cooking, of course.
“I always have the food channel on,” she laughs.
Reflecting on her varied careers, she says: “I’ve had many, many hats. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve always done jobs to make people happy.”
Should she get on Council, she hopes to continue that mindset.
“It’s not about what I want, it’s what the people of Maple Creek want.”