There is no secret to a long and happy life for Vernon’s Ann Prowal.
It’s all about staying positive, enjoying the moments and loving family and friends.
On Friday, Aug. 14, Prowal celebrated 100 years with a birthday bash put on by the Hamlets’ staff and her daughter, Marlene Schmor.
“How do you describe a perfect mother,” Schmor said. “How do you do that…”
Schmor said due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was the only family member allowed to attend her mother’s special day, as she has essential visitor rights. But, before she had that, she didn’t see her mother for nearly three months.
“I applied for essential visitor rights just because of her age, and I got turned down three times,” Schmor said. “The government said she’s not palliative.”
She recalled logging on to Facebook and seeing the Hamlets staff posting photos in their masks and she thought, “you’re there and I’m not… that’s my mother.”
But with the help of the Hamlets director and a doctor, she was able to get approval and she said the reunion was the most moving moment.
She was told of her approval by 2 p.m. and just 30 minutes later, Schmor was there, donning a mask and gloves.
“I walked into her room and she was sleeping,” she recalled. “I tapped her on the arm and she leapt out of bed and grabbed me and cried. She was sobbing.”
“It was the most incredible moment I’ve ever experienced.”
Prowal has lived through a lot over the past century: world wars, the Great Depression, polio, space travel, talking movies, radio and television, women gaining the right to vote and now, COVID-19.
But through it all, Schmor said her mom has lived an incredible life beginning Aug. 14, 1920, in Dauphin, Man.
She was the oldest of the Smilski family — she had four brothers and one sister (Mike, Bill, Fred, Ernie and Shirley).
“They were a Ukrainian family that worked through hardships,” Schmor said. “Times were tough and money was scarce, but together, as a family, they also had good times.”
At the young age of 18, Ann got a job at Dauphin’s Kings Hotel. There, she worked and roomed. On her weekends, she would return home to help her mother. Upon her weekly returns, her siblings were always happily awaiting her arrival as she never came home with empty pockets. Schmor said she always came home with a treat from town — penny candies, a piece of chocolate or toffees.
Later, in the ’30s, you could find Ann at the ball diamonds.
But she wasn’t in the stands.
Ann tried out for an all-girls softball league sponsored by Coca-Cola. The team was appropriately named the Coca-Cola Girls.
Clad in white shorts, red tops emblazoned with “Coca-Cola” in white lettering, the Coca-Cola Girls would travel in style — in the back of a Coke truck.
But Ann rode shotgun, Schmor said.
“She would laugh and tell me, ‘except for me, I rode upfront because the driver was my boyfriend.’”
Ann traded her maiden name for Prowal when she married Stafford Prowal in 1941. The pair moved to Toronto where she worked at the DeHavilland Aircraft Plant during war times.
Later, the Prowals opened a hamburger restaurant on Toronto’s west side.
In 1947, the Prowals moved to Detroit, Mich., “where jobs, money and times were better,” Schmor said.
“Us kids benefited by our parents wanting us to have things that they never had when they were growing up.”
Schmor said Christmases in the Prowal household were especially joyful.
“My mom made it special for us kids,” Schmor said. “Donny (Schmor’s brother) was one of the first boys to get a Lionel Train. Mum put hard raspberry candy in one of the train cars as we watched it circle under our Christmas Tree. For me, she waited in a lineup to ensure I would be one of the first little girls in Detroit to get a Tiny Tears Doll. Our younger brother Cliff always got something to ride on or build with.”
“She gave so much.”
In 1962, the Prowals upped and sold all of their belongings and returned to Canada. New Westminster was home for the family for nearly 40 years.
There, the Prowals bought the Grasslands Hotel in Merritt where Ann worked the office and helped where she was needed.
“She remembers that a large party was booked for the hotel’s banquet hall and it came with a special request — mum’s famous perogies,” Schmor said. “Se quickly taught the chef and staff how to make them. Together they made hundreds.
“At the end of a long day, tired and exhausted, she looked up, thanked the staff for their hard work and told them they could go home now. At the end of that sentence, someone pitched a perogy at her and hit her in the chest. She fired back,” Schmor said. “It turned into a full-blown perogy fight.”
The Prowals sold the hotel ahead of retirement in 1977.
Together, Ann and Stafford had three children, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. In ‘91, the pair danced the night away at their 50th wedding anniversary party in New Westminster, where Ann’s parents attended from Manitoba — they were both in their 90s.
“Not many people can have both of their parents dancing at their golden anniversary,” Schmor said. “But there they were… that’s the good Ukrainian genes she inherited.”
Stafford passed away in 1998 and Ann moved into a condo in Vernon.
Ann moved into the Hamlets in 2019 where she enjoys the people, staff and the food, her daughter said.
Schmor said the staff at the Hamlets have gone “above and beyond” in their care of her mother, especially amid COVID-19.
“When I asked her what she wanted for her 100th birthday, she joked and said, ‘get drunk,’ and smiled that mischevous grin,” Schmor said.