This is probably classified information, but one of this town’s certified superstars has quietly eased into her second half-century.
And, yep, Mitzie Wasyliw sometimes feels the slightest bit weary. No doubt the 70-hour work weeks, the charitable efforts, the cancer she successfully stared down and the chemotherapy which helped her do it have all contributed.
The other afternoon Wasyliw (say it: voss-SIL-yoo) was feeling burnt out, and daydreaming about a lo-o-o-ng vacation.
But first she’s got to restructure her company, 28-year-old DEW Productions, a versatile office of magic-makers who can get you Santa Claus, or whip up a $100,000 Vegas revue, depending on your pleasure.
Then she has to quarterback the $10,000 entertainment package she’s donating to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Then there are the two kids. And, oh yeah, her husband, Larry, has a loaded plate running his own company . . . and on, and on.
“I’m learning that to say ‘no’ is OK,” she said, sounding almost convincing. Last year, somebody had the splendid good sense to cite the Wasyliws as Calgary’s citizens of the year. Someone else nominated Mitzie for a Women of Distinction award.
The kudos were deserved, not only because Mitzie is a pioneering businesswoman whose guts, smarts and persistence have made her THE Calgary name in the eventing and entertainment dodge.
But this remarkable couple, married 21 years, stood alone against the bureaucrats and won a lengthy struggle, which lasted as long as the Second World War. At least this time, all combatants survived — barely.
It started with a stroll in Fish Creek Provincial Park. The Wasyliws were squinting in the windows of Pat Burns’ and William Roper Hull’s old digs, the tumbledown Bow Valley Ranch(e).
“Can you imagine living in this meadow?” she remembers asking. As a lark, she fired off an inquiry to the provincial parks department, asking whether restoration plans were cooking.
Six months later, still no reply.
“I said: ‘Man, that makes me mad.’ I pay my taxes . . . I got really pissed . . . I sent a letter to Ralph Klein,” whom she knew casually from his days as mayor. At the bottom of her fax, Wasyliw scrawled: “When I think of our past, Ralph, haven’t we come a long way, baby?”
Within days, MLA Heather Forsyth called, and said: “Give us a proposal.” That innocent suggestion sent the Wasyliws off to pound their skulls against brick walls for six years. “The work, the red tape, the obstacles . . .” she gasped, exasperated by the memory.
Without dwelling on gory details, the Wasyliws ended up staking their own cash as a personal guarantee on a lease for the place, which they, in turn, have sublet to the operators of an eye-pleasing, tastebud-tempting restaurant/garden spot.
En route, they formed the Ranche at Fish Creek Restoration Society, eventually raising $2.1 million to revitalize the fine old property.
In the midst of the chaotic dance, Mitzie’s doctors told her to report immediately for chemo treatments.
“You expect those things to happen to people who abuse their health. I’m a non-smoker, I drink two to three coffees a week, and was playing soccer three times a week to blow off steam.”
But a biopsy revealed aggressive cancer.
On her first day of treatment, her husband drove her to the hospital, as he did for months afterward, running his own business by phone, waiting in the car. “But there was so much to do. In a way it was a gift, because you don’t sit and feel sorry for yourself,” she said.
It was July. That night, Mitzie escorted 30 people to a prebooked DEW Stampede party, and hung in with them until midnight.
“I kept a bed in the back room at work — I would go for treatment, and if I got tired at work, I’d lay down,” said the self-described farm girl from Unity, Sask.
Now, the cancer’s on the run. And Mitzie has changed. Today, she savours every sunrise, and the lifestyle is strictly Ms. Natural — no more flamboyant bottle-red hair, minimal cosmetics and a health-smart diet.
But take the pedal off the metal? Relax?
Anyone acquainted with this Citizen of the Year will believe it when they see it.