After 31 years as an English teacher and librarian, Joyce Cunningham received the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation’s Norm Snyder Award at a retirement barbecue last Thursday.
Cunningham, the first person in Northwestern Ontario to receive this award for her career-long commitment to OSSTF, was beside herself as OSSTF 5B president Ed Ojala, provincial executive member Jim Douglas, and Peter Lipman of the union’s Toronto office presented her with the award.
“At this stage, I am overwhelmed by the honour,” she remarked. “I believe the people who received this before me deserved this, and I’m honoured to be in their company.
“I’m especially honoured by the fact the people in this district know me,” she added.
Retiring this year as librarian at Fort Frances High School, Cunningham also has filled several roles with the teachers’ union over the years, most recently as the OSSTF 5B grievance officer.
And union staff and friends alike couldn’t say enough about Cunningham as a member of the FFHS teacher community.
“It’s an award that really recognizes understanding within the community of teachers and staff, and Joyce has promoted that for many years,” noted Douglas.
“What’s really important is that Joyce is probably one of the best classroom teachers we’ve got—that’s really why we’re here tonight,” added Andy Hallikas, past president of OSSTF 5B.
Ojala noted the local OSSTF had to submit a nomination explaining why Cunningham should receive the award, and wasn’t sure whether she would be chosen from among dozens of other candidates.
“It’s an honour for someone to receive this, and we’re glad Joyce was selected,” he said. “The award stays in the district for one year, and it will be a good reminder of her contributions over the years.”
OSSTF president Earl Manners offered a little history of Cunningham’s involvement with the union in a written citation.
“Joyce’s experience with the Federation began in the late ’60s after she was fired from the Atikokan Board of Education for wanting to get married and start a family.
“From that moment, Joyce has dedicated herself to the achievement and enforcement of fair and equitable working conditions,” Manners noted. “There is no doubt Joyce eats, sleeps, and breathes Federation.
“District 5B has dubbed Joyce Cunningham ‘the Mother of Federation.’ This title has been bestowed on her because of their respect for her knowledge of OSSTF and her relentless commitment to its causes,” Manners added.
“The teacher bargaining unit of District 5B is forever indebted to Joyce for the contract and working conditions they now enjoy.”
Cunningham served as local OSSTF president for the former District 28 from 1991-96, and perhaps most importantly, noted Manners, has served on numerous negotiating teams, one of which was the first in the province to achieve personal days.
“As the face of education changes, Joyce fosters the meaning of leadership and solidarity amongst the young teachers in District 5B,” he remarked.
“Joyce makes it a priority to set aside time to give history lessons to these teachers as to why clauses appear in the collective agreement, and why it is important to fight for the spirit, the intent, and the language of that agreement.”
Snyder, who had been a resident of the Lake of the Woods area, was a provincial OSSTF leader who passed away in 1984.
The award was founded that year to recognize OSSTF members who have followed in his path of outstanding service to the union and its members.