A life at the forefront of community health education



After a decades-long career helping young families, seniors and low-income people regain their health and social independence, Bernice Marmel’s deep commitment to the community has only deepened as ‘she defended the well-being of her neighbors.

On April 28, 2021, the longtime Winnipeg resident, lawyer, mother, friend and recipient of the Order of Manitoba passed away at the age of 94 at the Saul and Claribel Simkin Center.

Marmel and his son Lawrence, his wife Tam and his grandchildren, Allison Marmel and Shane Marmel in 1998.



Marmel and his son Lawrence, his wife Tam and his grandchildren, Allison Marmel and Shane Marmel in 1998.

Lynda Metcalfe recalled working with her friend at the Nor’West Co-op Health and Social Services Center in the Gilbert Park neighborhood in the mid-1970s, as they shared notes and concerns from community members, many of whom were young parents, single moms, minimum wage earners, moving to city life after leaving a reserve, and retirees.

In her role as a health educator, Marmel was responsible for creating programs and partnerships to support residents in nutrition, finance, social and community recreation, fitness, mental health, and more.

“As a nurse practitioner, I saw quite a few young mothers in the area with children at home and very stressed,” recalls Metcalfe. “And I remember going down the hall from my office to her office and saying, ‘Bernice, I see a lot of mothers who are isolated and going through tough times. ”

fourni</p><p>Marmel on a trip to Mexico.</p>


Marmel on a trip to Mexico.

“Before I even said the words, she had organized herself for a group of mothers and toddlers at Shaughnessy Park School.”

Marmel quickly booked an auditorium for parents and children, guest speakers, and collected donated toys for the children.

“She just made wonderful things happen. She would see a need that many of us miss and then create unique solutions.”

fourni</p><p>Marmel graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1986.</p></p>


Marmel graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1986.

For three decades, Marmel worked at the health center at the heart of social housing development in northwest Winnipeg. Its programs have been praised by colleagues, including Professor Dexter Harvey of the University of Manitoba, who was the Coordinator of Health Education Studies in 1980.

A letter Harvey wrote to Marmel in December of that year described his programs as being “at the forefront of contemporary thinking on health education” and as “the ideal example towards which most between us strive ”.

Marmel received her Masters of Education from U of M in 1986. After graduation, she continued to contribute to academic discussions on health promotion and gerontology, with numerous articles and presentations to conferences on his behalf.

Carol Sanders / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Marmel (center) with his neighbor, Sheldon Toews, his wife, Maureen Polischuk, and their son, Luke, in front of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in 2014.</ p>

Carol Sanders / Winnipeg Free Press

Marmel (center) with his neighbor, Sheldon Toews, his wife, Maureen Polischuk, and their son, Luke, in front of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in 2014.

Her volunteer contributions to various boards and committees have also been extensive, having served on roles with the Manitoba Council on Aging, the Winnipeg Social Planning Council, the North End Women’s Center, the Winnipeg Public Library, Carriage House and the Mount Carmel Clinic.

His efforts led to the founding of two senior centers just off North Main Street: Bleak House and McBeth House.

Despite his open and welcoming personality, curiosity and penchant for conversation, his friends say Marmel rarely spoke about his professional motivation.

fourni</p><p>Bernice Marmel and her husband Max Marmel.</p>


Bernice Marmel and her husband Max Marmel.

“She chose to be a health educator because she wanted to help people,” explained Julie Blouin. “It couldn’t have been a better job for her. She was able, in her job, to meet so many needs.”

Blouin met Marmel while volunteering for the Manitoba Council on Aging about 10 years ago, and the two quickly became friends.

“It’s just a legacy that lives on: you just love what you do, and you keep doing it and it continues to affect more and more people,” Blouin said. “She has a good heart. She was very kind.”

fourni</p><p>Bernice Marmel and her husband Max Marmel on New Year's Eve in 1948.</p>


Bernice Marmel and her husband Max Marmel on New Year’s Eve in 1948.

However, Blouin said Marmel’s childhood was defined by his time at the Jewish orphanage in Winnipeg, which friends say likely influenced his career and volunteer activities.

Marmel was born to Sam Machlin and Rose Hechter-Machlin in the rural village of Arran, Saskatchewan, about 10 kilometers west of the Manitoba border, on June 13, 1927.

While the exact circumstances of Marmel’s arrival at the town’s orphanage are unclear, family members say she was one of many Jewish children whose parents could not afford to s ‘take care of them or wanted them to have a Jewish education.

fourni</p><p>Bernice Marmel</p></p>


Berenice Marmel

By all accounts, Marmel made lasting friendships at the Matheson Avenue House, which also served as a boarding school, and excelled in the environment.

In his teens, Marmel lived with an aunt and uncle in the River Heights area.

“She experienced the blessings and love of other people trying to improve her life,” Blouin said of Marmel’s stay at the orphanage. “I think it must have touched her deeply because her life was all about devotion to others, really and truly.”

photos fournies</p><p>Health educator and nurse practitioner Bernice Marmel, seen here in 1996, died in April at the age of 94.</p>

photos provided

Health educator and nurse practitioner Bernice Marmel, seen here in 1996, died in April at the age of 94.

Friend and colleague Pete Sanderson said senior housing was also of great importance to Marmel during their years of working together in the communities of Lord Selkirk and Gilbert Park, and throughout their retirement.

Sanderson ran the nearby Willow Park housing co-op, while Marmel worked for Nor’West.

“I can tell you without hesitation, anything I could do or lean that she wasn’t comfortable with, she was really quick to let me know, and she was generally right,” a- he declared.

“I absolutely knew that she was sincere in everything she did and that she promoted health and wellness for everyone, but especially for the elderly.

Sanderson said he was encouraged by Marmel to think about how housing can improve health and well-being, and to create environments that encourage independence as opposed to addiction through small changes such as levers instead of doorknobs and by promoting community support systems.

Upon retirement, Marmel also served on the boards of three housing complexes, Sanderson said, and was instrumental in the development of Widlake Properties, a 95-unit, non-profit affordable housing project. more than 55 accommodations.

“She was there to serve the community, she was an example of how to do it,” he said.

Marmel was exceptionally proud of her family, including her two children, Lawrence and Rosalind, and their father Max Marmel, their grandchildren Shane and Allison, as well as being a devoted sister to her three brothers, Metcalfe said.

She will be remembered for her friends as a woman who took the time to enjoy a meal at Salisbury House on Main Street, beamed with happiness with her “megawatt” smile, enjoyed the simple pleasures and still saw his glass half full.

“His friendship was truly a gift to me,” said Metcalfe.

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Danielle Da Silva



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