In the News
Bethune United Church, Baysville, Ontario Canada

In Wednesday March 5, 2008 Huntsville Forester Newspaper

Muskoka Mosaic

Introducing Doris Gonder
by Paula Boon

Helping people is important to Doris Gonder.

“That’s my purpose in living,” she says. “If I see someone who needs help and I can help, I will.”

Since retiring to her Menominee Lake cottage with husband Lloyd in 1986, Gonder has used her time and talents to benefit many.

In 1988, Gonder decided to volunteer at Fairvern Nursing Home.

“My own mother was in a home in Mississauga and I couldn’t visit very often, so I thought maybe I could make a difference to people here whose children weren’t close by,” she explains.

An accomplished pianist, she began by playing for Fairvern’s weekly church services. However, after attending a workshop in Toronto about 15 years ago, she began offering a music therapy program to the long-term care facility’s residents.

Several times a week, Gonder spends an entire morning leading half-hour sessions with groups of 20 to 25 people who gather to sing favourite old songs and learn new ones. Most of those who live at Fairvern choose to take part.

“My goal is to bring a little bit of pleasure to the residents,” she says. “I involve them and get them moving.”

Gonder gives participants rhythm instruments and encourages them to do actions. Sometimes she prepares songs and activities around a specific theme. Often the music sparks memories in people, who then share their stories with the others.

“I also give them Who Wants to be a Millionaire questions to engage them,” says the retired teacher. “My husband says I’m working harder at this than I did when I was making lesson plans for school.”

That hard work has paid off in a number of ways. Over the years residents have made new friends, relived happy memories and just generally enjoyed themselves. Some who play instruments like the fiddle or mouth organ have also been given the chance to play for others again, joining Gonder as she accompanies the group on an autoharp.

“A resident once called it the shortest hour in the week,” she says with a smile.

On days that she leads the sessions, Gonder likes to come early to help serve breakfast. “It lets me know people at a different level,” she says.

In 2005 Gonder received the Ontario Long Term Care Association Circle of Excellence certificate from the Fairvern board in recognition of her valuable contributions.

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of it,” Gonder says. “It makes me feel good to think they have a little brightness in their morning. I feel as if I’m doing something worthwhile with my time.”

Fairvern hasn’t been the only organization to benefit from Gonder’s desire to help out. She plays music for the United and Catholic churches in Baysville, led the United church choir until a few years ago, and has been president of her church’s UCW for the last 15 years.

“Right now we are in charge of the music for the World Day of Prayer service taking place at 1:00 p.m. on March 7 at the seniors’ building in Baysville,” she says. “It’s hosted by the Anglican church this year, but we’re doing the music. I’m looking forward to it.”

Gonder is also the Baysville Autumn Leaves Seniors secretary, the coordinator of Baysville volunteers for Muskoka Seniors friendship lunches, a Cancer Society volunteer, member and past secretary of the Baysville Horticultural society, and active member of the Retired Women Teachers’ Association of Ontario.

On top of all that, she is known for offering rides to appointments and events to those who require them and often does grocery shopping for a shut-in neighbour.

“I couldn’t do all this without my husband Lloyd,” says Gonder. “He’s the one who does all the driving now.”

The two were married in 1951 when she was teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Grey County. Now, three children and three grandchildren later, they are happy to be where they are and to share whatever they can with others.

“This is a nice place to live,” Gonder says. “We have good neighbours, and we like to be good neighbours.”

This reminds her of a favourite song. “It goes, ‘Who is my neighbour? Anyone in need,’” she says. “That’s how I feel.”

Thanks to Mary West for suggesting that Doris Gonder be profiled. If there is someone you’d like to see in this space, please call Paula at 789-5541 or e-mail