Wulf Tolboom - in memory of Wanda Tolboom

My Story...

Wanda Tolboom (née Neill) felt a deep connection to Winnipeg's Jewish community and had a tremendous impact on hundreds of Jewish children through 30 years of teaching English at Ramah Hebrew School and at Talmud Torah.

While not Jewish herself, Wanda felt at home in Winnipeg's Jewish schools. She loved the kids, took the time to learn about Jewish culture and religion, attended many bar and bat mitzvahs, and even spent a summer in Israel.

Wanda passed away in 2007, but her connection to Winnipeg's Jewish community continues to be celebrated through the memories of her former students, through her generous bequest to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, and through the Wanda Neill Tolboom Trophy. The trophy is presented annually by a member of the Tolboom family to a grade six student at the Gray Academy of Jewish Education who demonstrates exceptional academic achievement in general studies.

Wanda Neill was born in 1920 in Kelwood, Manitoba, near Riding Mountain National Park. Her parents, Isabel and John Neill, were early pioneers of the town. Wanda was raised with her brother, Keith; an infant sister, Vonda, passed away.

Wanda attended Neepawa High School and then trained as a teacher at the Winnipeg Normal School. She taught at Beaver Dam, Cartwright, and Roskeen Schools. In 1941, she met a man named Wulf Tolboom on a train (the same train whose engine is now on display at Assiniboine Park). Wulf helped Wanda and her mother with their bags. Wanda was immediately taken by this helpful young man, and the feeling was mutual. (Wanda's mother must have sensed something, too, because she encouraged them to sit together.) Three years later, Wanda and Wulf got engaged at Clear Lake. In 1946, she travelled to the Canadian Arctic on the supply ship RMS Nascopie to marry Wulf who worked with the Hudson's Bay Company. For five years, they lived in the Arctic as Wulf established a career with the Bay. Up north, Wanda started to put pen to paper to capture what life in the Arctic was like. Ultimately, she had six books published, including "People of the Snow," which was incorporated into an American textbook series. Wanda would write her books by hand, and Wulf would lovingly type the manuscripts.

After five years, Wanda and Wulf moved back to Winnipeg. They had two daughters — Wendy (MacKenzie) and Patti (Zeglen); and one son — Rev. Dr. Neill Tolboom. They also had four grandchildren and, at the time of Wanda's passing, two great-grandchildren. Three more great-grandchildren have come along since.

Whether talking about teaching or parenting or grandparenting, Wulf's assessment of Wanda is simple: "She loved kids."

She was an excellent mother, recalls Wulf. "The kids loved her. She was tough but fair. Easy-going, but firm." Education was very important for Wanda, and she motivated her children to learn and achieve. Wanda had an exceptional sense of humour and she was opinionated: "She was quick to let you know what she thought about things." She was also a devout Anglican woman, who attended church regularly and was active in her church community.

As a family, the Tolbooms enjoyed many happy times together, including annual camping trips. Wanda and Wulf ultimately visited every state in the United States.

As a teacher, Wanda always wanted to learn more and do more. While teaching in the Jewish school system, she still found the energy and drive to teach Sunday School at her church, and teach for a few summers on Antigua Island as part of Organization for Cooperation in Overseas Development. She also upgraded her skills at the University of Manitoba, earning a Bachelor of Education degree in 1978; and spent a summer on a teachers' study program in Israel. Even in retirement, Wanda volunteered at the Royal School in a reading assistance program.

Her sincere joy of teaching was obvious. She wore it on her sleeve, and those young students who were fortunate enough to be in her classes knew it.

A recent letter from a former student of Wanda Tolboom recalled her wisdom and her ability to motivate students to achieve as much as they could. This particular student had recently arrived from Russia, and his English language skills were still poor. Early on, he nervously used Cyrillic letters on an English spelling test. Instead of a letter grade, Wanda Tolboom returned the test with the words "Very creative!" in the corner.

Said the former student: "In retrospect I realize the incredible power my teacher held in shaping and influencing my future and destiny. I am and forever will be grateful to Mrs. Tolboom for her incredible gift to me as a teacher and as a human being."

Wanda Tolboom devoted much of her life to educating children in the Jewish community, and she did it with joy and respect. Those feelings of joy and respect were mutual. We were blessed to have Wanda Tolboom in our midst.