Chilliwack's "Grand Lady" has passed.
Retired city councillor Dorothy Kostrzewa died on Friday at the age of 84. The tributes to the beloved local personality poured out online and through social media over the weekend.
"Dorothy was a mentor and friend to me and so many others," Mayor Sharon Gaetz said on a Facebook page she created entitled "Memories of Dorothy Kostrzewa."
"Sending love to her children Richard and Margaret and Karen and Len and your families. Rest in Peace Grand Lady. You are forever loved."
Former mayor Clint Hames also recounted his 18 years working on council with Kostrzewa.
"Those that worked closely with her were truly fortunate," Hames wrote on Facebook. "She was a joy and an inspiration. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family."
The feeling at city hall was one of real sadness, according to Gaetz.
"Walk through city hall and people are just devastated," she told the Times Monday.
A book of condolences has been set up in the entrance to city hall, and the city will fly flags at half mast for a week.
Kostrzewa was born Dorothy Chung in Chilliwack on Aug. 17, 1928. She was the youngest of eight children in the Chung family.
At the age of five, Kostrzewa was asleep in her bed when fire destroyed her family's home and the surrounding buildings. She was able to escape with only a doll, and she and her family huddled under the white, wooden bridge on Yale Road.
The fire was called accidental although there had been two prior attempts to destroy Chilliwack's Chinatown, and this one was successful.
But while most of the Chinese community fled the Fraser Valley for Vancouver, the Chungs stayed and thrived.
Kostrzewa graduated high school in 1947, and during the flood of 1948, she famously built a raft with her brothers and dove through muddy waters for vegetables.
After high school, she went to the Duffus School of Commerce in Vancouver to study accounting. In 1949, she started a 20-year career as an accountant at Chilliwack General Hospital, which ended in 1969 when, with the support of many doctors at the hospital and the mandate to increase recreation, she ran for city council.
With that win she became the first Chinese-Canadian woman elected to public office in Canada. She served 31 years in municipal politics alongside seven mayors, finally stepping down in 2008.
In 2006, she was named by the Vancouver Sun as one of the 100 Chinese-Canadians making a difference in B.C.
Kostrzewa was the driving force behind the Piper Richardson statue at what is now the Chilliwack Museum.
Recreation was her passion and she pushed for the construction of new facilities. In 2008, she told the Times there were only two ball diamonds in town when she first got on council, and "now look at how many we have."
Kostrzewa was named Chilliwack's Sportsman of the Year, a Paul Harris Fellow by the Chilliwack Rotary Club, Chilliwack's Woman of the Year, a member of the Order of Chilliwack and one of Chilliwack's Community Sports Heroes.
On Monday, Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O'Mahony's office said Kostrzewa was to be presented with a Diamond Jubilee Medal. She will be given the medal posthumously at a ceremony in the first week of February.
Despite all her acclaim, anyone who knew Kostrzewa could speak to her humility.
In 2008, when given the suggestion that the then under construction cultural centre should be named after her, Kostrzewa bristled in her inimitable, grandmotherly way.
"No way!" she said. "The Chilliwack Cultural Centre, this is my wish."
On the Facebook page dedicated to her memory, local musician Trevor McDonald has already suggested the theatre in the cultural centre should be named for Kostrzewa.
Gaetz said that city council will discuss an appropriate way to honour the longtime councillor.
About 250 of Kostrzewa's friends, relatives, colleagues, admirers and acquaintances filled Evergreen Hall in May 2008 for a surprise retirement party.
After this event, her humility was evident when asked about her status as the first Chinese-Canadian woman elected to political office in Canada.
"Those things don't mean a damn thing to me," she said. "Even at the party I felt uncomfortable."
Gaetz said Kostrzewa was gentle, didn't like whiners and treated everyone the same no matter their status or personality.
"She had such humility," Gaetz said. "Every politician should aspire to such humility."