Laurine Marie Avanzino was born June 23, 1919 in Maple Creek. Her parents Ralph and Florence Avanzino homesteaded in the hills between Eastend and Tompkins, in an area called the Bench. Ralph, an accountant in a family-owned import firm in Boston, and Florence (Flossie), a seamstress in Boston, had made the move from the modern city to the hills of southwest Sask.
Laurine was their first child, who everyone on the Bench knew as Queenie, a nickname her father had given her. Her Dad claimed she always acted like the Queen of Sheba and the name stuck. For the purpose of this eulogy I will refer to her as Queenie, as that is how I knew her.
Queenie was the first daughter, then seven years later a sister Ruth and three years later another sister Mabel. The three Avanzino girls were raised on the ranch and all attended Star Butte School. When Queenie was around six years old she went to Boston to stay with Flossie’s family – the Parodis. She stayed for over a year and Flossie’s sister offered to adopt Queenie and raise her in Boston. You have to remember Queenie spoke Italian before she learned English. Her mother went to Boston with her new sister Ruth and gave Queenie the choice of Boston with the aunts or come back to the Bench with her mother and sister. She chose the hills and her family.
As I mentioned earlier she attended Star Butte School with her sisters, the Weir girls, Halliday girls and many more. Her Grade 12 year she boarded in Eastend, then on to Normal School in Moose Jaw for a teaching certificate in 1939. Over the next 10 years she taught at country schools – Bone Creek, Antelope Lake, Mannville and Lynne Grove.
Seeking adventure, she accepted a position at Clinton, B.C. in the Cariboo. That was in 1949 and tragically that fall her mother Florence died suddenly. Queenie moved back home to help out and taught at Dollard for a year, then two years at Hatton.
Henry and Violet Schulze had rented Ralph’s place, he was still living in the yard and quite happy with the arrangement. Knowing her Dad was in good hands, her sister Ruth had married Morley Wagner, and sister Mabel had married Mayland Alexander, it was time to move on.
Vauxhall, Alberta was the calling. She taught there for four years. While in Vauxhall she gained three lifelong friends, Lyla, Connie and Verna, also teachers.
This is when I started to remember Auntie Queenie, neat and tidy, fashion conscious, well dressed, drove a new 1957 grey and pink Volkswagen Beetle. Always had stories about her Grade 1 students and trips she and Lyla had taken.
Another trait of Queenie’s was absent-mindedness. I can remember being out in the pasture seeing Aunt Queenie’s VW coming up the road right past our approach. Then the brake lights would come on, she would back up and turn down the lane. In our family to this day we refer to it as “Queenie moments.” Everyone was amazed at how Lyla and Queenie could travel all over the world and survive. It was like the blind leading the blind, but they did it.
The little Volkswagen took Queenie to Kelvington, Sask next. She taught Grade 1 there for 11 years. Starting out living in a little trailer she bought set up in Jim and Maude Adam’s backyard, then on to boarding at Mrs. Prouse’s house. As kids we heard many stories of the Kelvington area, Queenie’s students and friends.
Over the years Queenie’s immediate family had grown quite significantly. Sister Ruth had three boys, myself John, nephew Pat and nephew Jim. Sister Mabel had three boys and one girl. Nephew Joe, nephew Mike, niece Toni and nephew Clay. Queenie would come to visit her sisters and their children. In one of her books “Here comes Auntie Queenie” she describes us as somewhat out of control, more or less little monsters, with the exception of niece Toni, who was the “reporter” in the family. In our defense, I will admit that we were active youths, however for the most part, generally operated within the confines of the law. One thing we had in common was that we all loved our Aunt Queenie even though we unwittingly got her into trouble from time to time.
In 1970, Queenie moved to Regina to take the last course she needed for her degree. We started hearing about this guy, Bob Milne who had roots in the Kelvington area and worked for SaskTel in Regina. Queenie decided to bring Bob out to the Wagners to meet the family. As it happened Mayland (Punch) and Mabel Alexander had come from Dawson Creek, B.C. for a visit.
When Bob and Queenie pulled into the yard, Dad (Morley Wagner), myself, Uncle Punch and his son Mike Alexander were loading Uncle Punch’s pickup. Dad had given Punch a swather axle transport and I had given Mike a couple wide tires for a car. There wasn’t room on the truck for everything so Punch unloaded Mike’s tires, which Mike promptly put back on the truck. Just as Bob and Queenie walked up Punch unloads Mike’s tires again and informs him that if he loads them again he will knock him through the flap in his underwear. Welcome to the family Uncle Bob.
Bob and Queenie were married on July 3, 1971. This was quite an adjustment for both Bob and Queenie. Bob’s first wife had died quite young and Bob had raised three children on his own. Queenie, on the other hand, had never been married and now had a daughter and two sons ranging in age from 15 to 20. They both adapted well, and now we started hearing all about Kathy, Ron and Dave Milne’s lives.
She was very proud of the achievements of her children and now the infamous Xmas letter that was basically an annual tell-all essay about her family now included the Milne children along with the Alexanders and Wagners. Her writing expanded, first the “Here Comes Aunty Queenie,” then a book “Growing Up on the Bench” and then “Country School Marm.”
Queenie taught at Balgonie for a few years then Holy Rosary Catholic School in Regina for 11 years before retiring. Bob and Queenie travelled a lot before and after retiring. There were trips to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and England. They had a fifth wheel holiday trailer and used to travel south in the winter. There were many camping trips throughout the Prairies. Bob’s sister Ruth and her husband George Forrister would join them at Cypress Hills Park and we would all look forward to going to visit them. Sometimes other friends would travel with them, Connie, Queenie’s friend from Vauxhall, Mary Drever, a friend from Maple Creek, to name a few.
Queenie had a positive impact on everyone she met and influenced many along the way. She usually found the humor in most situations, which is something we all need.
Queenie is predeceased by her parents Ralph and Florence Avanzino, sister Ruth, brother-in-law Morley and nephew Pat Wagner, brother-in-law Mayland and nephew Joe Alexander, brother-in-law George Forrister, brother-in-law Alex and sister-in-law Myrtle Milne, niece Karen and nephew Kevin Rodenberg, nephew Raymond Milne, niece Fern Kendall.
She is survived by her husband Bob Milne, daughter Kathy and son-in-law Dennis Arbuthnott, their children Chris, Shane and Devon, son Ron Milne, son Dave and daughter-in-law Shelly Milne, their children, Tasha, Dylan, Austin and Zack, sister Mabel Alexander, sister-in-law Ruth Forrister, brother-in-law Dick and sister-in-law Thelma Milne, brother-in-law Don and sister-in-law Sylvia Milne, brother-in-law Wilf and sister-in-law Alice Rodenberg and numerous nieces and nephews.
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