Meet Irene Hewson
The world has changed a lot in the last century. Irene Hewson can attest to that. She’s worked hard, loved fiercely and faced challenges in her life, all with grace, humility and an undefeated spirit.
In October of 1916, Irene was born on the Faubert Family Farm near Chatham, Ontario. It was a very different life back then. They didn’t make the trip to the hospital. Irene was delivered in her family’s farmhouse, along with her siblings. There were four children total in her family and Irene was the only girl. As such, it was her job to work in the kitchen. She prepared meals, canned vegetables, baked bread and churned butter. That was a lot of work for a young girl, but she handled it well.
Irene also attended school until she reached the 8th grade. She walked daily to a one room schoolhouse over a mile and a half from her home. She didn’t mind though. Irene had a zeal for learning and was particularly good at math.
When she was eleven, receiving an education became a little easier for Irene. Her father donated an acre of land to the Separate School System. Canada, at the time, supported both the public and Catholic school systems and because of the Faubert family, the St. Angela Catholic School was built on their farm.
“That was a big deal,” said Ron Hewson, Irene’s eldest son.
Having the school nearby freed up time for the children to help on the farm more. It also changed the family dynamic.
“The school teacher lived in their farmhouse,” explained Ron.
The school teacher wasn’t the only guest to stay with the Faubert family. While Irene was growing up, her father used horses and plows, as well as cultivating and harvesting equipment. They were a partial dairy farm, but mostly grew crops. They had a significant garden and raised a few animals for meat. From their hard work, they were able to maintain self-sufficiency and also care for extended family members during the Great Depression.
“The jobs were horrible. They were non-existent in these small towns during the Depression,” said Ron.
Circumstances weren’t much better in the city. Many of Irene’s relatives who had moved to Detroit for work years prior, were forced to move back. Irene found her house full of guests during those years, but they always had food and shelter to go around.
In 1936, Irene was introduced to her husband through a mutual cousin. They began dating and their romance blossomed. William (Bill) Hewson moved to Detroit to find a job in order to pay for their wedding, and in 1939 they married. The ceremony was held at a church in Chatham among friends and family.
Afterwards, Irene moved to Detroit with Bill. They rented a flat and Bill took a job in manufacturing. During WWII, he worked in a defense plant used to produce equipment for the war effort. He became a machinist, and he and Irene were able to put money away, a feat they credited to Irene’s mathematical skills. She created a budget and through her careful planning, they were able to save for a house. In 1941, they purchased their first home for $3200.
They also welcomed their first son, Ron, that year and in 1944 had a second son they named Marvin.
As the War came to an end, the need for manufacturing jobs dwindled. Bill took a job at the Detroit News, working as a security officer. Irene raised Ron and Marvin, but also worked as a drapery maker. They were handmade and Irene poured herself into them, taking care with their quality and design.
“That was her craft,” said Ron.
Bill made her a table and she worked from home. At night, she would sit in front of the television and stitch. The money from her earnings were a blessing the family used to purchase a new car and pay for vacations. In the 1950’s, the Hewson family purchased a cottage in Canada on the St. Clair River where they spent many summers.
When her children had grown and started families of their own, Irene found new interests to fill her time. She poured herself into social activities, and as with everything else she tackled, she excelled.
“She was always a joiner,” said Ron.
And she enjoyed new challenges. Meeting her friends in Mackinaw City to walk the Mackinac Bridge was an annual event. She walked every year until she was physically unable. Her last walk took place at 93-years-of-age with her son, Ron.
She was an active member of the Daughters of Isabella, which were affiliated with the Knights of Columbus. She participated in social and charitable work, finding joy in helping others. She was a longtime member of the Mother’s Club for Seminarians, supporting those studying for priesthood.
Irene and Bill also found time for square dancing and card playing clubs. They were never idle. They threw parties for friends and family, making all who joined feel welcome.
“They were friendly. They stayed in touch with people and took the time to visit others,” said Ron.
When Bill retired, they found a small home in Melbourne, Florida. The place became their winter get-away, and it wasn’t long before family and friends were buying property in the same area. For twenty-six years, they made the journey to Florida, filling their days with fun and laughter.
“They loved celebrating major life events with their friends.”
In October 2009, they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. Irene was glowing the whole time as their family commemorated their hard work and devotion to each other. It was a great day and one the entire family felt grateful for.
A month later, at the age of 95, Bill passed away. The family grieved, but Irene took comfort in knowing they had the chance to celebrate their life together.
“I think she knew it was important to him to have that party,” said Ron.
Ron summarized his mother’s legacy and character as “inspiring.”
“She was a leader, but in a very humble way. She never put herself first.”
She taught him the importance of caring for the people in your life. You didn’t start an argument and you always considered the other person’s feelings. She made sure he knew that maintaining the relationship was more important than winning any fight. She made him laugh and encouraged him through all of life’s lessons.
“She had a sense of humor. She was witty. I think she had to be growing up in an environment that was hard work all the time. Laughter became her way of survival. It served her well.”
Irene has lived a long life with much to be proud of, but her greatest joy has always been in the people she surrounds herself with: her family and friends. She has three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, all of whom she is immensely proud of. The feeling is mutual. Irene will turn 100 this year in October and the family looks forward to celebrating another amazing milestone with her.