“If the shoe fits, wear it.”
This popular saying could be used by, say, a shoe salesman.
Perhaps someone like the late Roy Hickling who owned a shoe store in Brandon, Manitoba.
Better yet, it may apply to describe someone’s personality or essence.
Example being Roy’s youngest daughter Karen.
Always smiling and always positive.
Born May 1, 1951, Karen, blessed with beautiful blonde hair, later attended Harrison High School where she was a cheerleader and honour student while participating in judo and life guarding at the local YMCA.
In Grade 12 she met a young man by the name of Ken Gooden who was then attending Brandon University.
The two became a pair.
The following year Karen headed south of the border to Grand Forks, North Dakota to attend the University of North Dakota where she graduated four years later with a degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation.
Ken, attending University of Carleton in Ottawa at this time, had maintained the courtship by “writing plenty of letters and seeing each other in the summer and at Christmas,” he recently recalled.
In 1973, Karen Lea Hickling became Mrs. Karen Lea Gooden.
Moving to St. Catharines, Ontario in 1974, Ken would commute daily to his job in Toronto. Karen returned to her roots, employed by the St. Catharines YMCA where she eventually ended up being Program Director.
Along the way the couple welcomed two children into their lives, Kim and Kurt who were born 1978 and 1981 respectively.
During the 1984 recession Kent, then in consulting engineering, like many, looked to Fort McMurray to start a new life.
“Our daughter was going into Grade 1 and our son was going into Kindergarten and Karen, always the industrialist one, got us set up in the house and the kids all ready,” said Ken.
By chance or fate, the Fort McMurray YMCA had just announced that they would be relocating to Westwood Community High School.
A perfect fit for Karen as she “led commissioning activities getting everything functional, establishing organizational roles and expanding membership, becoming the manager of the new facility.”
In 1993 Karen took a position with Some Other Solutions Society for Crisis Prevention (SOS), rising to the position of Executive Director.
Under her leadership numerous initiatives were implemented; a 24 hour per day crisis line, a Grief and Loss Program, a Students Assisting Students Mentorship Program in all Fort McMurray schools, the Heart of the Matter Programs as well as the Suicide Prevention Program.
But most important in Karen’s life, was family and friends.
In their spare time, when not driving the kids to their various activities, be it soccer or downhill skiing, “We had two cars going…it was crazy…sometimes we were literally passing each other on the streets,” recalled Ken; the family enjoyed boating, be it at the cottage back in Clear Lake, Manitoba or out west at Vancouver Island.
“It was pretty low key. We just liked day boating exploring. We’d get a bunch of maps, some food and a cooler,” said Ken, who along with Karen started their annual trips to Vancouver Island in 2005 to test the waters for future retirement. “We did no overnighting that was too be the next step. To learn the waters and become familiar with things.
“The idea was to get a larger boar. We had a 24 foot boat but needed something bigger to sleep on. That was our dream. But she was cheated out on that.”
In February 2013 Karen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“She was upbeat and never talked about it. There was no ‘Woe is me,” said Ken. “My son told me that at one point the doctor came in (Lois Hole Hospital for Women at the Royal Alex in Edmonton) and told her to get her family together and have a family meeting. After the doctor left, my son said the first thing Mom said was, “Where are we going for supper tonight?” She did not want us to dwell on it.”
One story which was recalled by her older sister during Karen’s time in the hospital read: ““While a patient there Karen quickly became a friend to all the nursing staff and specialist’s on her floor. Often they would stay to visit with Karen after their shift and just “shoot the breeze”! She had them laughing and in stitches most of the time. One day when I was visiting her, all of a sudden she stated “There goes Jesus” and she hopped out of her bed and looked down the hall! Thinking Karen must have “lost it” we both looked down the ward, and low and behold, there stood what looked like Jesus! He turned out to be an “Indian Swami” that was there to help another patient pass….she was in stitches!”
It was this positive nature that carried Karen throughout her life.
“She was a friendly outgoing honest person. A person you could trust,” said Ken. “She would be the first to step forward to help out. When she said something it was thoughtful, organized and meaningful. She was well liked by everybody. More or less she would be assisting in a situation instead of creating conflict.
“She was always giving and easy to get along with and non-controversial. She never had an enemy in the world and had a beautiful smile. Always smiling.”
Karen passed away September 4, 2013 and was cremated.
At her service a Joe Cocker song was played that may have summed up her life…”You Are So Beautiful.”