The death of Dorothy Kostrzewa last Friday is being mourned by many people in her beloved community of Chilliwack this week.
Born August 17, 1928 as the youngest of eight children in the Chung family, Kostrzewa is being remembered for her generous warmth, enthusiasm, and fierce dedication to her community.
Recognized as a trailblazer and a positive inspiration, she was the first Chinese-Canadian woman to take political office in Canada in 1971 when elected to Chilliwack city council.
She was an accountant at the Chilliwack General Hospital before entering politics.
The Chung family survived the Fraser River Flood of 1948, and she came by her hard-working and tenacious nature honestly. Dorothy told a story of how she and her siblings used a raft of sorts, to dive down to retrieve fruits and vegetables from a submerged and flooded garden.
Former Chilliwack Mayor Clint Hames worked with Kostrzewa on council for 18 solid years.
“It was always a pleasure to work with Dorothy,” he said. “What was so interesting is that there was never a job too small for her to consider. She would attack every challenge with the same amount of class and enthusiasm, even if it was a job that nobody else wanted.”
She never said “no” to an opportunity to serve the community, and was a champion of several municipal landmarks she helped establish from the Chilliwack library, to the Chilliwack Museum, to the Cultural Centre and starting a committee to erect the Piper Richardson statue.
“It always amazed me that she led such an active political life but gathered absolutely no enemies, which can’t be said for everyone else,” Hames added. “I think people acknowledged the fact that she was so sincere, and honest and willing to put the community first.”
She served as a Chilliwack councillor for an impressive 31 years, was awarded UBCM’s long service award for 25 years.
Kostrzewa worked on councils led by seven mayors, from Bill Simpson to Clint Hames. Flags are at half mast this week at city hall.
Accolades, plaques and awards were numerous. She earned the Order of Chilliwack, was named Woman of the Year, and awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from UFV in 2009 for outstanding community service.
Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz called Kostrzewa a genuine “inspiration” who always treated everyone the same.
“She treated everyone equally, whether they were rich or poor, brilliant or not. That’s the hallmark of a good politician. She’s left a lasting legacy for me, and more importantly for the people of Chilliwack, and we will miss her.
“She kept her body so healthy and her mind so active. Dorothy was always a full participant in life. She gave credit where credit was due, but never for herself. If anyone made a fuss about her, she’d wave her hand away.”
Gaetz wrote on the Facebook page: “Rest in peace, grand lady. You are forever loved.”
Her son, Richard Kostrzewa, said the family has been very touched by the tributes pouring in from the community on the Facebook page for their loved one. She is survived by her husband Richard, children Richard and Karen and grandchildren.
“It’s just been overwhelming,” her son said. “We knew my mom touched a lot of hearts but seeing it like this is very warming for us to know people truly did care.”
As per their mom’s request there will be no public funeral service, he said.
The family has issued the following statement: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved mother. We were so proud of her in life and she will be in our thoughts and hearts forever.
“We would also like to express our sincere appreciation to the City of Chilliwack for all their kind words and thoughts.”
Kostrzewa was named Sportsman of the Year and was active her entire life, with a deep love of tennis. She was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Chilliwack Rotary Club, and one of Chilliwack’s Community Sports Heroes. In 2006 Kostrzewa was named one of the 100 Chinese Canadians making a difference in B.C.
A memorial book has been set up to be signed at the entrance of Chilliwack City Hall, or on Facebook.