SHIP COVE, NL – Tirelessly involved and concerned, Iris Decker has played a key role in a variety of plans and projects throughout her years.
Decker was born in Red Bay, but spent much of her life in Ship Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula. Her volunteer and committee work has extended across the upper Northern Peninsula.
Wherever she is based, she has devoted herself to offering her insights on any local issues.
“I say at one time or another, I was on every committee that was ever formed on the Northern Peninsula,” Decker said with a laugh.
Decker’s career began in 1958 when she got a job teaching in Ship Cove. At the time, Decker says Ship Cove had over 200 residents. From Kindergarten to Grade 4, she taught 40 students.
The following year she got a job teaching in nearby Raleigh, but Decker took a break from teaching when she married Ross Decker. The pair raised four children together.
In 1968, she went back to teaching.
Of the many students she taught, Decker recalls two identical twins that would continually play tricks on her.
The twins’ coats, which were used to distinguish one from the other, would routinely be switched up to confuse Decker. Or, in the class’s arranged seating, they would switch desks to see if Decker would notice.
“They always tricked me like that, and I was rarely able to tell one from the other,” Decker said.
Another memory that stands out is the work Decker did to bring about the rewrite of a fourth-grade religious textbook.
“I’ll never forget it. I looked through that book and the lesson plan and God was not mentioned once – I couldn’t believe it,” Decker said.
Decker took the book to the religious department’s coordinator. Both were of strong religious conviction, and they soon began efforts to change the textbook.
After calls were made to the book’s authors, Decker says the textbook was reissued with statement relating to God and the Earth being created.
A benefit of teaching in small communities that Decker has been grateful for is getting to see her students grow up and remain in touch with her.
“Teachers in big city centres probably never lay eyes on them again after the school year,” she said. “But I’ve seen many of my students grow through the years. Any that come by to see me still call me ‘miss.’
“I must say I’m proud of the students that I taught and the years I put into teaching.”
After teaching for 30 years, Decker was given the chance to see things from the other side when she was asked to serve on the area school board.
This began an extensive career in committee and board work for Decker.
She was a part of many committees, such as Labrador Grenfell Health, the Grenfell Historic Board, the regional waste management board, the economic development board for St. Lunaire-Griquet and even more besides.
Decker remains on the waste management board and only recently left the Labrador Grenfell Health (LGH) committee.
While on the LGH committee, Decker fought to bring an echocardiogram to the Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony.
Without it, patients had to be sent to Corner Brook, where the nearest echocardiogram was located. Many often came to the St. Anthony hospital from Labrador, and this additional trip to Corner Brook made their hospital experience even more strenuous.
Because of her work, the echocardiogram that remains in use today at the Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital is called “Iris’s Echo” by staff.
“When I came down and they showed me ‘Iris’s Echo,’ I told them ‘Well, I don’t see my name on it,’” Decker said with a laugh.
Decker also helped bring a museum to Ship Cove’s recreational building. But for the past two summers, Decker has struggled to find a student volunteer to keep the museum open.
She says this difficulty is being found across the Northern Peninsula.
“I advertised it and put it on all the bulletin boards, but here in Ship Cove there’s not a young person to do it. If there was, believe me they’d be working.” Decker said. “I’ve been told that’s happening all over the area, it’s hard to get students for summer work.”
Along with this lack of student volunteers, Decker says closure of the Tickle Inn in Cape Onion has also been a strain on the community. The inn brought new and returning tourists for years. Decker once said the Tickle Inn was what put Ship Cove on the map.
“Nothing can replace the Tickle Inn, people came from everywhere to stay there,” she said. “So many people still call now asking if it’s re-opened.”
Decker says the owners are currently trying to get other members of their family involved with taking over the operation. If the Tickle Inn were to ever go up for sale publicly, Decker says it wouldn’t take very long for the place to be sold.
“I know for a fact someone would buy that place, even if just to live in it,” Decker said.
Decker’s own Ship Cove property has been home for her and her husband since they first wed. The house sits near a scenic oceanside view, with hills, hiking trails and Ross’s greenhouse nearby. Over the years, they’ve renovated and added onto the home many times.
Tourists smitten with the location have been coming to Decker nearly every summer in hopes of buying the property from her and her husband. But the love and care Decker has provided for her community has given her a sense of attachment that no price tag can replace.
“One person offered me $94,000 up front and said, ‘we’ll negotiate the rest afterward,’” Decker recalled. “I told him I appreciated the offer, but if I sell this place my children will kill me.”