May 9, 1929 – December 31, 2018
In the early morning of December 31, 2018, Alma Cerilli left us peacefully for her next destination…heaven! She is survived and lovingly remembered by the love of her life, and husband of 64 years, Al Cerilli; plus her “kids”: Paul & Linda, Rosie & Don, Barb & Roly, Rick & Brenda, Marianne & Andreas, Joanne & Daniel, Donna & Lorne; her precious grandchildren: David & Elise, Avery & Keith, Christine & Cam, Calvin & Ashton, Scott & Kristen, Christopher & Sam, Clair & Kik, Matt & Ava, Angie & Braden, Max, Sam, Mira & Cole, Michael & Danielle, and her extra precious great-grandchildren Logan, Leo, Jesse and Gia-Marie.
Alma was born May 9, 1929, in Heart’s Content, Newfoundland. She was the fifth child of Joshua and Elsie Homer (nee Bonner). She was preceded by sisters Mona, Pearl and Ruth, brother Charlie and survived by brothers George, Joe and Gerald.
Alma left Newfoundland for Toronto in 1949. As a young woman, Alma worked at a variety of jobs but spent many years with Sears in the women’s department. Alma was a fashion plate in those days, and at 5’9” she could wear it all, which she did. She loved to dress up for a night out and could party with the best of them. In 1954 on Valentines Day, at the Woodbine Hotel in Toronto, she met the love of her life Albert Cerilli. He bought two beers for twenty-five cents and thanked Alma’s friend, the girl he was with, for introducing them because Alma was the girl he was going to marry. It was love at first sight when the charismatic Italian met the fun-loving Newfoundlander. On June 18, 1954, they were married and spent sixty-four happy years together.
Albert worked for the Canadian National Railway in the dining car when he met Alma, but it was his union activism that was his calling and shaped their lives. He introduced Alma to Tommy Douglas at the famous Maple Leaf Gardens speech and Alma became an even more devoted CCF and NDP supporter. Over the years Alma would raise thousands of dollars for the NDP, help on elections year after year, and even ran as a candidate for City Council in her North Kildonan Ward. She would later raise her kids and grandkids to share the values of compassion and cooperation in the CCF/NDP tradition and be a role model to actively make your contribution to the community.
In April 1968, after Albert’s brother Angelo passed away, Alma took in their six nieces and nephews without blinking an eye. Alma brought us all by train back to Winnipeg, where Albert had recently relocated as the new union rep for the CBRT&GW. Their first home was a two-bedroom apartment on Rothesay near Edison, then to Roselawn Bay, which became the family home for 50 years until 2018. Alma and Albert dedicated themselves to providing a secure and happy home filled with unconditional love. They accomplished this with flying colours.
Alma dove into life in her new prairie city. Taking up curling as lead with the Matthews rink at Transcona Curling Club, a life long membership with the E.K. Transcona Resident Advisory Group, the NDP Central Ladies, and NDP constituency associations. She had talents and interests as diverse as fishing (she was a master angler), furniture refinishing, decoupage and crocheting, sewing (love the grad dresses) and of course her famous baking. Her kids grew up on homemade bread, the best pies and cinnamon buns, and Newfie specialties like fish and brewis, blueberry duff, boiled dinner and gandies. She mastered the Italian dishes, with lasagna and pizza to rival the Romans. Alma didn’t get veganism when there was corned beef, prime rib or a steak to barbeque, but she accommodated the choices of her clan. “There’s always room for one more – at our table, in our home and in my heart”, was her motto. She was funny, fun loving, generous to a fault and her heart was made of gold – so open and full of love for family, friends, and anyone else she met during her day. Her home was a hub for family, community projects and the NDP, with Boxing Day Open House a long tradition. Her happiest day was Sunday when she could host family dinner for 30! Alma and Al did this every Sunday, knocking out walls in their home to accommodate everyone. These dinners cemented the bonds of our large family as it continued to grow, and always led to some very interesting conversations. Alma would also regularly cook for soup kitchens and donated to every charity going. She will be missed by staff in many shops and organizations of her home community in northeast Winnipeg, whether the bank, the grocer, her pool or the hair salon, where many were like family. She led a full and busy life, even as an elder, each year as winter approached she made time to crochet scarves for people who might need them.
Alma did the driving in the Cerilli household, covering the continent on summer road trips and camping with dogs and boats in tow. The summers tenting across Canada or at Falcon Lake and Riding Mountain ensured her kids grew a love of the wilderness and were comfortable in nature. Alma believed kids should play outside not watch TV and she encouraged her kids to be as active as she was. To keep her striking figure, Alma tried all the exercise gadgets from the 70’s and the basement was like a gym. Up until a few years ago, Alma made the trip most every day to the YMCA on Kimberly Ave. to swim.
Her kids gave Alma and Al twelve grandchildren and their favorite roles yet, being Nanny and Poppy. Alma loved being a grandma, she had so much fun teaching Newfie songs and jokes, making mischief, planning birthdays and special trips. She created education funds for all her grandkids to ensure they would get the post-secondary education she never did, and not have to mortgage their future to achieve it. Alma’s legendary generosity meant she wanted to share what she had with her grandkids when she could see them enjoy it and know it was going to good. As a great-nanny Alma started four more education funds to ensure another generation benefits from her generosity and vision.
Many who knew her would agree Alma’s defining characteristic besides her giving, friendly and loving nature was her strong will. She had the ability to will things into existence with her unwavering belief and the drive to make it so. She saw talking about your troubles as selfish or a waste of time. Alma was a woman of style, strength and confidence. She was a leader and trailblazer; with a career, as a political activist, a HUGE supporter of the NDP (she canvassed with Tommy Douglas whenever he campaigned in Manitoba). Also, a devoted friend she had her Wednesday lunches with the same group of women friends for over 35 years. She lived a full and loving life.
She will be missed by her large family and many friends across our country. Losing her at Christmas was hard as she was the like an elf who made Christmas so much fun. One time tricking us as kids into believing in Santa Claus by buying two of the same present, with one from Santa, and one from her. Now, Alma fixed it so every New Year’s Eve we will say a toast in her memory, sing Newfie songs, with a shot of Screech or a glass of wine. As a Cerilli family, we are so sad to say goodbye to our matriarch, but we are so happy to look back on the wonderful memories we share of her. Thank you to our Aunt and Nanny for being part of our lives. Loves ya maid.
Cremation has already taken place; no formal service is planned at this time. In keeping with Alma’s commitment to care about and support others, donations may be made in her honor to Rossbrook House at www.rossbrookhouse.ca