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Posted: February 17, 2015

Leslie Molnar – Woman of the Year 2015

Have you ever noticed the most successful and centered people are the ones with a broad range of interests and abilities? And, have you realized these same people are usually very actively involved in their community, mentors for others and the kind of people you not only want to be around, but also to emulate?

Click to enlarge images.
Click to enlarge images.

These are the similar traits of the women who have been nominated and selected as CFUW Cranbrook Club Woman of the Year since 1982. It is also very descriptive of Leslie Molnar, Woman of the Year 2015!

Leslie was nominated by her peers with eight well written letters of support which demonstrated how she is known for and dedicated to: education, the advancement of women, inspiring and enriching the lives of those around her, advocating for opportunities for better work choices, creating a respectful and pleasant workplace, balancing her work as a math instructor at the College of the Rockies, her volunteer endeavours and her family with grace.

When Leslie discovered she was Woman of the Year 2015, she was in Vancouver at one of her many meetings as President of the College of the Rockies Faculty Association (CORFA). CORFA is one of the 19 locals of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE), and Leslie sits as a Member at Large on its Executive.

A member of the nominating committee had called the President of FPSE, Cindy Oliver, who was chairing the meeting and she made the announcement.

Leslie, top right, with her family. Photos submitted
Leslie, top right, with her family. Photos submitted

“I was so surprised!” stated Leslie. “Honoured, astounded and grateful all at once,” she added. What Leslie did not know until this week, is Cindy was one of her eight nominators for this prestigious award.

Leslie was born in Cranbrook and is the youngest daughter of Harry and Evelyn Mathias. Her dad was a teacher in Cranbrook for over 30 years and retired in 1988. Since age seven, Leslie was well known in Cranbrook as a youngster for her musical talent both on the piano and voice.

She went to UBC to study music where she worked extremely hard, but despite her struggles, realized although she was a big fish in the pond here, she was a mere minnow in the large pond of talent in the big city. She then switched from music to majoring in mathematics and chose to finish her degree at the University of Victoria, where there was far less of the “old boy’s club” atmosphere in math. “My studies in music led me to understand what it is like to work hard but still struggle. That taught me how to give more empathy for my students,” said Leslie.

One of her former students, Michael Savarie said, “Leslie was able to reconnect me with my passion for math and push me to do the very best I could. He went onto say, “Leslie is the style of teacher that goes above and beyond for every student and is willing to put in her free time if the student is also willing.”

Michael said he was able to excel in her classes through her love of teaching.

LM Me at the CLCCOTR instructor Sandi Lavery wrote in her letter of support in the nomination of Leslie that many students entering her University of Victoria program stated, “they would not have been accepted into the program had it not been for Leslie’s teaching. Her patience, perseverance, knowledge of math and her never ending office hours were extremely valued by her past students, who are now teachers themselves.”

Leslie loves math; she “gets it” but she also knows how to teach it to those who do have trouble with the concepts of math. Linda Olm of COTR stated in her letter of support, “I have seen her work tirelessly to assist her students in working through the concepts of mathematics.”

Avery Hulbert, a COTR instructor said, “I have yet to meet a student who does not speak fondly about Leslie as an instructor. A few students were afraid of math until they took a math class with Leslie who is the only person I know who can make math fun. She is a creative, interesting, engaging, prepared and innovative educator.”

Leslie is more than just a teacher. She also works closely with the Student’s Association to make COTR a positive learning environment for all leaners.

“Leslie has served in a number of capacities in the College Faculty Association as President. She endeavours to make COTR a fair, healthy and happy place to work. Her involvement with the college’s many committees is proof positive that she has the needs of this learning community in her heart,” said Linda Olm.

Leslie admits to being a techno geek. She has a website for each of her courses and puts videos of all her classes online so her students can review over and over again what she has taught until they “get” it. She has facilitated a couple of workshops for interested faculty on the way she uses the technology, and loves to get and try new education technology ideas to her co-workers and professional contacts.

Joan Kaun, a long time co-worker and friend for over 20 years wrote, “In addition to Leslie’s dedication to the College of the Rockies, she and her high school sweetheart husband, Mark, have raised three successful and positive children; all of which have studied in the Lower Mainland.”

LM My parents and my kids 2013Two are still in school, one in opera studies at Western University in London, Ontario, the other in computer science at UBC. Her other daughter has graduated as a biology teacher, lives in Cranbrook, and has been teaching part time at Mount Baker Secondary School.

“The importance of family has been instilled in each of them throughout their upbringing. Their extended family gathers weekly for Sunday family dinner, a tradition that has been ongoing for many years,” Kaun said.

Leslie is very close to her entire family and sadly lost her dad in 2014 and her father-in-law in 2013.

Gretchen Whetham, who has known Leslie since 1983 when they both worked together at the Cranbrook Energy House on 14th Avenue, wrote: “Leslie has a love of music and family, and her influence in the community has developed from them both. She studied piano from age seven and completed Grade 10 Royal Conservatory and periodically taught piano. When she was a Mt. Baker High School student, she served as the rehearsal pianist for musicals, playing for the Fantaskics, Godspell and others. While her children were in high school, Leslie always volunteered when parental help was sought. She glued, painted, and sewed many costumes for school musicals, accompanied her children during their performances and vocal exams all the while working full time. Leslie also worked while completing her master’s degree while her children were all very young. They were six, four and two-years-old when she finished.”

Leslie with her husband Mark.
Leslie with her husband Mark.

When this was mentioned to Leslie, she gave her husband Mark full credit for taking on raising their three children throughout the entire summer of 1994 while she was away at summer school. “The children all came down with chicken pox and he handled it without my assistance,” she stated.

“Reliable” is one of the many qualities that were repeated by the authors of letters of support for Leslie as CFUW Cranbrook Club Woman of the Year.

Leslie was a longtime member of the Bisset Singers and joined the Symphony Chorus in 2013. Not only did this require earning lyrics in seven languages, but she also agreed to join the tenor section. She has since become a member of the Sun Valley Song and plans to continue that choir. For friends and family, she plans on continuing to share her love of music, her ability to explain technical details and be an accompanist when needed.

LM Valley of Fire 2014Finding time for herself is often a challenge, but Leslie makes the time keeping true to her belief that family is first. With the children off to university, she took up motorcycling and snowmobiling in 2012. She owns a Honda Shadow 1100 and an Arctic Cat snowmobile. This allows her to have fun adventures with her husband year round. Her sunny living room is filled with collages of family pictures and gatherings.

When asked if she would continue with her role as President of COTR local, she said yes. She enjoys being an advocate to anyone about anything she knows well. However, she is happy in this community and has absolutely no aspirations to get into any form of politics outside of her role as President of the Faculty Association at this college.

“Leslie always has time to ask about their families and has solid advice about being a wife, mother, daughter and a full time employee with volunteer commitments,” stated one of her co-workers. Another instructor wrote about her time as a new mum and working full time, “Along with the emotional support she provided as a fellow working mother, she also advocated for my rights and the rights of future new parents in a similar situation in the workplace. Years later, I still cannot thank her enough for recognizing my desperation and need for help and support.”

All the letters of support stated how deeply they “admire Leslie for many qualities and action, but specifically her strength, leadership and courage to challenge people to have difficult conversations that are important to create a safe and inclusive workplace and to overcome adversary and obstacles. When Leslie encounters bumps in the road, she does not back down or become discouraged. Rather, she perseveres and seeks out creative alternative approaches to meet the objectives. Her ability to communicate effectively, respectively and confidently while seeming to never offend or harm someone is admirable.”

Hulbert summed her nomination letter by saying, “Leslie is an inspiration. I learn so much from her on a daily basis. She is a strong leader who empowers everyone to realize their potential. Leslie is a role model that full time working women and educators can admire as to how to successfully balance career, family, and personal care.”

LM Mark & Leslie sledWeldon Cowan, a FPSE Staff Representative in Vancouver said, “Leslie is a person of great integrity and character. Leslie is driven by a desire to serve and to improve the lot of others. She does so with humour and with kindness and with a steely determination that cannot be swayed. She has been an inspiration to many women within the post-secondary environment. She has also been an inspiration to the young women who have had the honour of having her as a teacher.”

FPSE President Cindy Oliver, a former College of the Rockies faculty member, added to Weldon’s comments saying, “Leslie has demonstrated a strong commitment to ensuring that fairness and equality are not only core to the lives of her students, but also front and centre in the workplace. In my years of working with Leslie, I have come to recognize that her style of leadership builds on collective interests, an approach that acknowledges the strengths of others and constantly expands the circle of potential leadership from within.”

To look a Leslie, one would say she is a tiny/small woman, but “oh my” does she have the strength to move mountains. This “parent first, then wife and teacher” is exactly what Leslie is and far more.

CFUW Cranbrook Club is very pleased to present Leslie Molnar as Woman of the Year 2015 on Thursday, March 5 at 4 p.m. sharp at the Manual Training School attached to the Cranbrook Public Library. Family, friends, students, co-workers and all former CFUW Cranbrook Club Woman of the Year recipients are cordially invited to join us. Refreshments will be served after the ceremony.

If you, as a reader, know of anyone like this is your life, please go to our website: for details on how to nominate a candidate for this highly prized award for 2016. You can also write the club directly at [email protected].

Cathryn Henley,

CFUW Cranbrook Club

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