Do what you love.
That’s the approach Debbie Treadgold took working 23 years for the Town of Okotoks, much of that time spent working behind the scenes (and under trees) at public events.
Whether Light Up Okotoks, the Town’s parade, or Chili Fest, somehow blending into the background was the flaxen-haired woman wearing a high-visibility jacket or vest.
Having just retired, Treadgold joined the Town of Okotoks Parks department in 1998, and her started out like many, doing the job few wanted to do.
“It started with garbages, nobody wants to do the garbages, so it was me,” Treadgold said.
“I started in the end of September after I had been laid off from my landscaping job.
“It was meet the teacher night at the junior high in High River for my son, and John Nyberg (then the Okotoks parks manager) was there with his daughter.
“I said to him, ‘John, I need a job.’ and he says to come see him Monday and I was hired for six weeks.”
As public events fall under the purview of Parks, Treadgold slowly grew her responsibilities, discovering an enjoyment and enthusiasm for events.
“It started when I started taking the (Town of Okotoks) float to High River for the Little Britches Parade or the Santa Claus Parade,” Treadgold said.
“Then things like Light Up, which was at the tree; parks would put the lights on the trees, and at the end of the event I would go plug them in, and I enjoyed doing that.”
Events have their pros and cons, even for someone as passionate as Treadgold.
“I like Light Up, because of all the people, I don’t like it because it’s cold,” she said.
“I’ve seen Light Up grow from where it was just the tree beside the old Toy Library and we just plugged it in, to now and the amount of people there are now.”
Originally organized by former community events manager Marg Cox, the event has grown now to a full downtown street festival for the one night of the year.
With the larger crowds, sometimes Treadgold would enlist a colleague to help her get in and out of the barrier around the tree.
“When I would be the ‘under the tree’ elf, where I would have to plug it in literally under the tree,” she said. “I would have to get one of my coworkers help me out – I would end up hanging onto her coat tail.”
“I like summer events; Children’s Festival is really fun, and I’ve watched Chili Fest come and go, where it was right beside the Elks Hall, then it was half the street, then now it’s a full festival again,” Treadgold said, adding she mourned the end of Rib Fest.
“One of the best ones was the opening of Bill Robertson Park, because I knew him, knew him as a councillor, knew him as a mayor, knew him as Bill,” Treadgold said, referring to the 2022 renaming of the park following the passing of the late Mayor Bill Robertson in 2021.
“It was not always Mayor Robertson, it was Mayor Bill, and he always had time for you, so it was personal.
“That was the one that touched my heartstrings the most was the park ceremony.”
New events, such as Okotoks Pride, were also a great addition, and while Treadgold’s involvement was minimal, she was happy to help.
“It wasn’t in my wheelhouse to do anything but help raise the flag, but I was there for the whole day,” she said.
“The inside of my poor truck was covered in Pride paint.
“It made me feel like the town is growing, like it’s still a small town, but a town with an open mind.”
Faces in the council chamber have changed in her time behind the wheel of her Town of Okotoks single cab pickup.
“There’s been three mayors, Bill McAlpine, Bill Robertson, and now Tanya Thorn, and a whole load of councillors,” Treadgold said.
Thorn has had her share of Treadgold sightings in the community after nearly a decade in the Town's government.
“Deb is one of many of our staff that just show up and do awesome work; you notice them when they’re not there and notice when the work they do is not getting done, but we don't acknowledge and highlight them in the process,” said Thorn.
“They blend into the fabric of the community and Deb’s a perfect example of that.
“She just took huge pride in her community, in the work that she did, and she embodies what a lot of our town staff do or see when they show up on the job.
“It didn't matter what the job was Deb just said, ‘I can do that’ or ‘I’ll go do that.’”
Thorn doesn’t believe retirement will keep Treadgold out of the fray.
“Yes, she did it because it was her job, but I think you’ll start to see Deb still showing up a variety of events as we move forward,” Thorn said.
“Our community is full of a bunch of unsung heroes, and strong communities and great communities don’t happen because of a few people, they happen because of a lot of people – she just believes in our community.”
Not all of the public would overlook her presence at events, said Christa Michailuck, parks manager for the Town of Okotoks, who worked with Debbie since 2006.
“I think Debbie was one of those people that you would find anywhere and everywhere and kind of became the face of Parks for a lot of citizens in the community,” Michailuck said.
“I would talk to a lot of people on the phone and they would say ‘Are you the lady with the blonde hair?’, they would always ask me if I was Debbie.
“You would find Debbie shovelling snow off Clarke Avenue steps, or marking a burial plot for a local community member, or half-masting the flags for Remembrance Day.
Some jobs required a little more stealth than others, such as when she would wait for the mayor to throw the ceremonial switch at Light Up.
“The thing most people wouldn’t know is she was under that tree plugging it in when the mayor was making the count down,” Michailuck said.
“She was very much behind the scenes but very actively engaged at all of these events.
“People didn't always know her first name but always recognized her as being part of the town fabric.”
Having woven herself into that town fabric, she built up a lot of knowledge and love for Okotoks, Michailuck added.
“Her knowledge and recollection of the history of the town and parks and different citizens very much contributed to that small town feel,” Michailuck said.
“It’s amazing the amount of knowledge somebody has from working 23 years in that role, it’s very invaluable to have that.
“She knew the events inside and out because she’d been to them every year and kept her little checklist of what things needed to happen.”
Over her time, Treadgold accrued new skills such as obtaining her Landscape Journeyman certification, among other skills that Michailuck said made her Jack of all trades.
“We’re a very small team in Parks so we all wear many hats,” Michailuck said.
“Debbie was a certified playground inspector, a certified pesticide applicator, a certified rat investigation specialist – yes we are rat-free in Okotoks, but you have to have a person.”
Her care for the community extended beyond the living, with Treadgold taking on work at the Town of Okotoks cemetery.
“Debbie was very instrumental and had a lot of knowledge and experience with our local cemetery,” Michaluck said. “Some of the records were lost in the old town hall fire, she was very instrumental and she really knew her stuff.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful site, it’s well-manicured and it’s because of people like Debbie that people have that dedicated place of respect and cherish that site.”
Treadgold credits simple work ethic and pride in her work, even in the most mundane tasks.
“It’s like if you’re a waitress, you give good service, and people say they’re coming back to that restaurant because of you,” she said. “I want people to think ‘I’m coming back to the town because of the good experience.’”
The credit isn’t all hers, she pointed out, as having a great team of colleagues across departments has enabled that drive.
“It’s great to work with people who have the same vision as you, as to what you want to do, and what the people of the town would like to see,” Treadgold said.
“Parks was one of the most cohesive teams, everybody would help everybody else.”
This positive work culture, she said, is what has kept people like her around.
“You’re working for the town, you’re like ‘These people are paying my wages’ so you want to do the best job for them, and that was instilled in me when I was little,” Treadgold added.
As much as the town has grown over recent decades, that small town spirit is still there in the familiar faces that make it so worth it for her.
“It still feels small, and the people that come to the events are a lot of the same people,” Treadgold said.
“And you watch the families grow, it’s just so cool watching the families grow.
“Watching the teenagers come, and then they get married, and then they bring their kids.”