2017 IW Winners

Influential Community Trailblazer - Kakabeka Falls

Marilyn Grudniski

Marilyn Grudniski

Sunflowers planted in city gardens are a reminder to children and residents of Thunder Bay to be kind, tolerant, and weed out hate. The anti-bullying campaign is one of the many socially responsible causes pioneered by Marilyn Grudniski among her multitude of community projects and contributions geared toward the wellbeing of others.

“When you’re part of a community, there’s always something that needs work,” said Grudniski.

The anti-bullying campaign in Thunder Bay began years before within her string of daycare centres in the Thunder Bay area.

The CEO of Little Lions Waldorf Daycare is regarded as a dedicated teacher, a tireless advocate for quality early childhood education, and a mentor and role model to many.

“Marilyn is the type of person that does what’s right, stands for what’s right, and will not give up,” said one of her nominators.

From Little Lions, she has spread her love of raising children and families in safe and supportive communities with a number of causes across Thunder Bay.

“Everyone knows the phrase: ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” said Grudniski, “but does the village have the capacity to raise a child? By building a strong community, that’s how we’re raising our children.”

Born and raised in the former Fort William (now Thunder Bay) and trained as a teacher, Grudniski’s career journey took her to the Northwest Territories and to many parts of Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chile and Bolivia.

After 26 years of being away, she returned to Thunder Bay in 2001 from the Belgian Congo with her husband and three very world-wise children.

With teaching still in her blood, she acquired a daycare facility on Clarke Street that’s since spun out to 11 locations in the Thunder Bay area with a staff of 90.

Inspired by the human rights-based curriculum during a teaching stint at a Bolivian school, Grudniski easily accepted the Waldorf-based early childhood educational practices at Little Lions, based on the philosophical teachings of Rudolf Steiner.

It meshed well with her belief system of respect for the environment and each other.

“It was such a good fit,” said Grudniski.

“So much of my time was spent teaching people of different races and cultures in international schools where you have a mix of races, cultures and languages.”

A believer in promoting “Waldorf for the masses,” Grudniski has an agreement with local social services to accommodate subsidized clients.

“We want this to be open so all children can benefit from this.”

Connecting with nature is prominent in the many activities and seasonal festivals organized at Little Lions.

She introduced The Big Boreal Adventure, an annual city-wide nature-based scavenger hunt that allows families to get out and explore the community with a guidebook and map to search for some of Thunder Bay’s special natural spaces.

“I was surprised when I moved back to Canada and how little I saw people outdoors compared to Africa. I would be driving through an area of town and not see a child for blocks and blocks.”

Out in the community, among her many pursuits, Grudniski has been instrumental in promoting bicycle safety awareness and is involved with the Coalition of the Roots of Empathy program with the mission of creating caring, peaceful and civil societies by reducing aggression levels in schoolchildren.

She tends to the children’s booth at the Hymers Fall Fair, promotes the city’s rich architectural history and supports many environmental causes through committee work.

Now entering her 65th year, Grudniski plans to retire as CEO of Little Lions in December and focus on establishing a dedicated daycare staff training centre while raising money to create a licensed forest-based preschool in a rural area of Thunder Bay.

Sponsored by: