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The Insider: Learn From the Greats

The Carolyn Kolebaba Interview By Tormaigh Van Slyke

Born and raised in the Peace Region, Carolyn Kolebaba has been a farmer for much of her life and currently operates Kolebaba Trucking along with her husband and sons. Carolyn worked in the education system for 15 years before entering municipal politics in 1998. In 2000, she was elected Reeve of Northern Sunrise County. Later, she was elected to become the Rural Municipalities of Alberta's first female vice president, a position she held on and off for 10 years. In 2012, Carolyn was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal for her dedication to service to her peers, to her community and to Canada.

Tell us about your upbringing.

I was born into a family that worked. I tended to the family farm from a young age, alongside my parents and siblings. We had cattle, pigs, chickens, horses and grain. Our chores had to be done before we ate or went anywhere.

We learned about life and death at a young age, and we learned how to have fun with few material things. We were all quite close. The eldest, Elaine, is now the mayor of Peace River. My other older sister is Alice (McDonell). Next in line was me. Then, it was my brother John Manzer and Maryanne (Overwater), who was a councillor for the Town of Olds.

At one time, there were five of us under the age of seven. John and I are Irish twins—born the same year. I’m the middle child, able to work with older or younger folks.

My dad and mom were very active in the community, so we grew up knowing to always give back. I remember 4-H. That’s where I learned public speaking as well as how to care for a creature and then sell it.

I always respect agricultural producers. I know firsthand the great hardships that go with producing the best food in the world, and they get very few accolades. That’s why agriculture comes first in Northern Sunrise County as long as I’m here.

What are some mottos or rules of thumb that you live by?

Treat others the way they treat you. Also, respect the powers you’ve been given; they can be short-lived.

What fills your days and weeks?

My weeks are filled with roads, health, parks, water, region, bridges, grading, transportation, agriculture, planning, public groups, First Nations relationships, team council, residents and much more. This is just to name a few of the diverse issues that arise.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of going into politics?

I haven’t always been a good listener, but now with over 24 years on council, I’ve learned to do better. People want to know they’ve been heard. Even if I can’t solve a situation to their satisfaction, I tell them I will get them the answer; it may not be the one they like, but it will be an answer.

Always answer your phone. It’s your job to help, so do it, or give up your seat on the council.

Try to stay away from the negative folks who see fault no matter what you do.

If you’re a woman, it’s going to be tougher. I’ve broken the ceiling of the Old Boys’ Club on many occasions. Put your big girl pants on and tally ho.

It’s not easy, but if you care deeply for the greater good, you will be the change.

Tell us about your personality.

I will wear my heart on my sleeve at times. I feel deeply for those in need, and I try to find a way to make a small difference in their lives.

My personality is to be friendly. I enjoy being with people, so COVID was ugly for me.

It’s in my personality to have fun. I so enjoy a good belly laugh. At times, that’s in short supply. Even the most hardened person needs a good laugh.

I enjoy jokes. Maybe that’s why people are drawn to me—and me to them.

No matter what room I’m in, a good laugh goes a long way. Humour trumps all.

Respect is earned, not a given. I’ve never thought of myself as better than you or lesser until you prove me wrong.

Titles have never defined me, and they never will.

I hope to garner the respect of everyone I meet.

Everyone has a story. When people are angry, I find myself thinking “What happened to them before they came into my space?”

Who has been a mentor for you?

I’ve gained many acquaintances in my job—royalty, a prime minister, premiers, ministers, many local people. Each and every one of them has left a mark on me.

I often think of Margaret Thatcher—either you’re with the change or you’re not, and if not, get off the bus.

When we were deciding where our new administration building was going to be built, it was very contentious. Should it be in the old Catholic school in Nampa or on the East Hill?

I knew if we built on the East Hill, others would too.

Against the odds, we did it, and today we’ve successfully built the business park into a thriving community with piped water and underground fiber optics. Trust your gut.

How much sleep do you get? How do you re-charge your batteries?

I’m an early riser. My dad would say, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy and wise.” Well, I’ve found the same is true for a woman.

I relax with a conversation with my husband about the day—thus, the grounding method. Recharging my batteries comes with walking the dog. He’s a great listener.

What’s your advice for working with others?

I believe in a team environment you are only as strong as your weakest link, so pull people up, and don’t put them down. They may surprise you.

What’s the biggest factor that has helped you be successful?

My husband Mike, and our two sons Matthew and Quinten, have kept me grounded in my political life.

Also, I surround myself with positive people who see the sunrise. We have an administration and staff that are on the bus for the greater good.

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