Diane Therien knew she made a mistake.
Having dropped out of Hapnot Collegiate after grade 10, she found herself stuck in a low-paying job as a waitress.
“I needed to do something,” recalls Therien.
Disillusioned by the idea of returning to school, Therien, now 59, chose instead to become a self-learner.
It was the early 1970s, long before YouTube became the ultimate how-to resource. For guidance, Therien turned to books and other people who had found success.
“If I wanted to learn something, I read a book and then tried to find someone who could explain what I didn’t understand,” she says. “I learned bookkeeping basics by reading a book from the library.”
As Therien applied her newfound knowledge, her employment prospects broadened. In time she found work as a bookkeeper, legal assistant and self-employed consultant.
She benefitted from a strong sense of self-reliance forged while growing up in Creighton. With six children in the family, father Lorne Whiteman, a miner, and mother Edie, a waitress, had limited cash flow.
“I wasn’t involved in many things that cost money,” Therien recalls. “I remember going with my friend to her dance recital one time and I was in awe. I remember the matching tutus, the stage, and I remember thinking what a huge production this was and how lucky she was to be involved.”
Therien and her friends often made their own fun in the dense bush and abundant rock surrounding Creighton.
“There were so many explorations we went on,” she says. “We were usually traversing the same rocks, but always on a different adventure. One time we were cowboys, another time pirates. Seems silly when you look back now, but so much fun. Of course the best times were when mom would pack us a picnic lunch and we’d be gone from morning until we heard her yell our names out the door to come home for supper.”
As a teenager, Therien often went to the movies. Her first date was at
Flin Flon’s Rex Theatre, where she hoped to eventually get a job.
The theatre closed before she could apply, but she did spend a couple of summers working at the Phantom Lake concession.
“That was a great learning experience,” she says. “We did everything from scooping ice cream cones to cooking and cleaning. There was no job that we were not expected to do – and we did them all.”
Therien enjoyed and excelled at school, but in a decision she still struggles to explain, she dropped out when she was 16.
“I just remember I didn’t want to be there anymore,” she says. “It’s a hard question to answer because back in those days, it wasn’t totally unacceptable to quit school. You could go out and get a job. Honestly I thought I was smarter than everybody and I could take the world by storm.”
After landing a job as a waitress, Therien was humbled to see how little money she earned. That’s when she made the choice to better herself through self-learning.
Further motivation came when she was 20 and gave birth to daughter Tauvia, her only child, and a subsequent marriage fell apart.
As her employment situation improved with each successive job, Therien noticed her older siblings begin to take an active role in their community. Inspired, she began volunteering herself.
By the time she was in her 30s, she was heavily involved with the Flin Flon Kinette Club, later earning its prestigious lifetime membership award.
Elsewhere, theatregoers came to know Therien as a key member of the
Ham Sandwich theatre troupe, her roles ranging from the villainous to the kind-hearted.
Just as her first date was a movie date, so too was the get-together that would bring Therien the love of her life. On the August long weekend of 1995, she and Tom Therien went to the Big Island Drive-in to watch a double feature:
A Goofy Movie followed by Crimson Tide.
She had known Tom through volunteering and playing slo-pitch, but now there was a romantic connection. Six months after that summer night, when she was 38, the couple married.
Therien’s career-path ascent has continued. Today she is a skills assessment coordinator for Workplace Education Manitoba, helping Flin Flon area residents enter, re-enter or find a more meaningful place in the workforce.
She relishes the chance to assist others in fulfilling their dreams.
“Not everyone I have contact with succeeds, but there are some who soak up every bit of information and help you can give them and run with it,” Therien says. “It makes me feel proud that I had a small part in helping them get on their feet.”
While Therien is approaching retirement age, she’s not sure she will ever stop working, though she and her husband, a former Flin Flon mayor, will eventually start spending part of the winter in a warmer climate.
Therien is a self-reflective individual. She considers herself an open book, sometimes to a fault.
“I am not afraid to speak my mind, which I like, but I sometimes don’t like the way I do it,” she says. “I can be aggressive and sometimes don’t take the time to gauge my audience and determine how I should approach certain topics. Sometimes the mouth is engaged before the brain is in gear.”
Yet as she looks back on her life, Therien views her perceived mistakes – such as quitting school – as necessary parts of her personal evolution.
“If I hadn’t made those mistakes, I wouldn’t be where I am now or be the person I am now,” she says, “and most days I really like where I am and the person I’ve become.”