Meeting Estelle Craig is like visiting another country. At 100 years old, Estelle has more life experience than most of us can imagine. But when she shares her passion for writing, travel and the theatre, it is clear that some things – like curiosity and the need for artistic expression – never change.
One story from her long and pioneering life expresses the essence of Estelle. Young and newly married to husband Louis, Estelle was living in West Virginia in the late 1930s. Not contented with the domestic life typical for women of the time, Estelle was looking for more. “Where we were living, none of the newspapers had anything of interest to women,” she explains. “So I met with one of the publishers and offered to write a column. He said, ‘I think you should go home and take care of your husband.’ I said, ‘I can do that and write.’ So I did.”
Estelle’s life has been defined by “I can do that” moments. She has written books, newspaper columns, travel articles and radio scripts for the CBC. For 41 years, she ran a company called World Adventure Tours, which offered appearances by famous travellers – such as Sir Edmund Hillary – who would tell their stories while films of their adventures were screened behind them. She also pursued her own passion for travel by hosting tours that allowed her to explore the world. And all this while raising three children.
Seeking a new challenge later in life, Estelle wanted to go back to school. She discovered Ryerson and the ACT II STUDIO, which offers a theatre program through The Chang School for individuals aged 50+. After appearing in and writing several plays for the Studio, Estelle established the Stella Award in 2010, which recognizes original one-act plays that bring unique stories to life in the theatre.
“The ACT II STUDIO is such an exciting place to be,” says Estelle. “It is an incredible ensemble. Everyone is so enthusiastic. That’s what Ryerson is to me – a place where people work together and support each other. The Stella Award recognizes that.”
In 2013, in honour of her 98th birthday, Estelle’s children Sheri, Collin and Robin made a generous gift to The Chang School that led to the naming of The Estelle Craig ACT II STUDIO and allowed for the Stella Award to be endowed in perpetuity.
In encouraging individual creativity and challenging stereotypes about aging, The Estelle Craig ACT II STUDIO is a perfect reflection of its namesake. “My philosophy is, take advantage of all your time,” says Estelle. “Don’t wait for ‘the right time’ or you’ll never do anything.”
Estelle’s advice to all Ryerson students, young and old? “Live life on your terms!” The Stella Award and The Estelle Craig ACT II STUDIO help to make that possible for others.