Knitting caps for Oshawa newborns Marilyn Bilsky’s way of keeping a family tradition alive

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Published July 31, 2023 at 8:14 am

Baby Bentley, likely wearing one of Marilyn Bilsky's hand-knit caps, was the first baby born in Durham Region in 2021 to proud parents Bryanna Kleinsteuber and Caleb Penton. Photo Lakeridge Health

Marilyn Bilsky has been continuing a family tradition of giving back to the community in Oshawa with heart-warming – and head-warming – hand-made creations for newborns at Oshawa Hospital since 2002.

The Bilsky name is synonymous with giving back to the community in Oshawa and Marilyn has been personally keeping that truth alive for more than 20 years by knitting caps for newborns at her local hospital.

Now, more than 3,000 caps later, she is still knitting and delivering on a philosophy the family has held dear for generations.

Her husband Ron Bilsky, a chiropractor who died in 2016, was a past president of the Oshawa Garden Club, one of the founders of the Communities in Bloom program and of the Oshawa Botanical Gardens, home to the city’s popular Peony Festival.

Ron Bilsky

And her in-laws, Walter and Anne Bilsky, who ran an IGA store on Wilson Road – part of the Oshawa Group grocery empire founded in 1914 – for many years, have the Diagnostic Imaging waiting room at Oshawa Hospital named after them after making a large donation to the hospital in 1994.

Marilyn’s son Mike says philanthropy “runs in our family,” and it is the act of giving back, and not the accolades that can come with it, that are at the heart of the family’s charitable activities.

“It’s our family philosophy,” he said. “The recognition is not part of why we do it. We do it for the reasons and not for the recognition. The reason being, when something touches your heart, you have to pay it forward.”

Today, much like her parents, Marilyn Bilsky continues to deliver on that philosophy with a filing drawer full of wool, surrounded by photos of babies wearing her hats and a nightly knitting routine. It typically takes her two evenings’ worth of knitting to make one cap, so she watches television while she knits. When she has about 45 completed, she makes the trip to Oshawa Hospital to drop them off, where they are taken to the Obstetrical and Neonatal Intensive Care Units by Auxiliary volunteers.

“I just feel like I’m giving,” said the 88-year-old, who has lived in Oshawa her entire life. “I’m making use of my time. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t love it.”

After thousands of caps, she has no plans of slowing down any time soon.

“I plan to keep going until I can’t anymore. I enjoy doing it and just love the feeling of giving I get when I do this.”

The Bilsky name has also long been associated with fundraising and charity in Canada beyond the Oshawa side of the family, with Lilian Bilsky Freiman (no close relation), earning the ‘Poppy Lady’ name for her efforts to help launch the Royal Canadian Legion and her campaign to adopt the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance Day. Freiman, who began her charity efforts knitting clothes for soldiers overseas, was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1934, the first Jewish Canadian to receive the honour.

Lillian’s sister Lucy married Allan Bronfman of the famed whisky family and both Lillian and her husband Archie Freiman were prominent Canadian philanthropists and Zionists who campaigned for the creation of Israel.

Marilyn Bilsky and her son Mike

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