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Virnetta and "Sugarfoot" Anderson

Virnetta (Nelson) Anderson

Virnetta Anderson was born Virnetta Nelson in Monticello, Arizona in 1920. She went to college in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and then moved to Los Angeles to attend the Metropolitan School of Business. In 1952, Virnetta moved to Calgary, where she became deeply involved in church and community service.

As part of the United Church, Virnetta was a member of the Calgary presbytery, an executive in the Alberta United Church Women, and a lay commissioner to the United Church of Canada’s General Council. She was extensively involved in volunteer work, serving as a member of the Mount Royal College Ladies’ Auxiliary, and, for a few years, the president of Meals on Wheels. She volunteered as a board member for many organizations, including the United Way, the City Core Senior Citizen Centre, the Trinity Lodge, Aunts at Large, the Calgary Metropolitan Foundation, the Calgary Tourist and Convention Association, and the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts.

Virnetta has been part of many committees in support of the City of Calgary, including the Century Calgary Committee, Disaster Services Committee of Alberta, “Go Calgary” Committee, Finance Committee of Calgary, Literary Committee, and Steering Committee of the Calgary Performing Arts Centre. She is also interested in education, having served on the Arts Centre Board for public and separate school boards, as well as on the Calgary Public Library Board.

Also active in politics, Virnetta was a board member and chairperson of the Calgary Committee for the Civic Centre, chairperson of the Calgary Family Services Bureau, and a member of Mayor Ralph Klein’s Advisory Committee. In 1974, she was elected to Calgary’s City Council and served as a councillor until 1977. She was the first Black Albertan to be elected to a public post (other than as rural community school trustee).

After her political career, Virnetta became involved in the real estate industry, serving as president of the Calgary Seniors Showcase Society. She has also been an entrepreneur, selling jewellery and cosmetics. Her interest in business has guided her membership in still more organizations: she has been a member of the Canadian Advertising and Sales Association of Calgary, the Committee of Policy Funding for Medical Research, and an executive member of the Advisory Committee on Privatization.

Celebrated for her contributions to the City of Calgary, Virnetta was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Calgary Rotary Club in 1988. In 1992, she was nominated for the YWCA Women of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award. The Rotary Club again honoured her achievements in 1995 by presenting her with an Integrity Award.

Ezzrett "Sugarfoot" Anderson

While living in Calgary, Virnetta met and married football star Ezzrett “Sugarfoot” Anderson, who had been recruited to the Calgary Stampeders in 1949 by Coach Les Lear. Lear had been hired to revive the floundering Canadian football scene of the post-war era.

Although the National Football League in the United States had officially begun to admit Black players in 1946, their integration into NFL teams was a slow process. Black players such as "Sugarfoot" Anderson (b. 10 February 1920), decided to leave the racially charged environment of American sports in favour of the the Canadian Football League. Sugarfoot, whose jersey bore 00, played nine years as a tight end for the Calgary Stampeders and retired from football in 1958. The Stampeders inducted him into their Wall of Fame in 1990. Anderson is also an 1974 inductee into the Canadian Sports Wall of Fame.

Virnetta and Sugarfoot Anderson's work helped garner respect for Calgary's Black community. As a famous football player, Sugarfoot was able to avail himself of opportunities not open to other Black Canadians. He was invited into a Calgary country club that banned Black membership; Sugarfoot declined the invitation, speaking out about the double standards often prevalent in Canada at that time:

Our country club here in Calgary didn't allow Jewish people or black people, but they said Woody (Strode) and myself could come. That kind of struck me as a little odd and I never did go. If I hadn't been a Stampeder, they wouldn't have let me in, so I just didn't go up.

Sugarfoot and Virnetta had three sons (Barry, John, and Vaughn Anderson), and five granddaughters (Camille, Desta, Sonja, Jacqui, and Nikki). Virnetta died in February 2006 at the age of 85. Sugarfoot is now retired and living in Calgary.

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