Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Grandpa Unruh – Cornelius K. Unruh

Only a few recollections of Grandpa remain to me from my early years, but I do recall as a four year old, riding along with Grandpa in the pickup truck to deliver a barrel of kerosene to a farm. I recall 73 year old Grandpa hoisting the barrel and placing it on the bed of the truck. We drove to the Saskatchewan River where Grandpa drove the truck aboard a ferry boat. Once on the other side Grandpa piloted the truck to the farm where Grandpa lifted the barrel and set it on the ground. On the way home, we stopped at a small store and Grandpa bought an ice cream cone for each of us. I remember his large hands with which he handed me my cone and with the other tussled my blond hair. I had no idea then about my Grandpa’s life.

My paternal grandpa’s name was Cornelius Kornelius Unruh. He was born on May 2, 1873 and he lived in Timirbilat (now Razdalnoye), Crimea. According to custom his middle name Kornelius, was the same as his father’s first name, whose entire handle incidentally was Kornelius Kornelius. Cornelius K. Unruh was one of three of the Unruh siblings to emigrate from Soviet controlled Crimea. When Stalinism became violent against Mennonites, the other four family members were almost certainly taken to Siberian labour camps.

In 1893 at age 20, Cornelius Unruh emigrated with his older sister Aganetha (Agnes) and her husband (Henry Kroeker) and lived in South Dakota for three years. There he met and married Katherine Loewen of the Jacob Loewen family and they lived in a log cabin with a dirt floor which was regularly swept and kept smooth. Their daughter Annie was born in Marion, South Dakota. They moved to Harney, North Dakota for seven years. C.K. Unruh as he was known or simply C.K., at the age of 30, purchased for the price of $10.00, a ¼ section of land northeast of Hepburn, Saskatchewan. His sister Annie and her husband homesteaded in Herbert, Saskatchewan. All three of his sons, Neale (Cornelius), Harry, and Edward were born on the Hepburn farm. Edward my father, was born when C.K. was forty-two and he was 69 years of age by the time I arrived.

CK was well known as a farmer, then a school board trustee, a Reeve, an active churchman, International Harvester agent, Hardware store owner, an auctioneer, a hail adjuster for the province of Saskatchewan and later a helper in Harry’s (his middle son) hardware store (delivering Kerosene among other things). He was on the original Mennonite Central Committee and on the committee that sponsored Russian Mennonites to emigrate to Canada. In 1927 the Unruhs moved into town and also took time to travel to South Dakota to visit Grandma’s sister Marie (nee Unruh) Kunkel as well as her brother Jacob in Kansas. Two of their children predeceased them, Harry age 40 in 1948 and Annie also in 1948 at the age of 49.

In August 1955 Grandpa and Grandma sold all of their belongings and moved into a single bedroom in my parents’ house in St. Catharines, Ontario. I was thirteen and I recall my surprise at his appearance. His posture was bent and this large barrel-chested man was bent short with huge arthritic knees visible through his trousers. His hands trembled much of the time, even to feed himself. Grandma was diabetic and required a daily injection which he was in the custom of administering with his shaky hand. Grandma lived with us for sixteen months and died of a heart attack on December 14, 1957 at the age of 83. I pulled my pillow over my head to subdue the sound of the old man’s agony as he cried, “Oh my Tina, my Tina!” On May 16, 1959 he passed away at age 86.

1. Grandpa Unruh, me (Ronnie), and Dad (Edward) outside the Saskatoon railroad station. My father was 5’6” and Grandpa was noticeably taller. This was the occasion when my father and mother made the move off of the Prairies to settle in Ontario, probably 1947.
2. The Unruh men. From the right is my Uncle Neale (arrived from B.C.), my brother Murray (5 yrs younger than I), my brother Neale (11 yrs younger), and my father Edward.

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