Friday, June 17, 2011


My dad was a good man. He was easy to love.

I can remember him being angry only a couple of times. Once it was with a man who was troubling my mother. Another time it was with me as a youth and I deserved his annoyance.

Edward was his name. Edward Richard. English names bestowed on a Mennonite boy born on the prairies of Canada. His father Cornelius, a more common Mennonite name broke with custom. Only the oldest son carried the father’s name and it was Anglicized as well to Neale. The middle brother was Harry. Three sons, the eldest five years older than the second and eleven years older than the youngest who was my dad.

Dad and mother Tina had three sons, me Ronald James (the eldest) and I am five years older than Murray Dennis and eleven years older than Neale Bryan. In the early years of his fatherhood Dad wanted us to be thoroughly Canadian, hampered in no way by any hang-ups derived from the heritage. Little could he know how important the connection with our family history would be to us when we were adults. He and Mom spoke the Low German dialect at home with which they themselves had been raised in their Saskatchewan homes of Hepburn and Waldheim. Since I was almost five years of age before Dad and Mom moved to Ontario, I was familiar with the dialect, understanding much of it but not able to speak it. For years I did not let on that I understood what they were saying when Mom and Dad spoke privately using Low German.

Our Dad never struck us as a complex man. He was intelligent, interests in politics, current affairs and sports. He completed grade eleven, had no skilled trade but worked at available manual jobs. He was enlisted in the Canadian Air Force, never saw overseas action but was posted in the Yukon. Following WWII, our Dad, a hard working man, began a lifetime of work in factories. He was in love with his wife, committed to the care and provision of his three children, appreciated his church and what the Sunday lesson gave him for the week ahead.

He was not an ambitious man. He respected himself yet he may not have understood how well he was liked by others. He was friendly, helpful, kind. He never owned very much yet he shared what he could. He was satisfied easily. A day’s work and a day’s pay, and supper meal, and a newspaper, a nice place to sit in the back yard, a car to move the family around, a couple of weeks of summer vacation, a small pension at the end of a long time with the company.  He expected no more than that. God was good to him.

I respected him very much. As a young man if I was tempted to do anything that was at all wicked, my esteem for him, held me back. Of course he was much younger then, and most of our memories are of him advanced in years, still with a wonderful sense of humour and a pleasant spirit and endearing love for our Mom. I miss him a great deal. He died at age 93 and that was three years ago.

June 19 Addendum: Father's Day came on Sunday and I was asked to preach at our local church. I chose to speak about "God the Father" and I used the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6. The prayer begins with "Our Father who is in heaven..." Christine had prepared a light lunch and my son's and daughter's families came. After dinner I took my five grandchildren for a long walk to the school yard to play on the apparatus and then to the corner store for a slurpy. We hung around until early evening snacking on lunch leftovers. We enjoyed a good family day. I like that. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011


We did it in 1994 and again in 2011. We went to game seven of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And our city's worst residents rioted in the streets.  Yep, again!

I watched the game with my son Jeff and his wife Gina and their two children who were multi-tasking with IPad and other toys. The tensions the three adults felt had intensified since Monday when our Canucks lost in Boston. We knew how important it would be to the team who scored the first goal. We had only put six goals past Tim Thomas in six games so the probabilities were against us. Nevertheless it was home crowd, home ice, tons of talent and desire. But Thomas and the big bad Bruins bombed the Canucks in their wins in Boston.

Canucks began the first period looking strong and determined, and THEN, the Bruins scored first. The noise went out of the building and the fright was on. Then in period 2, goals two and three and still no comeback by Canucks, and another B goal in period 3, and then it was over.  In our viewing room, dressed in our Canucks jerseys, we sat mostly silently all night, glanced at one another occasionally with resignation, and then it was over.

Yet near the end of the third period our Rogers Arena fans were on their feet waving their towels and cheering for their Canucks who did us proud all year long in so many ways, and then when it was over our players also skated around and applauded their fans. Then the two teams did the traditional congratulatory skateby and shook hands but even that had a classiness to it as players showed genuine appreciation for one another's performances. And Tim Thomas in one of the outstanding goalie displays ever through his playoffs won the Conn Smythe most valuable player of the series award. And our fans cheered him genuinely. And they applauded the Bruins as they received the Stanley Cup.

Then within minutes outside and downtown in Vancouver, where 100,000 had watched on giant screens, the vast majority of people moved to go home, but the drunken, easily led, selfish, low esteem, social misfits from 18-24 years of age, broke down barriers, burned cares, taunted police, overturned police cruisers, broke windows, looted stores, hurt themselves and shamed our city once again.

As disappointing as our Canucks loss was, I am far more disappointed that our city's reputation has been sullied across North America by these degenerates.

Friday, June 3, 2011


She was born in 1919 in Montana, USA – June 4th. She was an infant when her father died suddenly. Mom’s parents had been homesteading and farming the vast rolling fields in pioneer conditions. One small wooden building served as both a house and a barn. Her name was Tina and she was a toddler when her mother Marie together with Mom’s four year old brother Pete, made a significant decision to leave Montana and come to Saskatchewan. Without much distance between her and the shocking grief she had born at the farm house, she was introduced to Abraham Willems who had also recently lost his wife. He was somewhat more desperate because he had six children for whom to care while farming a small plot of land. Marrying Marie was a practical resolution. Abraham’s children had adored their mother and still cherished her memory when this new woman entered their home. In the ensuing years Marie bore five more of Abraham’s children. The challenges for family life, poverty, tuberculosis, inter-family rivalry and tensions were factors that shaped the family and yet these were people of faith – ancient faith of a Mennonite variety that traced back to Crimea where Mennonite Colonies had found a haven in Catherine the Great’s Russia. Mom’s brother Pete was the odd brother, that is the maternal son, not wholly welcomed by the Willems sons, and decisively as a teenager he himself moved back to Minnesota where his mother’s family resided. It was from Minnesota that his father and uncles as young men had embarked upon that American dream of owning great tracts of land on the prairies of Montana. Pete’s departure was difficult for my mom and her mother Marie. Mom was a young teen and soon a young woman, who managed to complete a grade nine education before working as a domestic wherever she could. In time she met a dashing young man named Edward Richard Unruh who resided in Hepburn Saskatchewan. On June 12, she was married at age 22 and Edward was four years older than she. He had lost his hair by age eighteen yet what hair remained was dark brown and was complimented by a dark and classy thin mustache and dark eyebrows. Dad finished grade eleven, worked at odd jobs, ran a gas station, then called a service station and whistled while he worked. He was 26 when he and mom married, and I was born a year later, and when I was a baby Dad enlisted in the Canadian Air Force because Canada was at war. Following the war mom and dad operated a coffee shop in Hepburn, and then when mom was expecting her second child, they made the monumental move to the job opportunities of southern Ontario. Large factories and car plants and paper mills were installed there. Dad worked at the Ontario Paper Mills and Thompson Products (makers of GM parts) and finally at Anthes Imperial (furnace production) where he was employed on an assembly line for over 40 years.  Soon after the move to Ontario, my brother Murray was born. I was five years old. Murray and I waited another eleven years for our brother Neale to come along. In the years between Neale and Murray, mom miscarried and there was a rumour that she had lost a baby girl, perhaps even twins. Such matters were never discussed with children when we young or older. Mom’s skills were numerous and all of them hands on and practical. She cleaned other peoples’ homes. She sewed clothing and costumes for skating clubs. She cooked meals and specialty foods. She was always involved in church life. Dad was too but far more reserved and quiet. She began her own successful catering business preparing and serving extraordinary feasts for wealthy clients. She had the temperament and traits of a leader but she surprised herself when she became the president of a Christian women’s group with a province wide mandate. Throughout our childhood our parents took us to Sunday school and church and we were involved in assorted children’s and youth programs which influenced choices that we made. The outcome was that all three Unruh sons became trained and involved in Christian work, two as pastors and one as a missionary. Murray and I are retired now from pastoring and Neale completed his mission involvement and began his own retail business. Mom has been gone since 2007 when she was 88 years of age but June 4 marks the recollection of her birthday. When she died, her children and adult grandchildren stood with my Dad Edward and heard him say to her, “Goodbye Sweetheart. I’ll see you soon.” Six months later he peacefully left us as well. The legacy that these two ordinary people left is lived through the lives of an entire family now where children and grandchildren walk with God and live by God’s values.