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.  


  1. Thanks for posting this Dad. What a beautiful story and I'm so thankful that it's part of my heritage!

  2. Thanks, Ron! This was beautifully written and I loved reading it to Mike and sharing their story which also included my dad! I also am thankful to be part of this heritage!