Sunday, June 12, 2016



She was a Christian in a Mennonite community and her faith was sincere. She met Edward Richard Unruh, four years older than she. He was a good young man, balding but handsome with a dark pencil mustache, a pleasant voice, and a constant whistle. He was not a Christian, that is, he had not made a public profession of faith as many in his community had done. She married him anyway. In the town of Hepburn, Saskatchewan in 1941, that decision carried a stigma. It was an unequal yoke. Perhaps it was the prohibitive cost of a wedding gown but more likely it was because it was considered inappropriate for her, therefore, to wear white, that she was appareled for her wedding day in a pink dress and matching pink hat.

Dad was a singular man. The tunes he whistled in downtown Hepburn (Main Street), were secular tunes, dance band tunes. World War II broke out, and Canada became involved as a member nation of the British Commonwealth. Hepburn’s dominant Mennonite community held a pacifist position. Dad, in contrast, felt that his father had emigrated to Canada from a Mennonite settlement in Russian held Crimea, and Canada was now the family home where freedom reigned, so he enlisted. I was born on September 13, 1942, and Dad was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force. When the war was over, employment was scarce in a prairie town, so dad operated a service station (gas), and mom and dad together began a coffee shop, with a reputation for great pies. That comes as no surprise to anyone who remembers mom’s reputation for baking and cooking.

When I was four years old and with mom pregnant again, it became apparent that opportunity for the family did not exist in Hepburn. Non-farming prairie families were moving either west to the coast or to Ontario. Dad and mom decided to go east. Mom’s parents had already made the move to St. Catharines, and that is where our home was made. Job opportunity for an unskilled worker like dad and the urgent need for an income to support his family meant taking a factory job, first at Ontario Paper Mills, then Thompson Products pumping our GM parts, and then for over 40 years at Anthes Imperial that produced furnaces. He had a few different tasks in that company but most of his years until he was 65 he was on an assembly line, up and down, from his knees to standing position, screwing in metal parts. He was a hard worker and his sons, all three of us respected him.

I said, three sons. Murray was born in 1947, the year of the move from the West to St. Catharines. I turned five years of age six years after Murray was born. Neale, the youngest came later, when I was eleven and Murray was six. He was born after we moved from a St. Paul St. third-floor apartment to Rosedale Gardens in a rental home owned by Ken Grimwood. Finally, we were settled at 10 Clark Street in a rental home next to the old St. Catharines Bus yards that contained old maintenance and storage barns and train tracks and trains and streetcars. So that two story brick house was the home to which Neale came after his delivery in St. Catharines General Hospital.

I mentioned that we respected our father, each of us for our own personal reasons and also for shared reasons. When the three of us were grown men, we asked him why he had stuck with that same hard physical job all those years, and his response humbles me still. “I did it for my boys.”

Such was the loving motivation of a family man. Nothing else needs to be said to explain him.

There was an unsubstantiated rumor that Mom lost a pregnancy several years after Neale was born and this time it had been twin girls.

My mom and dad loved each other for all of their 67 years together. There were occasional differences of opinion between them, but I cannot remember a time that my father raised his voice in anger at my mom. When I was ten years old, my father went to an evening church meeting on his own and it was on that occasion that he did make a conclusive choice to accept Jesus as his own personal Saviour and LORD. Dad was not a theologian but he tried to understand scripture and he sought to live by its principles. Their dependability and authenticity most certainly affected their three sons, each of the three sons became involved in Christian service.

A legacy is cherished by those who survive the predeceased. What did my parents leave behind? After purchasing their first home for $10,000 in 1954, when dad was 39 and mom was 35, and living in it for 40 years, they sold it in 1985 for $65,000 when dad was 70. They then lived off of that money and government pensions for another 23 years, enjoying winters in Florida and trips to the West Coast where I have lived  1991. Still, when the estate was settled, dad left $39,000 to his sons – incredible.    

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