Monday, June 12, 2017



He was Edward Richard Unruh, living in the small town of Hepburn, Saskatchewan. He came from a respected family. His dad was Reeve, and hail adjuster and treasurer for the Mennonite Central Committee. He was already bald on top but he was handsome, with dark hair on the sides and a pencil-thin mustache. His brown eyes romanced her. He had a pleasant voice, and a constant whistle. The tunes he whistled in downtown Hepburn (Main Street), were secular tunes, dance band tunes. She was Tina Martha Doerksen, with a sincere Christian faith in that Mennonite community.  Edward was four years older than she. He was a good young man but he was not a believer, 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 in the eyes of her church. In their wedding photos she is wearing a pink dress and a matching pink hat, revealing that it had been considered inappropriate for to wear white, and they were not permitted to be married in the church.  

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 an longer. Non-farming prairie families were moving either west to the B.C. coast or to Ontario. Dad and mom decided to go east. Mom’s parents had already made the move to St. Catharines, Ontario, 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 out 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 a standing position, screwing in metal parts. He was a hard worker and his sons, all three of us respected him.  Three sons, with Murray born in 1947, the year of the move from the West to St. Catharines, and the year that I turned five years of age. Neale, the youngest came later, when I was eleven and Murray was six. 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. 

My parents made incremental changes in our standard of living as they were able. From the downtown St. Paul St. third-floor apartment, up three flights of stairs with baby carriage and groceries, to suburban Rosedale Gardens and a rental home owned by Ken Grimwood. Three years later we were back in the city, 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. That two-story brick house was the home to which Neale came after his birth in St. Catharines General Hospital.  Years later other family members whispered the story to us that Mom lost a pregnancy several years after Neale's birth, and that time it had been twin girls.

When I was ten years old, my father went alone to an evening church meeting and it was on that occasion that he did make a conclusive choice to believe in Jesus as his Saviour and LORD. Dad was not a theologian but he tried to understand scripture and he sought to live by its principles. 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. Instead, because mom was entrepreneurial with her cooking and baking abilities, he became wholly supportive of her catering business, launched from her home, serving meals to hundreds of guests for various functions. She even operated a coffee and pastry bar at Ontario Paper's home office for many years. She managed a kitchen staff cooking at Fair Havens Conference facilities and Dad helped as he could. He loved her so much. He was never a wealthy person, but he impressed us all with his generosity to her, purchasing a special piece of jewellery to mark various occasions. Mom’s and Dad's dependability and authenticity most certainly affected us, their three sons, each of whom became involved in Christian service. Those who survive still cherish this legacy.

And note this. After purchasing their first home for $10,000 in 1954, when dad was 39 and mom was 35, and living in it for 30 years, they sold it in 1985 for $65,000 when dad was 70.  They then lived off of that money and modest government pension, and government pensions for another 23 years, enjoying annual month-long winter stays in Florida and trips to the West Coast to which I moved in 1991. Still, when the estate was settled, dad left $39,000 to his sons – incredible frugality.

She died six months before he did. At her passing he told her, and all of our family heard him say, “ goodnight Sweetheart, I’ll see you soon.” He still romanced her. So while they have been gone from us here for nine and ten years, I honour their memories today on what was their wedding anniversary date.  

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