If my father-in-law Cornelius Driedger were still alive he would have turned 100 today.
Dad was born February 26, 1921 in Tiege, Ukraine. His parents fled there after bandits led by Nestor Machno, repeatedly entered their Schoenfeld home and threatened to kill Dad’s father Abram Driedger.
In Tiege they stayed in the Mennonite School for The Deaf closed to students because of the revolution. Several other families also took refuge there. Abram worked for some local farmers. Cornelius was born there just a month after his one and half year old sister Kaethe died of pneumonia.
Cornelius was a sickly baby. Worried she would lose another child his mother took him outside the School for the Deaf and held him up to God. She vowed if God spared her child she would dedicate him to the work of the church. Perhaps hearing his mother tell this story is one reason Cornelius became a pastor later in his life.
A famine began shortly after Cornelius was born so his parents spent a few years living in the village of Petersagen with his maternal grandparents Cornelius and Agatha Friesen. His younger sister Agatha was born there.
On June 23, 1924 about 1000 Mennonites including Cornelius, his parents and sister crowded into box cars at the Lichtenau train station in southern Ukraine.
They traveled to Latvia where they took a ship to Antwerp Belgium. From there they boarded the steamer the Minnedosa which took them to Quebec City landing July 19, 1924.
When they first arrived in Canada Cornelius’ family stayed with Mennonite families in Welesley and Zurich Ontario. In 1925 they moved to Newton Siding Manitoba and also lived in Glenlea Manitoba for a time. In 1929 his parents decided they should move to Pelee Island, Ontario to join his father’s relatives living there. Cornie quit school at age 13 to help out on the farm.
In April of 1937 Cornie’s family left Pelee Island for the mainland and lived on a farm where they worked as sharecroppers. Cornie hired himself out to other farmers to earn extra money and also worked in a tobacco factory.
Dad was baptized in 1941. He is third from the left in the back row and his future wife Anne is fifth from the right in the middle row. They were baptized by Cornie’s uncle N. N. Driedger in the Essex County United Mennonite Church.
Cornie married Anne Enns on September 26, 1942 in the Oak Street Mennonite Church in Leamington, Ontario.
They had only been married a few months when Cornie had to leave to work in a logging camp in Montreal River. He had been drafted and since he was a Mennonite and a conscientious objector, he did this alternate service.
After working on the Hadley and Marsh Wigle farms for nearly a decade in 1956 Anne and Cornie bought their own farm on Highway 77 in Leamington.
They had five sons Robert, John, Paul, David and William.
Although their family worked incredibly hard on the farm there was still time to indulge in their passion for baseball. Dad played and so did all of his sons.
Over the years Cornie took on many roles in his church including Sunday School Superintendent and pulpit assistant. He was ordained to the ministry in 1970. In 1974 when his brother-in-law Jacob Neufeld who had served as the pastor of North Leamington United Church died Dad became a full-time pastor. He and Mom rented out their farmland.
Cornie and Anne’s five sons all married but sadly their oldest son Robert died of cancer in 1974. Cornie and Anne were blessed with ten grandchildren.
Dad retired from his job as a pastor in 1989 and he and Mom sold their farm to their son Bill and his wife Julie and moved into a townhouse in Leamington. In 1984 Dad took a job as a chaplain at the Leamington Mennonite Home and served in that role till 2008.
Anne died on October 14, 2011, and after living in the Leamington Mennonite Home for several years Cornie passed away June 6, 2016.
At his funeral, many people spoke to the family about all the ways Dad had cared for them in his pastoral role. In a tribute, his sons Dave and Bill thanked their Dad for teaching them to work hard and for sharing his passion for the game of baseball with them. They noted that the role their father seemed to have enjoyed most in life was that of a grandfather.
My father-in-law Cornelius Driedger would have been 100 years old today.