Category Archives: People

The Light We Carry

Amanda Gorman ended the poem she wrote for President Biden’s inauguration ceremony, with the words

For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

I was reminded of Amanda Gorman’s inspiring challenge when I read the title of Michelle Obama’s new book The Light We Carry. In it the former First Lady says we all carry light and we need to share it, reaching out to genuinely connect with others and together doing the work to change the future.

Amanda Gorman talks about being brave enough to ‘be the light’ and really that’s what Mrs Obama is addressing in her book. She looks at what things can prevent us from sharing our light and how can we overcome those things. Here are just four of the things she says can stand in our way of ‘being light’.

Michelle Obama watching as her husband is sworn in as President for the first time

Don’t let fear stand in your way.

When her husband wanted to run for president he put the decision squarely in his wife’s lap. His family meant more to him than political office and if Michelle told him not to run he wouldn’t. Mrs Obama said she was utterly terrified at that point, incredibly fearful about what her husband’s possible presidency would do to their family, in particular her daughters.

What would have happened if she hadn’t overcome her fear?

She encourages readers to be comfortably afraid. “Be afraid of the things that can actually cause you danger, but be open to the things that can push you forward – there’s real powerful growth on the other side of that feeling of fear.

Michelle and Barack Obama with Queen Elizabeth in 2009 – Photo from Women’s Wear Daily

Don’t let physical challenges stand in your way.

Michelle Obama’s father had multiple sclerosis and in her book, she tells us his story emphasizing the way he never let his chronic illness stand in the way of providing a loving home and a strong, supportive family for his children.

She also talks about the way her physical height has set her apart and made her feel unattractive. She bemoans the fact that so many women are critical of their own physical appearance and uncomfortable with how they look. It is something she works at overcoming every day and encourages other women to learn to love themselves for who they are.

Mrs Obama knitting- photo by Merone Hailemeskel

Don’t let anxiety and worry stand in your way.

Mrs Obama talks about how the pandemic caused her chronic worry tendencies to bloom and flourish. One way she coped with that was to take up knitting. She says crafts like knitting can ease stress and help you escape from a negative mental space. Knitting helped her discover “how fulfilling it can be to turn small stitches into something big and beautiful”.

Michelle Obama speaks at the 2016 Democratic National Convention- photo by Anthony Behar

Don’t let your critics stand in your way.

Mrs Obama has had plenty of critics. She says that no matter how calm she tried to be, no matter how hard she worked as the First Lady, no matter how friendly she was or how often she opened the White House to everyone, certain people continued to portray her as an aggressive angry black woman unworthy of their respect.

In her famous speech at the 2016 Democratic Convention Michelle Obama coined the phrase, “when they go low, we go high,” as a way to respond to critics. She still believes that is true but reminds readers that the phrase does nothing if we only repeat it. It means committing ourselves to do the hard work it takes to bring about a brighter future and overcoming the influence of those who spread negativity.

There were so many nuggets of wisdom I collected from The Light We Carry and so many ways Michelle Obama’s experience connected with my own. I am sure you will find that same wisdom and sense of connection when you read her very relatable book.

Other posts………

5 Thoughts on the Netflix Documentary Becoming

It’s Harder To Hate Up Close

The House With the Obama Chair

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Filed under Books, People

A Boy Named Tommy Douglas

In 2004 in a nationwide survey Canadians voted that Tommy Douglas was the greatest Canadian of all time. It was thanks to his efforts that Canada instituted a universal health care system.

A Boy Named Tommy Douglas is written by Beryl Young and Illustrated by Joan Steacy

British Columbia author Beryl Young has written a new picture book that introduces kids to Tommy Douglas. I received my copy a few weeks ago and it quickly became a favourite of my granddaughter’s. I couldn’t read it to her enough times. Consequently, I know Tommy’s story by heart now.

His motivation to achieve health care for all Canadians stemmed from his own experience with the medical system. As a young boy, he injured his knee and his parents were told the leg would have to be amputated.

Tommy’s leg was saved by a kind orthopaedic surgeon

A well-known orthopaedic surgeon suggested an alternate surgery that might save Tommy’s leg but Tommy’s parents said they couldn’t afford his fees. The doctor agreed to do the surgery for free if his medical students could watch the procedure. Tommy’s leg was saved.

Tommy’s experience made him realize that health care should be available to everyone, not just those who could afford it.

Tommy Douglas entered politics for the express purpose of instituting free health care for all Canadians

When Tommy grew up and became a politician universal health care for citizens was his personal crusade first provincially and then federally.

In her lively picture book, Beryl Young tells Tommy’s story in a way that is accessible to children and readily engages them. The author helps young readers understand what a hero Tommy Douglas really was. The illustrations by Joan Steacy are bright and colourful and really bring the story alive. The book has received a highly recommended review from The Canadian Review of Materials.

I ordered my book through McNally Robinson Booksellers

Other posts……….

Beryl Young What An Inspiration!

Show Us Where You Live Humpback

Giving A Child Away

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Filed under Canada, Health, People, Politics

Fueling Friendship

Julie Beck has been writing a series in The Atlantic about friends for three years. She’s interviewed more than a hundred groups of friends and shared those interviews with the magazine’s readers. The series is wrapping up now and Julie has used her experience to make a list of six characteristics that help friendships last and make them meaningful.

Lunch at a tea room with the women I work with at an MCC Thrift Store

Accumulation- by this Julie means the accumulated hours spent together. She thinks people need to invest time in a friendship and that between 60 -100 hours must be spent with another person to build a true friendship. This is why we often make friends with people we work with, go to church with, study with or do a leisure activity with on a regular basis. The friends in the photo above are other volunteers I work with at a Thrift Store for about four hours once a week. We also go to the same church so we have accumulated lots of hours together.

Chatting with members of my writing group during a meeting we held at my house

Attention- Julie says you have to pay attention to the people around you because you can find a friend in all kinds of places and situations. She encourages us to put ourselves out there and try something new and in the process make new friends. I was very nervous when I went to the first meeting of a children’s writing group almost a decade ago. Now the authors in the group have become good friends.

With my friends at an escape room

Intention- Julie says friendships take energy and thought, in other words, friendships take work. This makes me think of a group of former teaching colleagues I get together with regularly. We put work into planning special outings and get-togethers and buying meaningful gifts for one another.

I think this is 2007. We have been getting together with this group of friends for a long time.

Ritual- Making a point of getting together regularly. Although things have changed because of the pandemic we are part of a group of five couples who used to get together regularly- each couple taking a turn to plan our next adventure or outing.

One of my good friends just moved far away

Imagination- Sometimes maintaining a friendship takes imagination- thinking outside the box. Someone who has been a good friend of mine for several decades just moved to Newfoundland. We will have to use our imaginations to think of creative ways we can maintain that friendship despite the distance between us.

Grace- Julie says the final quality you need to maintain a friendship is grace. You have to forgive yourself when you fall short of being the kind of friend you should be and you have to forgive your friends when they fall short.

Other posts………..

At The Gates Again

We Never Stop Talking

Carrying on a Family Tradition With Friends

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Filed under People, Reflections

He Made Things Tick

I took a photo of this beautiful flower arrangement in our condo lobby yesterday. It pays tribute to James Ketler who was our building superintendent. He passed away last week after a short illness.

James was the person who made things tick both literally and figuratively in our heritage condo building and like all the other residents in The Ashdown Warehouse we counted on him to be there when we needed him.

When our kitchen sink started leaking all over the floor we called James and even though the repair was long and complicated he knew just what to do. When we needed to find a parking spot in the garage for our out of town visitors we called James and he managed to arrange a free space for us to use. When I forgot my keys in our condo and was locked out of the building with a crying granddaughter in my arms I called James who came to the rescue. And we are just one of a hundred families that share this building. James did those kinds of things for all of us.

James and I both grew up in Steinbach and although he was older than me we knew a lot of the same people. Our children were friends when they were in high school. I remember a lovely summer evening up on the rooftop patio of our condo sharing a drink with James and engaging in a long conversation during which we caught up on each other’s lives.

James was always out and about in our building attending to his various duties in his usual conscientious way whether it was diligently clearing the snow and ice off our front steps, fixing a stuck garage door, organizing our dozens of recycling bins, or facilitating someone’s move in or out of The Ashdown. He had a cheery greeting for me whenever we met. He was a regular reader of this blog so he’d often make a comment about something I had written when we chatted.

James was our superintendent during the height of the pandemic and talking about that experience with him one day I realized how many lonely people in our building had counted on him for support, advice and a listening ear during the long months of pandemic isolation.

James was only 70 years old and if you read his obituary you realize he played an important role in many people’s lives besides the residents in our condo building.

We were so lucky to have a friendly and dedicated building superintendent like James. He made things tick around here. We will miss him.

Other posts……….

I Live in a Piece of Winnipeg History

Ageing

O Great Spirit

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Shout Out To A Kind Truck Driver

Yesterday my husband and I were driving down Main Street on our way to the trail where we planned to do our afternoon walk. There is a pedestrian crosswalk just adjacent to the Salvation Army Homeless Shelter and we stopped our car there since the lights hanging over the crosswalk were flashing. I could see a man in a wheelchair was trying to make his way across the street but every time he moved his chair forward a bit he slipped back on the ice.

A Kindret Landscaping truck was waiting in the lane closest to the median. I saw the driver jump out of his truck, walk out into the intersection and grip the wheelchair handles. He carefully pushed the gentleman struggling to make his away across the street to the other side. Once the wheelchair was safely parked the truck driver ran back to his truck.

What a kind thing to do. Just thinking about it kept me smiling right through our walk. It’s good to remember that there are lots of caring people in our city whose first instinct is to lend a helping hand.

Other posts………..

Thank You Kind Stranger

Gandalf Was Right

A Lesson From It’s A Wonderful Life

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Filed under People, Winnipeg

What A Nice Young Man

The white rental car that I’ve been driving around Saskatoon all weekend doing a seemingly endless number of errands

I know the phrase what a nice young man might be a cliche but yesterday morning I honestly did encounter such a nice young man!

I am in Saskatoon. My aunt is in the hospital and won’t be able to return to the suite in which she has been living. As her power of attorney, it fell to me to clean out the suite’s contents during my short Saskatoon visit. I also wanted to spend as much time as I could visiting my aunt.

Saturday morning my brain was frantically dancing around the myriad of things I still needed to do before I flew home from Saskatoon. At 9 o’clock in the morning, I walked into a Shoppers Drug Mart and headed to its Canada Post kiosk carrying a large black garbage bag filled with items that needed to be mailed back to three different companies- wifi, medical device and cable TV.

A tall lanky young man with bright red hair came out from the backroom to serve me. I explained what I needed to do. He cheerfully recommended the right size boxes for me to purchase and then proceeded to help me assemble them. He helped me figure out which cords went with which devices and got everything into the right boxes. Then he used packing tape to shut them all tightly for me and helped me print the addresses on the various boxes! Talk about service!

We chatted as we worked and he told me he had just started his job with Canada Post in August and really liked it. I told him all about my aunt and he commiserated and expressed sympathy for the situation. In between helping me, he would efficiently serve other customers who arrived at the kiosk.

I had started my day feeling overwhelmed and anxious but after my interactions with the cheerful helpful young man, I was energized and had a new resolve that I would get everything done I needed to do that day.

“Thank you so much,” I said to the young man as I left the kiosk. “You’ve made my day!”

He just grinned!

Other posts……….

Friendly and Polite

I Was Stuck

I Got My Camera Back

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Unique Memorials to Winnipeg Folks

A carving in memory of Ken McCrea.

We were walking on the Esprit du Bois Trail last week when we came upon this tribute to a man named Ken McCrea. A bird had been carved into a tree in his memory. He died in 2020 and was just 65 years old. I looked up his obituary. He was the president of a successful insurance company and a loving grandparent who travelled the world and volunteered in his community. His family had chosen to remember him in a unique way with this carving.

Hanging in branches of the tree with Ken’s carving were Christmas decorations with messages from his grandchildren written on them.

Winnipeg has many different kinds of memorials to people who lived what might be considered ordinary lives. They weren’t well-known or famous but in their own way, they made a difference and left their mark on our city.

A plaque on a bench in Peanut Park in memory of Pamela Hasker

One of those people is Pamela Hasker the mother of two boys who died of breast cancer when she was only 48. Pamela was a physiotherapist at St. Boniface Hospital where she was a strong advocate for her patients. Pamela loved to play ultimate, do yoga and garden. She was an avid reader. There is a plaque in Pam’s honour on a bench in Peanut Park.

Several of the benches in Peanut Park have memorial plaques on them.

Lyle Thomas Pocket Park near the Provencher Bridge

Lyle Thomas was only sixteen when he died in 2001. He was working with his Dad building the Provencher Bridge when a tripod toppled over killing him almost instantly. Lyle loved skateboarding and was on the varsity basketball team at West Kildonan Collegiate.

Plaque in the Lyle Thomas Pocket Park

Lyle had a younger brother named Cody. His parents wrote in his obituary that he had touched the hearts of everyone who had known him.

Stone honouring Ed Letisnky in the Exchange District

I live in the Exchange District of Winnipeg and walk by this unique memorial to Ed Letisnky many times each week. Ed died in a farming accident in 1980 when he was only forty years old. A Winnipeg architect he worked for the city as an urban design coordinator.

Ed was one of the authors of a plan to turn the Albert Street area into a trendy shopping and dining destination. We now know it as The Exchange District. Ed loved to sketch and do karate. He left a wife and daughter when he died.

Winnipeg has many memorials to famous and well-known people who are recognized for their heroism or historic achievements but we also have memorials to more ordinary folk who also made valuable contributions to our city. I’d like to discover more of them.

Other posts……..

He Looks Kind- Andrew Mynarski

A Unique Meeting Place In A Winnipeg Park

My Aunt and Winnipeg’s Polio Hospital

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Filed under People, Winnipeg

Anna Vogt- Kindergarten Pioneer

I first learned about kindergarten teacher Anna Vogt from my friend Elfrieda Neufeld, who was related to Anna and wrote a story about her for the historical journal Preservings in 1996. As a former kindergarten teacher in both Winnipeg and Steinbach, I was very interested in learning more about Anna a woman who had been a kindergarten pioneer in those same two communities.

Anna Vogt referred to affectionately by her students as Tante Anna (Aunt Anna) was born on September 16, 1883, in Schoenwiese, a village in the Chortitza Mennonite colony in Ukraine. One of the nine offspring of Andreas Vogt and Aganetha Block Vogt, Anna was a sickly baby who her parents didn’t expect to survive. But survive she did and started her education in the Schoenwiese school.

She had to quit school after a few years to help out in the family dry goods store and do housework. In 1902 she was baptized and became a member of the Mennonite church. Her Dad was a minister who valued education and so when Anna was almost thirty years old she convinced him to let her go to Germany to study to become a teacher.

The Pestalozzi-Fröbel Haus in Berlin in 1908- photo from Wikipedia

Anna’s education fees were subsidized by a rich mill owner named J. J. Thiessen from the city of Dnipropetrovsk and in 1912 she was off to the prestigious Pestalozzi-Fröbel Haus in Berlin. The school founded by a woman named Henriette Schrader- Breymann in 1882, just the year before Anna was born, was named after prominent Swiss and German educators who believed child’s play was valuable, that each child should be taught as an individual and that children learned by doing.

Pestalozzi-Fröbel Haus was one of the few places in Germany where women could be trained as professionals. By the time Anna went to study there, the school had gained an international reputation with students coming from England, the United States, and many other European countries.

Anna Vogt with two of the Thiessen children she cared for and taught as well as on the far right Elisabeth Epp. Photo purchased from the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada.

Because Anna’s education had been limited in scope and truncated so many years before, she had to work hard to get her certificate, but in the summer of 1914 just a month before World War I broke out she graduated. That fall her father died and Anna spent the next five years in Dnipropetrovsk working as a nanny and tutor for her benefactor J.J. Thiessen who was a widower with four children.

Just after World War I ended, Anna established her own kindergarten in the community of Nieder Chortitza and soon had more than a hundred children attending classes. Nieder Chortitza was especially hard hit by the civil war in Russia. In 1919 just after Anna must have opened her kindergarten twenty-one people from the village were murdered by the army of Nestor Makhno. Anna moved her kindergarten to other villages and for a time taught at a teacher training institution in Nikolaipol.

Anna Vogt’s 1937 Steinbach kindergarten class- photo from Preservings magazine- June 1996

Anna, her mother and six of her siblings, and their families came to Canada in 1923 and made their home in Steinbach Manitoba. Anna opened a kindergarten in her home shortly thereafter and later moved it to a building on Elmdale Drive in Steinbach.

Anywhere from 25-50 children ages 3-6 attended classes at Anna’s kindergarten from 9:30 till noon. The school was closed in January and February because of the cold weather but remained in session in July and August. Anna charged $1.00 a month for tuition for a family’s first child. Additional children were only charged 50 cents and Anna never turned down children even if their families couldn’t pay.

Anna ran a tight ship. Although at times children were free to chat and visit, when Anna asked for silence she expected it and tested it by dropping a pin to see if she could hear the sound it made. Activities during a typical kindergarten session included crafts, colouring, nature study, memory work, snack time, and storytelling. The Christmas programs put on by Anna’s students were popular community events.

Anna with her 1960 kindergarten class in North Kildonan. She had 73 students. Anna is in the middle and over to her left is her assistant Annie Dyck. Photo purchased from the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada

In 1938 she accepted an invitation from the German-speaking Mennonite community in the North Kildonan area of Winnipeg to open a kindergarten there. She continued doing that work until 1966. Anna worked alone except during her last ten years of teaching when she was joined by assistant Annie Dyck who carried on Anna’s work after she retired in 1966 at age 82.

Anna at a birthday party for one of her students in 1964photo purchased from the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada

Anna died in 1975 at age 91, outliving all save one of her siblings. She was a resident at the time in the Bethania Personal Care Home which had been founded by her sister Maria Vogt and her brother Abram Vogt.

In her tribute to Anna, my friend Elfrieda Neufeld calls her a forceful visionary with a hearty laugh who left a legacy of love for children.

Other posts……..

The Old School House- Kornelson School Memories

My Father-in-Law Was Born in a School For the Deaf

A Dress From the Catalogue

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Filed under Education, History, People

Way Ahead of Their Time

Amelia Earhart and Mary Pickford in 1933- Photo from the J. Paul Getty Museum

I am working on a writing project that involves Amelia Earhart the American aviation pioneer and discovered in my research that she was friends with movie star Mary Pickford. Mary was born in Toronto and grew up there before moving to the United States where she had a successful career in the American film industry for five decades.

Mary was a huge star during the silent film era and co-founded the United Artists film studio as well as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was still a Canadian citizen when she died in 1979.

Mary Pickford welcomes Amelia Earhart to her home

Amelia who in 1932 became the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean from Newfoundland to Ireland made a short film with Mary Pickford in which they promote women’s rights and encourage women to take on any career they like.

Mary thanks Amelia for being a role model and encouraging women to break through the limitations that have been placed on them for centuries. This is in a time when many professions were still not open to women and long before the women’s equality movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

Amelia Earhart with Mary Pickford and her husband Douglas Fairbanks- Associated Press photo

The movie clip of Mary and Amelia’s conversation which you can view here is less than a minute long. At the end of it, Amelia Earhart’s husband George Putnam a famous publisher, author and explorer and Mary Pickford’s husband Douglas Fairbanks, a famous actor and movie producer enter the scene and introduce themselves as Mr Earhart and Mr Pickford.

Quite astounding since in that era women almost always went by both their husband’s first and last names. My grandmothers for example were called Mrs Peter Schmidt and Mrs Diedrich Peters.

I think it’s terrific that these two famous women and their partners were using their notoriety to encourage independence and personal achievement for other women.

Other posts……

Three Determined Women

Thankfully Times Have Changed

What Does Your Mother Do?

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Filed under History, People

Granny Stories

One of the reasons I wrote my novel Lost on the Prairie was because I wanted to leave my grandchildren a story based on their family’s history. I wanted them to know a little more about what life was like for their Mennonite ancestors.

Helena Penner Hiebert-1902

Another woman who did something similar around 1960 was Helena Penner Hiebert. Helena was the daughter of a very wealthy family who came to Canada from Ukraine just before she was born in 1874. Her father established a hardware empire in Manitoba.

Helena furthest to the left as a university student. Photo purchased from the Mennonite Heritage Archives

His good fortune meant Helena could study with a private tutor, graduate from the University of Winnipeg and become a faculty member there.

Helena Penner Hiebert as a young woman- Photo purchased from The Mennonite Heritage Archives

Helena married Dr. Gerhard Hiebert in 1902 and her husband became a surgeon at the Winnipeg General Hospital and a teacher at Manitoba’s Medical College.  Helena and Gerhard had three daughters. Gerhard died in 1934.  After living many years in Winnipeg and serving her community as a school trustee Helena moved to Quebec to live with her daughter Catherine Brown and she died there in 1970 at age 95. 

During her retirement, Helena decided to write stories for her grandchildren. She called them The Granny Stories. Those stories which John Dyck highlights in a 1997 Preservings article provide an intimate look at Helena’s childhood. 

Helena describes a diphtheria epidemic during which she lost three siblings.

 She talks about the neighbor girl who was her best friend and a local farmer who froze in a blizzard.  

There’s a story about the day her father stopped a turkey from attacking her by cutting off its’ head and the day she burned herself on a hot stove.  

She and her siblings learned why their mother had warned them to stay away from the bog near their property when one of the family’s cows nearly drowned in it.

There is a charming story about a blind fiddler who gets everyone dancing when he comes to Helena’s village.

Helena provides a detailed description of her older sister’s wedding.

Helena with her daughter in 1928 – Photo purchased from the Mennonite Heritage Archives

She tells her readers how her mother faithfully put a candle in her window at night to guide wanderers.  Often people caught in a blizzard or having nowhere else to go would find shelter for the night in Helena’s parents’ home. Her mother never let them leave in the morning without first serving them a good breakfast. 

Helena’s Granny Stories was a way for her to record the past for the next generation of her family. She is an inspiration.

I have written a longer biographical piece about Helena called Finding Helena.

For those who are interested in reading the original copy of Helena’s family stories you can download the document here.

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Filed under Canada, People