This page is a memorial site for the life of Jesse Toews, of Steinbach, MB.
“We’re stronger in the places where we’ve been broken,”—Ernest Hemingway
Celebration of Life
Jesse’s family is grateful for all the kind gestures of condolence. We are holding a celebration of Jesse’s life on Saturday, Sept 7 at 11 am in the Tamarack Room of the Qualico Family Centre in Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg. The site is near the Duck Pond (and ample parking) at 330 Assiniboine Park Drive.
Update: Sept. 9 Our gathering in the park was particularly uplifting and affirming. Thanks to all who attended and thanks to the staff at the venue for a wonderful setting and family event. Our sister, Mom, Aunt, etc. Marnie Fardoe is to be commended for her tireless work, both as Mom’s number one advocate in life and also her loyal steward in the difficult days we have just come through.
On Sunday, the family interned Jesse beside Dad in the grave in Steinbach, within sight of the plot of land on McKenzie, where she grew up and where years later her children and some of her grandchildren attended high school. It was a beautiful fall day and we read Psalms 23 and enjoyed a quiet last time together.
We’ll see her again in a few whiles.
The obituary follows below, but this page is intended to host much more. It has been posted and will be maintained as a gathering place for Jesse’s family and friends. Pictures, comments, anecdotes and other loving memories of our mom-grandma-oma may be found and enjoyed here and you may also wish to contribute to the collection.
Please feel welcome. To contribute, send your material to email@example.com. I will receive it and share it with my sisters Char Toews and Marnie Fardoe. Share directly with them if you wish and have their contact information. We’ll contact you to confirm and then share your submission, with thanks and love.
Feel free to share the link with others who knew Jesse and may wish to visit the site.
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Here is a link to the obituary in the Winnipeg Free Press: https://shar.es/aXqTKD
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Justina “Jesse” Toews (nee Harder) July 17, 1933—August 10, 2019
Jesse Toews, age 86, formerly of Steinbach, MB, passed away peacefully at the Grace Hospital in Winnipeg on August 10, 2019.
The eighth of 10 children, Justina “Jesse” Harder was born on the family farm near Plum Coulee to parents Marie (nee Penner) and Diedrich Harder. When Jesse was nine-years-old, her family moved to a small homestead on Mackenzie Road in Steinbach. Here the family continued to grow their own food in their large garden, and father and sons were employed as house painters. A skilled painter herself, she liked to tell us, “Paint is in my blood!”
Jesse was a capable, bright kid with boundless energy. In her life, work was rewarding play. As a child she frequently helped with the care of young relatives. As a teen she had responsible jobs such as a pharmacy assistant and an aide at the Ninette TB Hospital. Jesse married Norman “Chuck” Toews in 1954. Always a quick study, she fulfilled her role and was instrumental in the family businesses, Steinbach Bakery and Grow Sir. She also curled, water-skied, cooked up many a storm, and cut grass—all with joy and zeal!
She was the last surviving sibling in her family. Predeceased by Norman in 1994, Jesse is survived by their three children: Mitchell (Janice, nee Kasper) of Jessica Lake, MB, Charlynn Toews (David Menzies) of Terrace, BC, Marnie Fardoe (Ken Fardoe) of Winnipeg, and five grandchildren: Megan Olynyk (Blair Olynyk) and their children Tyrus and Hazel, Tere Toews (Tom Halpin), Cameron Menzies, Emily Fardoe, and Maris Fardoe.
A celebration of Jesse’s life is being planned for September, details to be announced. For more information on the event and also to share pictures, memories and other fond expressions of our mom/grandma/oma, please visit this commemorative web page: http://bit.ly/JesseJustinaToews
In lieu of flowers, you may want to give to the charity of your choice and then get together and schputt with someone over a coffee, laughing until your stomach aches and your cheeks are sore from grinning. Jesse would like that.
The link above is a short story inspired by women in general—and one with some similarities to Jesse in particular—and the human beings they create.
When Uncle Earl passed away, I was troubled by it for quite a while. A friend sent me this passage, often attributed to Victor Hugo from “Toilers of the Sea”. I found it soothing and a beautiful thought:
I am standing upon that foreshore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails in the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, “There! She’s gone!” “Gone where?” “Gone from my sight, that’s all.” She is just as large in mast and spar and hull as ever she was when she left my side; just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of her destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at that moment when someone at my side says, “There! She’s gone!” there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
Each grandchild and child shared a recollection of Jesse. Here is my recounting of an event that stands proud in my memory of Mom and her ways:
Funerals, as my friend Hans says—he is a funeral expert, having been a lot of people’s favourite lawyer for just about half a century and attending many a closing arguement—“funerals are for the living,” Hans says. I believe this is so. I also know that Mom would have nodded approvingly and made a mental note to comment to you sometime about how nice it was that you came. Please consider yourself so acknowledged.
I’d like to share the retelling of a story that I experienced personally with my mom. The year was 1968. Our parents’ main business, Steinbach Bakery, had recently been reduced in size and it was less of a wholesale bakery selling to Winnipeg stores and more of a retail outlet with distribution locally.
Mom worked regularly in the bakery and I was there often after school and during summer vacation to grease bread pans, slice bread, bag buns, eat donuts and so on. I was working on the inclined bread slicer behind the counter one Saturday and the clerk, a high school girl named Yvonne, if memory serves, was cleaning the display case. Mom was in the back. It had been a busy day at the end of summer and we were all tired. We three were the last remaining employees that day and Mom was mostly waiting around to give me a ride home.
There were a few local customers in the store—people Yvonne and I recognized—and then a small group of strangers came in. It was normal on a Saturday to have out-of-town shoppers, but this group seemed slightly off to me and I kind of watched out of the corner of my eye as they began to buy things. There was a rather sizable, older lady, dressed outlandishly, and two younger men and a young female. The older woman was the main actor in this play.
Normally, if zweibach were sold six for a dollar, let’s say, then most people would buy multiples of three, to make it easy—3,6,9,12, etc. Easy-peasy. Not this lady. She wanted, “five of these and four, no make that 13 of those over there, and here’s a twenty-dollar bill—those are for my sister—and may I have the change in two-dollar bills, and what’s on special? Oh? Then put those back and give me the ones on sale instead… or, no! Just put HALF of them back. Say, may I have a donut now, just to nibble on? Also, sweetheart—it would be really good to sit down, because, well my heart is not what it used to be… Boy! Bring me a chair.”
It was a lot to manage.
Plus the others in the group were mimicking her and also ordering poor Yvonne around and making her spin in circles. She was an experienced clerk, but this was something else! Our regular customers left, their heads shaking as they went, wondering what kind of strange people these were!
I remember joining in to try and help Yvonne keep everything straight and bag their orders. The two men started arguing and calling each other names and this added to the overall confusion and raised the volume.
Later on, Ben Sobering, our Chief of Police and a friend of the family, told us this group were con artists, a flim-flam gang, and they had hit a number of stores in town that day, in much the same manner. Confusion, distraction, mayhem and mathematics.
Anyway, Yvonne was losing it and just as things hit a crescendo, Mom entered the front, cool as a proverbial Jant Seid Gurtj. She knew nothing about flim-flam, but she had heard the cash register opening and closing, lots of yelling and one look at Yvonne’s harried face and Mom knew all was not right.
She checked with Yvonne, surveyed the situation, which had kind of drawn to a halt upon her entrance because, for a small planet, she had lots of gravitational pull.
When Mom was nervous and really concentrating, she would move slowly and kind of whistle noiselessly. That’s what she did then, eyeballing each of the crooks as she walked out from behind the counter. There were two entrances to the bakery: the main door into the front display area and a side door for deliveries. My slicer was next to the delivery entrance and as Mom sidled by me on her slow-steppin’ way to the main door, she whispered, “Lock the side door, when I lock the front.”
I winked yes and crept a little closer to the side door as she made her way, chatting now amicably with the flimmers and flammers until she reached the door. Quick as Denver Reimer, the Huskies goalie, she flipped the deadbolt with a loud “CLACK!” and then keyed the main lock shut. Seeing this I quickly engaged the deadbolt on my door and waited to see what would happen.
“That’s it!” Mom yelled, her face as grim as the Reaper’s. “Either all the baked goods stay here and you leave or I’m going to have my husband and the police here in five minutes! You just leave everything here and keep whatever money you have and GO, RIGHT NOW, and that’s the end of it!” She stared at them like a cat watching a bird and if she would have had a tail, it would have twitched.
The heavy-set lady, whom I had now studied in greater detail and had begun wondering pretty hard about exactly what kind of lady has a five o’clock shadow and she also had wingtip shoes peeking out from beneath her long skirt. Animal, mineral or just a tough old gal from the North End, the lady leader sniffed, regarded all wiry five foot three of Mom’s trembling fury and decided, for the betterment of all involved, to exit and live to fight another day.
Whistling silently the whole time, Mom’s eye shone dark and pierced the floury air of the still bakery. She jingled her keys and opened the door for them. When the last one was out, she yelled something about the police and, “I’d hurry if I was you!” and re-locked the door.
We all cheered and the best moment was at home when we told Dad the story and he laughed until he cried and then he laughed some more.
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This story illustrates perfectly a side of my Mom’s character that I believe, in the first place, attracted our dad to her (and her to him) and ultimately was passed along to Norm and Jesse’s children and their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren. Persistence. Guts. Standing up for the little guy — that was Mom.
I want to say something else too. Every high note has its bass companion. Even a bright white object casts a dark shadow. Mom’s strength could be her weakness too, when taken to extremes. Also, it’s important to know that she did struggle with her mental health, a condition that took greater hold in her later years. If in your experience with feisty Jesse, you found yourself on the receiving end, I’m here to say she was doing her best and while it might have felt bad at the time, she probably would simply have seen it as simply striving to protect herself or maybe someone else, someone she rightly or wrongly believed needed her jutting jaw and cold steely stare.
When I picture my mother’s life through a wide-angle lens, I am reminded of a complicated mosaic of pieces, all fitting together tightly and in some instances forced into place. If it is true, as Hemingway wrote, that, “We’re stronger in the places where we’ve been broken,” then that is how we should strive to see Jesse’s life and her challenges—and maybe our own too—and see things in their true perspective.
Jesse Toews was a complex person and had beautiful warmth, kindness, empathy, and humour. Her incredible energy kept us all hopping and her intelligence and fearless approach to life were all any of us needed to get through the rough spots. For this, for her love, for her struggles, I am indebted and I am proud to be her son.
P.S.–On Sunday, fittingly, after interning Mom’s ashes alongside Dad’s remains we went to the old GrowSir South and had Mennonite Sundaes. They were terrible beastly good.