Jansen, Bernhard John – Peacefully at the St. Catharines General Hospital on Thursday, October 5, 2017, Ben Jansen, aged 91 years. Beloved husband of Margaret (nee Reimer) and loving father of Liz, John (Josie), Robert, Mark (Melodie), Susan (Ed) Schmidt and Mary (Jim) Barry. Proud grandpa of Amanda, John, David, Frasier, Andrea, Danielle, Evan and Andrew. Predeceased by Lindsay. Brother of Cathy Tempest. Predeceased by a brother Albert and sisters Irma and Hilda. Also loved by many nieces and nephews.
Cremation has taken place.
The family will receive friends at the Vineland Chapel of Tallman Funeral Homes, 3277 King St., on Wednesday, October 11, from 2 – 4pm and 6 – 8pm. Memorial Service will be held Thursday, October 12 at 11am at Fairview Mennonite Brethren Church, 455 Geneva St., St. Catharines. If desired, memorial donations to the Mennonite Economic Development Association would be appreciated.
Ben Jansen, affectionately known as Bennie for his first 30 years, was born Bernhard John Klassen, to Johann Klassen and Elizabeth Friesen, on April 25, 1926.
His parents had arrived in Canada on February 14, 1926, after burying two daughters in Russia and being detained in England for four months because of Johann’s trachoma.
It was a time of great hope. They were now in a land of freedom, peace, and a new start. Johann headed to Beaverlodge in the Peace River district of northern Alberta. Liese waited in the south to give birth to their son, before joining him a few weeks later.
The optimism was short-lived. Johann contracted TB and died before Bennie was two. At 27, Liese had lost two children, her husband, didn’t speak English, and was in a strange frontier land with a toddler.
Somehow, she was connected with the Bechtholds, a German-speaking family farming in Bieseker in southern Alberta. The Bechtholds treated both Liese and Bennie very well for the two years she worked there as domestic help.
In 1930, Liese married Peter Jansen, a bachelor farming a quarter-section in Namaka, about 30 miles further south. Here they joined approximately 30 Mennonite families who’d purchased land from the CPR. They were all dirt poor but with their common heritage, formed a vibrant rural community.
Over the next eight years a brother Albert and two sisters, Hilda and Irma, arrived. Life was tough, however, and by the time Bennie was 11, he was already pitching in to support the family. In 1937, the Jansens moved to Niagara, eventually settling in Vineland.
Bennie had many good memories from these adolescent years, when life-long friendships were forged. One event shadowed these times, however. He loved school and was devastated at being forced to leave after eighth grade to support his family.
At age 18, in 1944 when WWII was raging, he was conscripted. True to character, he stood up for his values, even if he stood alone. Contrary to the cultural position of non-resistance, he hadn’t registered as a conscientious objector because he couldn’t say in his heart that he was. As it turned out, his skills making chains to outfit naval vessels were considered an essential service and he was held back from going overseas.
In 1945, Peter, Bennie’s stepfather, was killed in an automobile crash and he stepped into the role of full supporter of his mother, and siblings, which now included his sister Cathy, age two.
Around the same time, the friendship between Bennie and Margaret Reimer blossomed into love. They waited for Marg to complete her post-graduate nursing program before marrying on October 25, 1952.
Ben was working at General Motors, making a good living, but couldn’t stand “the inside smell.” With “too little capital, no decent farm equipment, and very little experience,” they purchased the farm outside St. Catharines.
The first year was the hardest. Marg wasn’t working outside the farm and Ben had the family plus his mother and sisters to support. A heavy frost at blossom time decimated what little potential grew on those trees. The gross income from the farm was a mere $3,600 but Ben and Marg resolved to make it work. It felt like home and they had every intention of being farmers and raising their family there. This determination and work ethic was but one of the values that defined him.
In 1956 he needed to supplement the farm income and returned to his well-paying fire-welding job at the chain company. Thus began a pattern where Ben would find alternative work during the winters. He followed his heart, with input from his head, even though he could make a living through easier ways. It was but one other way in which he was a role model.
As much as they enjoyed fruit farming and the lifestyle, Ben’s heart was with the vast grain farms in the prairies where he’d grown up. He talked to Marg about venturing west but she’d have nothing to do with it. She too had worked hard to follow her heart into a nursing career and put it on hold to raise a family. In Niagara, she was close enough to a hospital that working part time was feasible, even as she helped on the farm.
In spite of its bedraggled appearance in the early days, the farm setting was beautiful. Just outside the St. Catharines city limits, it was surrounded on three sides by a wooded ravine, which became the children’s favorite playground. Bounded by a lazy, meandering creek, large maple, oak, and walnut trees covered the hillsides. It was paradise and the source of endless adventures for the children and their friends.
Family and church were of prime importance to Ben. Family devotions would begin and end every day. He also knew the importance of family vacations and even though they took place in prime farming season, the family had at least one annual vacation together. His children attended girls club, boys club, and summer camp.
Ben and Marg would live on that farm for 55 years, raising six children, tons of peaches, sweet and sour cherries, rhubarb, squash, and a variety of other tender fruits and vegetables. It provided all of his children with their first job and taught them how to work, resourcefulness, and independence.
Once their children were grown, Ben and Marg enjoyed regular travel across Canada and the United States, and internationally— to destinations in Europe, Central, and South America, sometimes as part of medical charities. One of their most meaningful trips was the one to the land of their ancestors, in what is now the Ukraine.
Even though Ben often didn’t know how he was going to make ends meet, especially during the early years, he was always charitable, giving time and money generously to those less fortunate.
Reluctantly, Ben and Marg sold the farm in 2011 and moved first to Vineland and then back to the Tabor Manor Apartments in St. Catharines. Eventually it was necessary for Marg to move into long term care, marking the most difficult time in both their lives.
In August 2017, Ben was thrilled to make a return trip to Alberta, visiting the lands he’d lived on as a child and meeting descendants of those who’d been in his early life—in Beaverlodge, Beiseker, and Namaka. He knew his life, one that was rich with experiences, had come full circle. He longed to meet his father Johann and knew he’d be waiting to greet him when it was time.
A few weeks after returning he became seriously ill and entered the hospital. During his final weeks, he taught his family much about loving, healing, living, and dying. He told his family he was happy and thankful. As painful a time as it was, it was also one of peace.
It was only fitting that as a farmer, he left after the harvest was in. With a brilliant full Harvest Moon to light his path, Ben returned peacefully to Spirit on October 5, 2017.
He is remembered as a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. Ben unflinchingly stood by his Christian values, reflected in his kind, gentle, and compassionate soul. He is sorely missed and leaves a wonderful legacy from a life well lived.
Thank you dad.