There had been a number of days of frost by late October 1937 when Helen was born to John and Anna Derksen on a little farm between Altona and St. Joseph. She would be the first of eleven siblings, a hardscrabble life on the prairies in the Dirty Thirties. By the time she was eight years old she had four younger siblings to help care for, Peter, John, and twins Abe and Tina. The immediate postwar years brought along Ann and twins Ben and Mary. As the oldest child she had responsibilities most eight year olds couldn’t fathom today. She had already left home to start working when Frieda, Dennis and Brenda arrived. She is survived by all of them except her sister Tina. Attending a one room school, where she loved to play baseball and care for others while still a child, shaped her approach to family, neighbours and community for the rest of her life. When asked recently when they first got electricity on the farm she instantly replied, “the day my sister Ann was born in 1949”.
She met the son of another farmer a couple of miles across the prairie and she and Edwin married in 1957. Shortly thereafter they moved to Steinbach, a growing town of about 3,000 people, where Edwin had been offered a job. It was in 1958, the year Prime Minister John Diefenbaker came to Steinbach that Helen and Edwin’s first son, Ken was born. He was followed shortly by Audrey and several years later by Doug and then Phyllis in Canada’s Centennial year. Each new child seemed to prompt a move into a slightly larger home.
The move to Steinbach was to shape her life in other significant ways. It was in Steinbach that she and Edwin found or renewed their faith in God. This deeply coloured their goals, behaviours, activities and ultimately their children throughout their lives and quietly underlay their motivations when interacting with friends, strangers, neighbours and family. She never lost her joy in dancing and always loved to dance at her children and grandchildren’s weddings and birthdays.
She worked as a nurses aide at Bethesda Hospital and the Personal Care Home, with people with disabilities at Association for Community Living and as a “demo lady” at Penner Foods, a job she relished as it gave her the opportunity to speak with countless people every day. She volunteered for most of her life until a year ago. She remained energetic and active and together with Edwin walked daily and swam several times a week.
Travel in the early years included family camping trips at lakes and across Canada, followed by travel in later years to Mexico, Hawaii, Europe, across Canada and to many US states, their last trip to Mexico interrupted by the start of Covid.
She leaves behind many nieces, nephews, her siblings, children and spouses. Ken (Rosemarie), Audrey (Dave), Doug (Chris), and Phyllis (Milton), her grandchildren Joshua (Angela), Jonathan (Carolyne), Nicole (Corey), Daniella, Darren, Kimberly and Ryan. She also leaves behind her favourite people, her great-grandchildren, Dalin, Emmett, Oren, Callia, Parker, Lincoln, Kaius, Jannik, Mischa and Ari. Her great grandchildren who lived near her thought of her as their grandmother who played and baked with them. Like her children, neighbour children, coworkers and friends, her great grandchildren associated cinnamon buns with goodness.
Her childhood experiences formed her attitudes toward resilience, resourcefulness and caring and she chose, despite the words pancreatic cancer and palliative, to live each day fully to the very end.
The livestreamed funeral service for Helen will be held on Friday, September 29, 2023 at 2:00 p.m. at Birchwood Funeral Chapel, Steinbach, MB.