Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Arthur' Uncle Vic passed away last week. Arthur, Judie and I were honoured to read the following obituary and memories we had of our uncle and friend at his funeral earlier this week.

Vic was born right in the middle of harvest on September 7, 1933 at Concordia Hospital in Winnipeg to Henry and Susan Epp of Elm Creek, Manitoba. Vic was Henry and Susan’s first born, and also the first born grandson on the Peters side. A few years later Harry and Irma joined the family, followed by Martha. Some more years later Richard completed the Epp family.

Vic was a very conscientious big brother, and Irma remembers that when she was 16 Vic took her to choir practice and on the way gave her some big brotherly advice on how to act around grown-ups. On another occasion, Vic, the farmer-big-brother, asked Richard his musician brother what it was like to work in an industry with very little security. Richard wondered if it was a trick question, thinking “What kind of security is there in farming?”

Vic went to Dakota School just up the road from the Epp farm for primary education and then to Springstein School for grade 10. Vic tried going to grade 11 at MCI in Gretna, but contracted a bad case of food poisoning there and never completed high school. (Many years later, Judie brought supper out to Uncle Vic and his hired hands, shortly after his mother in laws death. He became quite ill shortly after and thought that Judie had provided him with food poisoning again – thankfully it was only his appendix!)

While in his early 20’s, Vic rented some land and started farming on his own. During the winters Vic studied at CMBC and in 1966 graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theology. This degree was often put to use over the years with his church involvements.

Vic was baptized and became a member of the Springstein Mennonite Church when he was in his 20’s and has been a member here ever since. It was through this church that he met a certain young woman with whom he was destined to spend the rest of his life. He married Elise Dyck of Springstein after the harvest on October 29, 1966. Together they farmed for over 40 years, first on rented land, then on their own land near Oakville and finally taking over the Epp homestead near Elm Creek. This was really great for the Epp siblings, as they were always welcome to come home to the farm and keep their connections to their youth alive. They retired from farming several years ago, and this April, made the move from the farm to Carman. With this second retirement, they looked forward to travelling and spending more time with family.

Vic was very involved at Springstein Church through the years, chairing church council and teaching and preaching, but definitely NOT singing. He was a real encourager of those in leadership and an agent of change. He liked to ask, “How can we make this better?”, or “why NOT change this?” His faith was an integral part of his life and was the motivation behind his involvement in many Christian philanthropic organizations. He was involved with the General Conference of Mennonites for some years working with Camps with Meaning and Native Ministries. Often he played a leadership role including leadership on the Bethania board, Eden Mental Health, Canadian Mennonite Bible College and more recently, a Homecare and Respite Center in the Ukraine. He really enjoyed his trips to the Ukraine and liked helping the people there care for their own in a new way. He was very useful in negotiating with the government, understanding when they were talking double-speak and knowing when and what concessions to make in the negotiations. In going to the Ukraine, he also transported medical supplies and reportedly was quite creative in explaining to the customs officials the medical purpose of feminine hygiene products! He was thrilled to visit the Church that his in-laws were baptized in. He brought back vodka for our Christmas gathering, encouraging us to toast each other in the Ukraine tradition.

He loved his family and people in general. He and Elise lovingly cared for their aging parents. Vic was always interested in what people were doing and had a way of asking questions that elicited informative responses. He was a great conversationalist who was interested in all kinds of topics and people. He liked to talk politics with his brothers-in-law, or religion, or ethics, or whatever. He loved driving to town for coffee and spent many mornings hanging out at the Elm Creek Café. They also spent Sunday lunches with friends and yearly, travelled to the States with some of their good friends.

Vic had a great sense of humour. When we were little, Vic would get out his LP of Bill Cosby telling stories of Fat Albert, and later his VHS tape of Victor Borge playing the piano. He was always telling jokes and keeping everyone entertained. Even last week he had to tell the story of when a police officer stopped him for drunk driving. The officer had noticed that Vic was driving down the highway rather erratically (he had been checking out the flood damage in the fields on either side of the road and wasn’t concentrating that hard on the road). The officer asked Vic when the last time he had a drink was. Vic thought about it and told him it was about two years before, toasting the bride at a wedding.

Vic was adventurous. He loved nothing better than getting in the car and heading off without any destination in mind. The goal was to go somewhere out of the way and find some little greasy spoon to get to see what the locals were up to. Phyllis and Arthur were privileged to go along for the ride a few times and got to see parts of Manitoba they didn’t know existed. They saw the biggest tree in Manitoba near Arnaud one time. Vic loved to travel, whether it was day trips around the province, trips to the States, or heading off to see family.

Vic was a good sport. You really have to be a good sport to go into a career like farming. There were many times when there was hail or flood or drought. Uncle Vic seemed happiest on the combine especially if his thermos was full of coffee and a big brown paper bag full of crab apples. Vic was also a good sport when Elise decided to try new and exciting recipes involving cooked cucumber or something equally odd. He politely ate it and only mumbled a few contrary words about it.

Vic’s brother Richard observed that, “Vic loved kids and kids loved Vic.” You can be sure that all his nieces and nephews thought we were the favourite! Judie remembers sleepovers at their little house in Oakville– looking back, it was pretty brave for those without children to have 4 kids over for a sleepover!

Colin remembers getting to drive the combine and how he started heading straight for the dugout. He thought Uncle Vic might be upset or something, but Vic just laughed and turned the wheel away from danger.

Uncle Vic’s fondness of kids also extended to the next generation. Uncle Vic always had time to put on his boots and head off to the machine shed to look at the kittens and fire up the garden tractor for someone’s amusement. The majority of nieces and nephews also had their first driving experiences on the farm – generally when their parents were nowhere in sight.

Judie’s kids loved the farm – every spring and fall, we would get the call from Tante Liesel - Uncle Vic had issued the invitation (which, even in harvest, often included a sleepover).

Brodie was 10 days old when he had his first picnic in the field. The boys loved eating in the back of the truck and throwing the wax paper into the field. They enjoyed the rides in the half-ton, grain truck and especially, the combine. Uncle Vic always made them feel that they were valued. He loved telling the story of taking Trent and Brendan in the combine to get it repaired and how happy they were to crawl along at 15 miles per hour until Trent curled up on the floor and slept, never whining or complaining.

He loved to tell stories. “A few years back,” could mean twenty or thirty years and you might hear the same story year after year, but it was always appropriate and told with gusto.

He was a life-long learner, enjoyed reading, current events and traveling. When he went to Sudan he was always ready to try new things. He was even brave enough to head out to the bakery in the early morning and buy bread for breakfast. This meant braving the masses of curious onlookers that his white skin would attract and speaking a few words of Arabic which he had just learned the day before, plus using money that had at least three zeros at the end. Vic’s siblings thought he was crazy to go off to a place like Sudan without ever having travelled outside of the Western world, but he loved it. He wasn’t easily shocked, but one day when the electricity had been off for a few hours he asked what was the longest the power had ever been off, and Arthur answered “two weeks.” That floored him.

We think his greatest frustration was in 2006 after cataract surgery not being able to read. He never complained about it, so we only know this from Elise, but it really closed off a big part of his world. There is a big collection of fiction sitting in boxes in the basement of the new house full of his favourite fiction (mostly mysteries), theology books and history books.

Uncle Vic was a terrific husband. We’ve all seen him fetching and carrying Elise’s purse countless times. When Elise had trouble walking, Vic would be there in a second holding her hand and walking patiently beside her. He not only put up with a house full of fabric and yarn, he was instrumental in deciding which colours would go together in the quilt and where the balance of colours should be. He had a really good eye for colour despite claiming to be a blind old farmer. Vic had a very independent wife and he was perfectly ok with that too. Many family gatherings they would arrive in separate vehicles from separate directions and chase each other home afterwards.

We were saddened to learn of his diagnosis of stomach cancer on December 7. During his brief illness, the majority of his siblings and their partners were able to spend time with him at the Carman Hospital. He was released from his suffering on December 17, with Elise, his life partner, by his side. We were honoured to be with him the last hours of his life.