In the afternoon of Tuesday, April 12, 2022, our Heavenly Father saw fit to call one of His trusted servants home, John/Hans (Abram) Retzlaff, at the age of 94 years. John passed away unexpectedly at Bethania Nursing Home in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
John was born March 22, 1928, in Gnadenfeld, Molotchna, Ukraine - the second son to Abram and Elsabet (nee Dueck) Retzlaff. His mother passed away when he was two years old and his father married Agnetha Koop, the only mother he ever knew. His sister Agnes and brother Heinrich were added to the family in the years following.
John lives in the hearts of his three children: Harold (Anne) Retzlaff, Marlene (Ken) McCullough and Marvin Retzlaff; his grandchildren: Kailey (Jason), Amanda, Thomas, Dayne (Heidi), Elliot, Arran and Mikaela; his great-grandchildren: Carys and Cormac; sisters-in-law: Berta Retzlaff, Linda Reimer and Christel Kosolofsky; brothers-in-law: Witold Bruhns and Henry (Sharon) Reimer; and many extended family members in Canada and Germany.
John was predeceased by his beloved wife Mary, his grandson lan, his parents Abram and Elsabet and second mother Agnetha Retzlaff; his brothers: Peter and Heinrich; sister Agnes Weidenkeller; in-laws: Abraham and Maria Reimer; sisters-in-law: Elizabeth Peters, Susan (Sarah) Bruhns; brothers-in-law: Peter Peters, Abe Reimer and Dennis Kosolofsky.
John, a survivor of the Holodomor, escaped communist Ukraine at the age of 13 with his older brother Peter in the lead. They were heading east in hopes of escaping to Canada. They were caught in East Germany by the Germans and separated. John was sent to work at whatever jobs the German army needed him to do as he was too young to take up arms and his brother was forcibly sent off for training. That was the last time he saw his brother. When the war ended, he became a prisoner of war in the communist territory of East Germany. His life was in the balance because here he was a Russian who supported the Germans and now a prisoner of war in the territory occupied by the Russians. He wrote to his Aunt who was married to a great land owner in West Germany. His Uncle was able to orchestrate his escape from the prison camp and John laid low on the estate for a couple of years. His Aunt and Uncle were childless and wanted him to stay and take over the estate but his mind was set on Canada.
John arrived in Canada, on June 13, 1948, with nothing more than the clothes he was wearing. He travelled to Saskatchewan to connect with his Aunt Maria Unruh and her family. After some time, he was able to find work on a farm owned by Joe Hale in Marwayne, Alberta. On a visit to Winnipeg to see relatives, he met Mary Reimer through shared relatives. They were married August 31, 1957, and their adventure started. The following year Harold was born with Marlene and Marvin following shortly after. The stay in Winnipeg was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, as John had always intended to travel west and be a farmer. However due to unforeseen circumstances, that was not to be and John found work with Powell Equipment as a class A #1 welder. John also had a very keen artistic eye and took up photography for which he won several awards.
John was a very curious person and wanted to see and learn as much as he could of his new country and visit as many of his relatives as he could. Every summer from 1965 till 1975 he packed the family into his Volkswagen and with a tent trailer hitched on the back, travelled all through North America right up to Alaska and down through Mexico. He chronicled his travels through the lens of his camera and loved sharing his experiences with others through his pictures.
Once his children were old enough to have summer jobs, he decided the family needed a gathering place. In 1977, he put in a bid for a lot at Beresford Lake and through the efforts of the entire family, built a cottage. This was his dream, a gathering place for his family for generations to come. His dream is coming true. Family was important to John; he was at his happiest when we were all together whether it is the immediate family or the extended. He made a point of staying in touch with his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews right up to his last days.
John was the original MacGyver; he was a master of all trades. If there was a problem, he built the solution or repaired it and sometimes in very creative ways. “I can't" was not in his vocabulary. He was very resourceful and didn't waste anything, probably due to the experiences of his youth.
John was very active; it was difficult for him to sit idle for long. He worked full time as a welder while doing professional photography. He loved the great outdoors so it was not unusual to see him ski-dooing, cross-country skiing, swimming, fishing and water skiing. John water skied till the age of 79. He loved to visit with people and he could tell a story like nobody can. He was a great role model to his family: his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A funeral is planned for Thursday, April 21, 2022, at 11:00 a.m. at Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church, 926 Garfield Ave. N. Winnipeg, MB., with a viewing prior to the service at 10:00 a.m. Interment to follow at Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church Cemetery in Springstein.
In memory of John Retzlaff, donations to MCC Disaster Service would be appreciated by the family.