Obituary of William Reimer
William Werner Reimer was born in the Blumenort area on February 17, 1939, to Agnes Werner and Peter B. Reimer. Proud of being born at home, William was the third child of twelve, ultimately living with four sisters and seven brothers. He described his next youngest brother Vern as his best friend. They played together often, sometimes also finding ways to cooperate in mischief. At times they would take turns riding an old bicycle behind the barn – the same place William clandestinely learned how to play the harmonica.
In addition to his immediate family, some of William’s extended family provided nourishment and support to him while growing up. His Aunt Jessie was an important person throughout his life, particularly in his early years. He spent much time at her house as a boy, and considered Aunt Jessie as providing something of a “second home” to him. William also had a fondness for his grandmother, remembering the cookies she would give when he stopped there on his way home from school.
Although he only attended school until grade six, William found much joy in learning. He was considered a shy student, but particularly loved subjects like handwriting and drawing. He relished participating in track and field, and was often the fastest runner – a talent honed through his afternoon runnings home from school.
After finishing with school, William worked full-time on his father’s farm until his late teens. He then worked odd jobs for a time, including a meat processing plant and a local feed mill. His work in the former led him to occasionally voice his opinion to “never eat baloney” – unlike many of us, he knew the details of meat processing.
One winter William worked at a logging camp in northern Manitoba. This was around the same time he purchased and drove his first car – a dilapidated 1954 Hudson Wasp. He described how driving it to the camp with Gordon, his future brother-in-law, required taking along extra fluid– not gasoline, but oil; the car was in such bad shape that he had to stop regularly, refilling the oil to prevent it from breaking down mid-way. William’s determination to work many hard jobs illustrated how important it was for him to make it on his own and claim his independence.
On July 30, 1960, William married Helen Dueck at the United Church in Steinbach, and they began their family life together.
That same year William began his life as an independent farmer when he received his first loan from the Farm Credit Corporation, and purchased land in the Blumenort area. Retaining a pride in not requiring a co-signer for this loan, from that point on he strove to never miss a payment in his dealings with financial institutions. This dogged fidelity to his obligations illustrated his conviction to never shirk responsibility and to always seek to live with up-front integrity—virtues which from then on gave him a solid reputation at banks and businesses he dealt with.
His first attempt at farming lasted only 5-6 years, until disease decimated his dairy herd and forced him to start over. Despite this devastating loss, William showed a fierce determination not to give up and manifested an ability to keep going, even amidst great difficulty – which led him to eventually manage the mixed farm he would work on and toil over the next three decades.
While he maintained some beef cattle and cultivated land, the focus of William’s subsequent farming was on raising hogs. He prided himself on growing pigs from “farrow to finish,” eventually managing at times one of the largest single family-run hog operations in southern Manitoba. Recognition followed his success, illustrated by the numerous awards he received for the quantity and quality of his hogs, qualifying three times as a top-20 hog producer in his district. He also invested much of his time in the wider industry, becoming involved with the Manitoba Pork Producers, often volunteering at events and social functions.
Being a farmer was a fundamental part of William’s identity, and filled him with much gratitude. Working with his hands in manual labor with natural materials impressed upon him the value of hard work, along with a desire to always strive for excellence. When he took the rare vacation or had to be away from the farm he would delegate most of the responsibility to his oldest son Cameron. Cameron could pretty much do everything… except make the pigs’ feed. William had a secret feed “recipe” honed over the years that had to be just right; his hogs could have nothing but the best and tastiest to ensure their health and growth.
For a man of his time and place, William also manifested a sincere desire to act justly and to care as much as he could about the welfare of the animals he was responsible for. This included always keeping some animals outside, and insisting that his pigs bed on straw. It would be an understatement to say that being the head of a large family-run farm was “busy,” yet William was still very bothered when he missed any farrowing.
Some of his children might engage in unauthorized riding of the larger pigs. This never went over well with William, not just because it was dangerous for the children, but also because it could cause stress to the animals involved.
Yet his care also extended to the land itself. William said in the later periods of his life which encapsulated many years of farming the land, “we used to live off the land, now we want to get rich off the land.” He understood that farming implied care that went all the way down to the roots, and that yearly patience rather than shortcuts was the way to act ethically.
But if being a farmer was crucial to William’s identity, being a father was arguably even more important. Heading a family farm always means that one has a very limited amount of discretionary time. Yet he often tried to incorporate his children into his work, whether through letting them ride (or sleep) with him on the tractor, or taking them on seemingly exotic night rides to Winnipeg while bringing hogs to market, or offering “bucket rides” in the tractor, acceding to requests for “Higher! Higher!”, quietly delighting in the squeals of enjoyment that would result.
For a man largely concerned with farm excellence, William also tried to play with his children when he could and facilitate extraordinary times of fun: winter skating and snowmobiling, summer camping trips, Sunday baseball games at home, backyard wiener roasts, or weekend watermelon and rollkuchen feasts.
Despite living on the financial edge of solvency as a family farm, William always tried to be generous with his children: there were always Christmas presents under the tree, or a new family stereo to show off the latest music (some he wouldn’t necessarily have enjoyed), vehicles for transportation, or attendance at Bombers football games in November with his sons when all it seemed one could do was sit and shiver.
Even after they left home he delighted in providing for his kids. Despite his own financial struggles he sent off and helped support many of his children to pursue post-secondary education in varied fields of phycology, music, theology and teaching. One would need a large scale to weigh all the farmer sausage, ketchup chips, Bothwell cheese, sunflower seeds, and Smarties hauled across the US border to treat his grandchildren there.
He supported his son Greg’s burgeoning interest in music, facilitating his education and helping purchase instruments at every level. When his youngest son Jason and his wife Elisabeth were preparing to welcome their first child in Nova Scotia, William packed up his truck with baby supplies and set off on a road trip with his friend Marilyn. He did it out of love for all of them, manifesting in his gestures what he might not have always been able to say by words.
When asked toward the end of his life what he was most proud of, he said without fail that he had caring children. It was not just that he was proud of his children, but that they had manifested loving care for him and others in such a wonderful way.
In the early 2000s, after over 40 years of farming, William retired – as much as a farmer can ever actually retire. He first lived in St. Pierre, Manitoba, loved and care for by his daughter Maxine and their family. And it was here where, as one of his children remarked, he “turned 19” – after so many years working so hard with so little free time, William could finally let loose and youthfully pursue many things previously thought impossible. He always loved adventures, unleashing an eager travel bug. These included trips to BC, Alaska, Cape Breton Island, the Black Hills, and Florida among others.
William’s trip to the Middle East – which included a day in Jerusalem – was memorable, with a hat he purchased at a traditional market there becoming a habitual constant in his subsequent work at Siloam Mission. His frequent and lengthy stays with children and grandchildren in Wisconsin furnished legendary stories of intriguing border crossings. He did not always understand when engaging with US border control: the less information you divulge, the better. This led to not a few complicated scenarios.
William later moved to Winnipeg to live with his oldest daughter Jacquie, and this urban migration took some adjustment. But to his great credit he persevered, and grew both in his understanding and his openness what life now had to offer. He had a gift to talk with people anywhere and anytime, whether it was in the grocery store, or with a homeless person, or with a stranger walking a dog.
There was something about his move to big city Winnipeg that made him even more unique: his discernable low German accent, his childlike curiosity, his unmistakable hands seemingly carved out of chiselled granite. William’s social nature and ability to be a connector in his farming years, seemed to flourish as his network of relationships expanded in the city. And this flourishing made an impression on others, even those very different in perspective and education from him, leading one friend to admit, “William, you are the most interesting person I know.”
William’s volunteer work at Hope Centre Health Care’s food bank, and the kitchen at Siloam Mission in particular, became extremely important to him, endearing him to many and witnessed his desire to serve others. Grain of Wheat Church-Community grounded him in a place that enriched him and provided him with a spiritual home. He said that it was the church where he felt particularly loved and accepted – just as he was.
One year, William assisted fellow Grain of Wheat member Tabitha in making pancakes for a community meal. Just like many other activities William pursued, he also put his heart and soul into cooking. But William placed less emphasis on following recipes than what he called “experimenting.” So in the course of making pancakes, he used a significantly larger amount of butter than the recipe called for. Tabitha knew that something wasn’t quite right with them – but the pancakes were enjoyed by everyone all the same, illustrating the hospitality and embracing comfort William found there.
As he aged, life in Winnipeg became a time when William could revel in puttering: the aforementioned cooking, woodworking, backyard gardening, and frequent chatting with neighbors. William had a certain childlikeness that could both endear him to others, but also puzzle him and those nearby. One day Jacquie saw him talking to a stranger at the front gate of their house. It was only later that she realized this was a reporter from the Globe and Mail, and that William would get his picture and quotes in a lead story. Who would have ever thought that William Reimer would become a representative of Winnipeg’s Port Douglas area!
Another time several police cars made an ominous presence on their street, and officers told him in no uncertain terms to “get inside the house.” Taken aback, William commented, “This is my house. You can’t tell me what to do!” Suffice it to say that William did return to the house, and nothing serious occurred.
William also grew to enjoy watching TV in the evenings – curling and detective dramas were favorites – and eating sunflower seeds in his recliner – the remaining shells living on in the dark corners of basement furniture. He also loved brewing beer and wine and sharing what he brewed. It would not be an exaggeration to say that just about every medical professional he has seen over these past years has received at least one bottle of his excellent brew.
He loved being welcomed onto his daughter Theresa’s farm of gardens, animals, and growing grandchildren. It was a special place which continually invigorated his fundamental grounding in family and the land.
The final years of William’s life were marked by forms of illness which taxed and limited his capabilities and activities. Continually he had to learn to let go of things he loved to do, and there were moments of real pain, loss and suffering. Yet it was here where, despite all the trials and tribulations he encountered, William’s faith shone the brightest. His trust in God, often supported by his friendship with Jacquie and the care of his faith community, was the frame he leaned on as he set his face toward the final part of his earthly journey. William knew where he was, and he knew the heavenly place he was going to. He strongly believed that faith was meant to be lived out rather than assented to intellectually, whether in his younger life or in the more fragile one he was aging into.
And this continued to the end through his grounded prayer life. He was truly a farmer when he prayed. His prayers almost always began by reminding God of how the weather was: “It’s really humid today, Lord,” or “Lord, I hope we get some warmer weather soon.” His desire to keep his digital thermometer and weather predictor with him to his final day accurately manifested how his faith life was always connected with God’s good earth.
And just as he maintained his dogged determination to undergo the sometimes painful trials of dying with equanimity, he also showed an ability to welcome strangers in to receive tender care from them. This amazed his children and showed them a profoundly human and Christian way to die.
William passed peacefully at home, surrounded by his children, on Sunday, March 19, 2023. One fellow community member at Grain of Wheat aptly summed up William as “a generous man with a youthful spirit, with a spark of the rebel in him.” William may leave behind grieving and grateful family members and friends, but his youthful and curious spirit will serve him well in his new adventure at the table of God’s children in heaven. May he be granted eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.
The memorial service will be held on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, at 2:00 p.m. at Friends Funeral Service Inc., 2146 Main St, Winnipeg, MB, with reception to follow.