Obituary of Helen Isaak
Helen Isaak, age 94, of Winnipeg, Manitoba passed away on Monday, January 29, 2024, at the Bethania Personal Care Home in Winnipeg, MB.
This is Helen’s story…mostly in her own words.
I was born on October 7, 1929 not in a hospital, but in Gerhard Dueck’s old Chev on the way to the Concordia Hospital. As was customary in Mennonite homes and being the eldest, I was named Helen, after my mother and my grandmother. I was joined by six brothers. Three sisters died at birth, so my greatest wish to have a sister was never realized.
My two closest friends were Lydia and Janet. Their siblings were also mostly brothers. We were called the “three leaf clover”.
I received all my schooling from grades one to eleven in the Springstein School. Grade 12 was taken at MBCI where I graduated in 1948.
After the completion of High School, I stayed home until Christmas and then took on a brief position of Permit Teaching at the Huron Hutterite Colony.
Our household felt like living in a boy’s dormitory. Mother and I were very much outnumbered by the men. I was beside mother when she did her cooking and baking. I helped her milk the cows and do the chores during harvesting. I rocked every one of the boys in an old rocking chair that fell apart when Hardy was a baby and sang them to sleep. I had to wash the kitchen floor many a time with all that Manitoba mud that the boys brought in. I had to iron all those shirts. The day before leaving for Pete’s wedding I ironed 20 shirts. Dad thought I should stay at home and help Mom raise the family when I finished high school, but mom said it wasn’t my fault that I was an only girl and should have the same opportunities as other girls who had sisters. So she encouraged me to study and pursue a career even though she would rather have me stay home with her.
Following a year of Normal School I taught at four different schools. The school at Elm Creek was a challenging position because while having only nine students, there were almost as many grades!
From 1955-58 I attended MBBC, receiving my Bachelor of Religious Education degree.
In 1958-59 I took my Nurses training at the St. Boniface Hospital. I enjoyed the nursing but felt out of place because I was so much older than the other students.
From 1961-63 I worked at the Concordia Hospital and the Brandon General Hospital.
After being invited by Erica Janzen to come and live with her in Toronto, I applied and was accepted to work with VON from 1965-68 in the York-Weston area. Lacking a driver’s license at that time, I had a walking district. I very much enjoyed the work in the community. It was gratifying to see people get rehabilitated.
In 1968-69 I attended McGill University where I received my Bachelor of Nursing. I enjoyed many years working in the Home Care Program in St. Catherines and Burlington.
In 1981 I was invited by the administrator of the Waterloo Regional Home Care Program to take over her position. I stayed with that program till my retirement in 1992.
My retirement was a gala event including dinner theatre, gifts of a large quilt with everyone’s name embroidered on it and a 45 inch weaving loom. I continued living in Waterloo until the fall of 2001 when I moved back to Winnipeg.
During her prime years Helen was often the glue between the Isaak family and the extended Isaak/Schmidt family as they dispersed from the original Springstein/Oak Bluff area.
Helen’s early church experiences were in the MB church. During the 70’s she joined the General Conference and was actively involved in the formation of the Mississauga Mennonite Church. During the 80’s she was active in the Waterloo North Mennonite church. She states that it played a great role in her spiritual life, as her gifts were recognized and she felt accepted. Here she felt encouraged and deepened her trust in God, especially during difficult times.
A friend wrote, “you are a person who has passed the Christ light on to me.” In her records, she frequently refers to scripture passages as she faced life’s challenges. Isaiah 26:3-4: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.” Also Phil 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing but by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Helen found time to do volunteer work with various SOOP placements from Georgia to Alaska. After she moved to Winnipeg she did a lot of volunteering at MCC’s 10,000 Villages. She frequently attended courses offered to seniors at the U of W.
Helen enjoyed travelling. There are few countries she has not seen. Nieces and nephews welcomed postcards and souvenirs from many exotic countries and they treasured them. Helen loved her nieces and nephews and made a point of travelling across the country to attend special events in their lives and they loved her for it. She was very hospitable and often hosted family and others in her home.
After living in Winnipeg for about 10 years, she moved from her apartment into assisted living facilities. By October of 2022 her health had declined to the point where she needed the supports of a nursing home and moved to Bethania Personal Care Home.
The notion of being in charge and giving direction which was developed during her working years was very evident even when she needed care and was bedridden.
As her memory faded to the point where she did not recognize us, memories of hymns from her childhood lingered. She would sing along when we played recordings like “O Du Froeliche” and more recently when confused and agitated, she would become calm as she listened to Canzona renditions of hymns like “So Nimm Den Meine Haende” (Take Thou My Hand O Father).
Helen was predeceased by her parents George and Helen Isaak, brother Peter and wife Margaret, brother Neil survived by wife Christina, brother Ernie survived by wife Marlene, sister in law Sharron, three sisters in infancy and great-grandnephew, Matthew. She is survived by brother John and Elsie, brother Hardy and Kay, brother Victor and Marlene, and 17 nieces and nephews and their families.
The family is grateful for the compassionate care of the staff at the Grace Hospital as well as the Bethania Personal Care Home.
“To make gains in this life we must
Venture forth to new places
Contact new people
Chance new experiences.
Every beginning is special to our growth.”
This quote was special to Helen and there are definitely many new places, new people, new experiences, and new beginnings in Helen’s life.
Cremation has taken place.
The memorial service for Helen Isaak will be held on Saturday, February 10, 2024, at 11:00 a.m. at Birchwood Funeral Chapel, Steinbach, MB. Burial to take place at a later date at Springstein Cemetery, Springstein, MB. To join the family via livestream, please click HERE shortly before the service.