Derksen, Susie Alice Giesbrecht (1916-2017)

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Susie Alice Giesbrecht Derksen: community leader; born on 6 December 1916 in Wohldemfuerst, Kuban Mennonite Settlement, Russia, the seventh of 12 children of Peter P. Giesbrecht (22 July 1883, Alexanderkrone, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement, South Russia – 24 March 1963, Yarrow, British Columbia, Canada) and Elizabeth (Wittenberg) Giesbrecht (13 November 1886, Altonau, Molotschna, South Russia – 28 November 1959, Yarrow, British Columbia). Susie married Jacob G. "Jake" Derksen (20 October 1911, Alexanderthal, Molotschna, South Russia – 15 July 1994, Chilliwack, British Columbia), son of Gerhard J. Derksen and Katharina (Goossen) Derksen, on 19 June 1938 in Greendale, British Columbia. Jake and Susie had five children: Jack, Edward, Caroline, and Susan. Susie died on 4 November 2017 in Chilliwack, British Columbia, and was buried in Yarrow Cemetery.

Susie spent her first seven years (1916-1924) in the Kuban region of southern Russia. From 1919 to emigration her family experienced severe hardships because of the Civil War. In 1924 the family immigrated to Mexico, settling initially in northern Mexico before moving further south in Irapuato. Two years later, violent civil and religious strife in the region prompted them to immigrate first to California, and then to Nelson and nearby Meadows, British Columbia. One year later, in February 1928, the family moved to Yarrow, British Columbia.

Susie’s family was among the very first to settle in Yarrow, the earliest Mennonite community in southern British Columbia. Almost 89 years later, well before her death, she was generally recognized as Yarrow’s "first lady," an unofficial title confirmed by the award of Yarrow Citizen of the Year conferred on her in 2003 for her many contributions to the community over the decades. For the majority of Yarrow’s younger settlers, the community was an entry point between themselves and the future, but for Susie, Yarrow quickly became home.

Here she was able to restart her schooling immediately. What’s more, as an 11-year-old fourth-grade new student, she (with brother David) served as custodian in her one-room elementary school. In this first year she picked hops from dawn to dusk in August and September and sold produce as well from the family garden to other pickers. From age 13 to 17 she also worked three hours daily in the hop yard store and helped her family develop their acreage, including substantial vegetable and fruit gardens.

In 1932 she pled her case to enter Chilliwack High School. Her father found a family within walking distance of the high school that offered her room and board for domestic help in the home. In 1935 she also worked part-time as a clerk at the Woolworth store in Chilliwack. A year later she became the first Mennonite settler in Yarrow to graduate from a Canadian high school. Upon graduation she accepted a full-time position as sales representative at Woolworth’s because of her family’s financial needs, although she had applied for admission to nursing school and to a teacher training institute. Two years later she married Jake Derksen. The couple had four children, and also welcomed Hungarian refugee Laszlo Kocsis into their home.

In the early years of marriage Susie served customers in their little lumber yard, assumed the care of 7,000 chickens, and oversaw their small raspberry field. Later she supervised their large raspberry farms on Boundary Road and Wilson Road at a time when her husband suffered recurrent seizures and required rest. Considering her managerial skills and attention to detail more than equal to the tasks, she assumed most of the responsibility for supervising personnel, maintenance, and production. Pickers’ cabins and eventually a number of rental properties required her attention. Housing had to be found and prepared for post-World War II Mennonite refugee families (eventually seven in all) that she and her husband sponsored.

It was said that she had always considered herself second to no woman in Yarrow and, for that matter, to any man. The challenges of her work were usually an adventure, often an exhausting one; joining her entrepreneurial husband came naturally to her, and she dismissed the notion of not a few in her Mennonite Brethren congregation that business enterprise, integrity, compassion, and true piety are incompatible.

A regular participant in activities and programs in her local church – Yarrow Mennonite Brethren Church, Susie was also much involved with volunteer work outside Mennonite circles, such as fundraising for the Chilliwack Hospital Auxiliary and collecting donated goods for the Red Cross (she served as Yarrow’s Red Cross representative for two decades), assisting Hungarian refugees in various ways in the years following the failed Hungarian Revolution, and helping to arrange transportation for new immigrants to medical and government offices. Indeed, numerous individuals and families were recipients of her and her husband’s financial and other material assistance.

Undoubtedly history will regard Susie Giesbrecht Derksen’s signature contribution to her community to be her skillful co-leadership as well as her pertinacity in funding appeals to totally renovate the unsightly Yarrow Cemetery, now a garden-like abode, where she was interred after the close of her long and remarkable life. She died 4 November 2017, having lived in Cascade Lodge, Chilliwack, since 2013.

Bibliography

Delong, Susan. Emails to Leonard Neufeldt, November 5, 2017 and August 3, 2018.

Derksen, Jack. Emails to Leonard Neufeldt, August 1 and August 2, 2018.

Derksen, Jacob G., and Susie Alice Giesbrecht Derksen, "As We Remember the Past," in Before We Were the Land’s, ed. by Leonard Neufeldt, et al. Victoria: Horsdal & Schubart, 2002: 113-114, 160-166, 189-190.

Derksen, Susie Alice Giesbrecht. Family Papers (untitled), n.d. Typescript.

Jantzen, Maryanne Tjart. "Going the Distance: Susie Giesbrecht Derksen’s Seventy-Eight Years in Yarrow," in Windows to a Village, ed. by Robert Martens, et al. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2007: 49-78.


Author(s) Leonard Neufeldt
Date Published August 2018


Cite This Article

MLA style

Neufeldt, Leonard. "Derksen, Susie Alice Giesbrecht (1916-2017)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. August 2018. Web. 20 Sep 2019. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Derksen,_Susie_Alice_Giesbrecht_(1916-2017)&oldid=163981.

APA style

Neufeldt, Leonard. (August 2018). Derksen, Susie Alice Giesbrecht (1916-2017). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 September 2019, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Derksen,_Susie_Alice_Giesbrecht_(1916-2017)&oldid=163981.




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