June 25, 2019

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Opinion

A life of purpose

Retired teacher dedicates time to tutoring international students

Retired teacher Rudy Friesen, 83, volunteers every weekday afternoon at Grant Park High School tutoring newcomer students, teaching them English and helping them with their schoolwork.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Retired teacher Rudy Friesen, 83, volunteers every weekday afternoon at Grant Park High School tutoring newcomer students, teaching them English and helping them with their schoolwork.

Occasionally, Rudy Friesen asks himself a question: is there purpose and meaning for retired people?

“I guess what I’m proving to myself is, yes, there can be,” he says.

Friesen, who spent 16 years of his working life as a teacher, finds purpose and meaning by giving back to the community.

Every weekday afternoon for the past 4½ years, the 83-year-old Crescentwood resident has volunteered tutoring students, who are newcomers to Canada, at Grant Park High School.

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Occasionally, Rudy Friesen asks himself a question: is there purpose and meaning for retired people?

"I guess what I’m proving to myself is, yes, there can be," he says.

Friesen, who spent 16 years of his working life as a teacher, finds purpose and meaning by giving back to the community.

Every weekday afternoon for the past 4½ years, the 83-year-old Crescentwood resident has volunteered tutoring students, who are newcomers to Canada, at Grant Park High School.

Many of the students are Yazidi refugees from northern Iraq, while others are from Venezuela, Brazil, Vietnam, Thailand and Lebanon.

"It’s a wonderful mix of international students," Friesen says. "I’ve really come to appreciate them."

He helps small groups of students with their English language skills and assists students one-on-one with their school work.

An underlying theme throughout his work with the students, Friesen says, is dignity.

"Everyone has dignity (and) worth and we have to respect that and we have to live that way," he says.

Friesen enjoys learning about the students’ culture and religion, and sometimes forms relationships with them that extend beyond the school walls.

Friesen and his wife, Ruth, have become especially close with an Ethiopian family that lives nearby. Friesen has tutored their three children.

‘Everyone has dignity (and) worth and we have to respect that,’ Friesen says.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

‘Everyone has dignity (and) worth and we have to respect that,’ Friesen says.

The children’s mother has been over at the Friesen house, teaching Ruth how to make Ethiopian dishes, and the two older children, who have graduated and live in Alberta, call the Friesens during the holidays to wish them well.

"It’s become a family situation," Friesen says. "It’s a delightful thing."

Friesen is "an amazing man," "a master teacher" and "quite iconic," says Val Pierce, who got to know him when she worked as the teacher in charge of Grant Park’s literacy centre for newcomers.

Students affectionately refer to him as "Mr. Rudy" and, in many cases, specifically seek him out for help, Pierce adds.

"He just goes above and beyond," Pierce says. "He gets a lot of quiet joy out of the way he relates to these kids."

"I’ve had many, many volunteers," she adds. "There’s no one that can come close to him."

Tutoring is one of the many volunteer roles Friesen has filled.

He and Ruth started their married life in 1959 by volunteering for one year in Mississippi, delivering religious education to students and helping at a drop-in centre.

Since retiring in 1999, they have completed a number of volunteer assignments.

On 9/11, they were serving a one-year term as hosts at a Washington, D.C., guest house seven kilometres away from the White House.

Today, in addition to Grant Park High School, Friesen volunteers once a week at Agape Table, and he is heavily involved at his church.

"Since I value community in all its dimensions, this is a way for me to find purpose," Friesen says.

"That makes my life very worthwhile. It’s a happy way to be retired for me."

If you know a special volunteer, please contact aaron.epp@gmail.com.

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