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Vivid picture of life
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Vivid picture of life

Some obituaries give the facts of the person who died: who left before them, who they leave behind, and details about their funeral.

Other obituaries give you such a vivid picture of the person’s life you feel like you are experiencing it with them.

Sofia Hull’s obituary is the latter.

Hull, who was 102 years of age when she died on Jan. 24, was a Mytsyshyn when she was born on Christmas Day in a village in the western Ukraine.

Much later, Hull became a proud Canadian. She would say: “Life under Stalin and Hitler wasn’t living. My life began when I came to Canada.”

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Hull’s early life was a struggle. Her father died when she was a young child, her mother passed away when she was a teenager, and it was left to her and her four siblings to do what they could to stay alive — and then the Nazis invaded when she was in her early twenties.

The Nazis caught her, intending to take her back to Germany to work as a slave labourer, but somehow Hull was first able to get home, warn her siblings and give them everything of value — including her shoes and skirt — before she was put in an open cattle car.

Once in Germany, Hull was assigned to a family who owned land and spent the war years tending to cattle, working the land, and picking grapes during harvest.

When the war ended, Hull and other Ukrainians were sent to a displaced-persons camp in the American zone, and that’s where she met her husband, Andrew. He told her on the first evening they met he was going to marry her — and he did so a month later.

They got married in the camp on Feb. 23, 1946, wearing a wedding dress passed around to every small woman who married and with a meal of bread and fried cabbage. They honeymooned in a room shared with three other couples, separated by hanging blankets. They were still in the camp when their daughter Orysia was born in 1948.

While they were happy together, their troubles weren’t over. They were warned that the Soviet Union was insisting Ukrainians return home. They heard some were being killed by the Soviets as soon as they crossed the border, and others were being sent to Siberia to work.

That’s when Hull met Eleanor Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was trying to persuade the United Nations that Ukrainians who didn’t want to go back shouldn’t have to. With an interpreter, Roosevelt went to every room in the camp to tell people they didn’t have to return. Hearing this message, Hull and her family decided to move to Canada.

The rest of her many days were full of life and love and helping others, especially those suffering or in need. Read more about Sofia. 

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason, Reporter

Kevin Rollason

How They Lived

Wilhelmina Fritschij was a teenager when she risked her life bicycling through the countryside during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands, to deliver messages to farmers in return for food for her family.

Fritschij, who was 97 when she died on Jan. 17, survived the war years and worked in a business supply office after completing Business College. After meeting her husband in 1949, she moved to Canada and went to Little Britain outside Selkirk.

The couple worked in the sugar beet fields, and then a variety of jobs, before being able to buy a farm acreage in East St. Paul.

While raising seven children, Fritschij also found time to be elected to the school board in the River East School Division, serve as a councillor in the RM of East St. Paul, and serve on the board of the St. Boniface Diocesan High School. Read more about Wilhelmina. 



Henry Golis survived a plane crash during the Second World War and it made a permanent mark on him.

Golis, who died on Jan. 13 less than an hour before he would have turned 96, was only 17 when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. And it was just a few months before the end of the war when the Canso flying boat he and seven others were on crashed into Stanch Inlet enroute to Patricia Bay in British Columbia.

Golis and three others survived — four didn’t. In the decades to come he only went back to the area once, crying when he looked at the water where the plane crashed.

After the war, Golis rejoined CN Rail and worked there 44 years, retiring in 1986. Through the years he joined many organizations, including the War-Time Pilots and Observers’ Association and the RCAF Association, the Masonic Order, the Transcona Kinsmen, and the Khartum Shrine of Winnipeg, where he played tenor drum in the Drum and Bugle Corps.

In honour of Golis’ war service, an honorary street, Henry Golis Way, was named for him on Regent Avenue West between Madeline and Winona Streets. Read more about Henry. 



Joan Bickford helped many people during her career in public health.

Bickford, who was 85 when she died on Jan. 11, worked 42 years with the province’s health department, serving during the early 1970s as the assistant to the deputy health minister. It was then she helped develop the province’s home care program and community health centres.

Bickford was also the province’s chief public health nurse from 1983 to 1994.

After retiring in 2002, Bickford served as editor for three editions of The New Public Health textbook used in universities around the world; she was working on a fourth edition when her health forced her to stop. Read more about Joan. 


Steve Steigerwald was a successful salesman with the Sanford Evans Publishing Co.

Steigerwald, who died on Jan. 15 at 96, rose to be president of the company. He was especially proud the company designed the logo for the original Winnipeg Jets.

He was also president of the Winnipeg Executive Association and served on the board of both the Winnipeg and Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.

After Sanford Evans was purchased by Bell Canada, he was a board member of Bell for several years. Read more about Steve.



Beryle Jones born in Trinidad and was a teacher here.

Jones, who was 85 when she died on Jan. 10, taught at high schools, taught Indigenous students up north, lectured at the University of Winnipeg’s Bachelor of Education program, and served as a sectional instructor at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Education.

Jones also helped in the community. She was a committee member of the Congress of Black Women of Canada and a founding member — and first president — of the Immigrant Women’s Association of Manitoba, where she helped women having problems getting their foreign qualifications recognized in the Canadian system. Read more about Beryle.


A Life’s Story

Confession time: I knew Hetty Walker, but I didn’t know her — if that makes sense.

I’m one of numerous Manitobans who would buy something online that couldn’t be shipped to Canada — or pick up something on holiday down south that wouldn’t fit on the plane — who would ship the purchase to the Pembina Parcel outlet and pick it up later to avoid high international shipping charges.

Hetty Walker, former mayor of Pembina, N.D., died of ovarian cancer in October. She was 85. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Walker, who died on Oct. 23 at 85, was not only the founder of the business, but a pioneer in it. There are now at least half a dozen similar services in Pembina itself, and many more near border crossings across the country.

And that’s how I knew her, when I crossed the border and picked up packages on my way or returning on a long weekend trip or vacation.

As Walker’s daughter, Dawn, told reporter Tyler Searle, her mother also served as Pembina’s mayor, including during the Flood of the Century when she is credited with helping to save the community.

Read more about Hetty's life. 



Until next time, I hope you continue to write your own life’s story.



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