Guenther Froese, in this photograph, circa 1955, taken in Germany before he came to Canada for a new life.
Guenther Froese Obituary, Condolence and Celebration of Life Information
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, May 7, 2022)
Peace can be a strange thing.
When I turned 12, my father sat me on the cement ledge at the front of our house to tell me about it. When he was 12, he was taken prisoner by the Russians. Then his escape. And other stories. Hard stories. I needed to know, now that I was a man, so to speak.
My father, who grew up in Nazi Germany, easily shared these things, his scars. Even in recent years, before leaving his presence, you’d often be asked, “So what do you think about Trump?” Or, “What do you think about Putin?” Then you’d listen.
By this day in 1945, May 7, the day Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally, my father was 13. About 200,000 people had just died in the Battle of Berlin. Hitler had put a bullet in his own head. And my father, like millions across Germany, now despaired for a morsel of food as much as a morsel of peace.
Eventually, after refugee experiences, and after training in post-war Germany as a therapeutic massage therapist, Dad Froese found his way to Canada. He became a citizen, established himself in Niagara, and went on to practice massage therapy, not the world’s easiest vocation, for more than 50 years. Fifty. Years. He became a recognized therapeutic guru.
With hands that helped heal many, he also restored a run-down, 1870s estate home which he then ran for more than 20 years: first as a nursing home, then a community home for people who were broken in one way or another, often with no family or home of their own.
This was the home, our home, where my father sat me on that front ledge when I was 12. By then he’d already been a widower for some years, finding whatever help he could to raise his children as a single dad. This is my father: stubbornly strong and an enormous influence on me.
He could be a bear. If you were an official – maybe at his door for a routine health inspection on the home – you might be asked to leave. My father did things his way and sometimes suffered, even publicly, for this.
One evening he sat me in his office. I’d left home and found journalism and my life direction. It deeply hurt and angered him for a long time. Family, especially Mennonite family, doesn’t leave family. That night he talked while I listened. Until after sunrise.
But even in his most bearish times, I never doubted my father’s love. And in an era when fathers weren’t known to say much, or show affection, he did so naturally, even when my own children came along. Well into his 80s, he stayed lucid with an intelligence buoyed by a lifelong love of books and learning. With my wife and children, I’d often greet him with “How are you, young man?”
And Germany? He never returned.
It’s just a sketch. An incomplete picture. But an important one. Because, at 90, my father has breathed his last. Near the end, at his bedside, loved ones held his hand.
My father’s death is my personal loss. It’s also another loss, a loss of one of those distinctive post-war immigrants, Canadians who’ve helped forge both families and communities across this nation. It’s something to remember when you see an immigrant. Appreciate who they are. Their stories. Their unique contributions.
One day war itself will die. Isn’t this what the old, wide-eyed prophets say? Swords beaten into plowshares so peace can rule for all time. Somehow. But after a full life, my father is living his lasting peace now.
Today, in a Kitchener cemetery, Dad Froese’s loved ones will have a small gathering to say some words and put his body in the ground. This is the day, May 7, Germany’s surrender day, part of weekend reflections for VE Day. This is the day that marks my father’s own final surrender.
It’s all rather fitting. And mysterious. This peace.
32 thoughts on “My father’s final lasting peace”
Dear Thomas, My condolences on the loss of your father. Your column is such a beautiful tribute to him. I always look forward to reading your words and find them so hopeful and inspirational. May God bless you and your family at this time.
A heartwarming read. It wasn’t all sunshine, but reality with its ups and downs, good and bad, all wrapped in love and respect.
Gracias por compartir su historia con su padre. Creo que “el día que muera la guerra” podríamos celebrar con un bocado de paz.
Translated – Thank you for sharing your story about your father. I think when “the day war dies” we can celebrate with peace.
Thank you, Thom.
This is a very moving piece. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this
of sadness and separation.
Our love from the Thistle family to yours.
Ohhh. Glory to God for those 90 fruitful years of his life on earth. Time for the next phase – eternity. Sincere condolences Thom and prayers for strength to you and the family
Sorry to hear about your father, Thom. Saw his obit in yesterday’s Record. Insightful column, as usual.
Sending my sympathies to you and your family. Thank you for sharing this, it’s very touching, and educating. Deepens our appreciation. A donation will be sent to Save the Mothers in honor of your father.
The thoughts and prayers of many Ugandans whose lives you have touched over the many years of your ministry are with you Thom.
May God’s peace which transcends all human understanding surround you and the entire Froese family. Shalom.
Thank you so much for sharing about your father, his search for peace, and each of our search for peace, especially those of us whose ancestors came to Canada as immigrants or refugees in search for peace. My heart pains for those particularly in Ukraine today, from where my ancestors came, when I hear the names of the area from which they came. How long, Oh Lord?
Thinking of you in the passing of your Dad. May you know the strength of our Father’s arms around you and your family.
To my dear cousin Thomas: I feel your pain and your loss. Uncle Guenther was a very strong man. When I spoke to him as a young boy, he was full of interesting conversations, even if his manner of speaking could be strong and hard to understand. It looked like he had lived a hard life growing up; far harder than mine ! I respected him greatly for his life. His was a long journey, but he reached the dream he desired. My condolences to you and your sister and Aunty Ruth and the rest of your family. My Prayers are with you…Nelson .
Thanks so much, Nelson. Good thoughts. I remember us both as boys, back in the day.
Thanks Janny. Our Father’s arms.
Thanks Peter. Some similarities in Ukraine, for sure.
Thank you Eve. Dad Froese was always keenly interested in our Ugandan experiences.
Thanks Susan, and for your support of Save the Mothers.
Thanks Jerry. I always appreciate your thoughts and look forward to the next time we connect for a lunch.
Thank you, Emmanuel. And, for sure, without the understanding of eternity, it would be hard to muster much strength, never mind make any sense of these things.
Thank you, Paul. All the way from Zimbabwe. We appreciate you greatly.
Thank you, Judy. And you’re right. Sunshine, if it came every day, would lose its value. Thanks for nailing it so nicely.
Thank you, Dorothy. And the family, these days, funny enough, does feel very much blessed.
Thank you, Miguel. And that celebration will come.
Ahhh the man with the healing hands has moved to heaven to meet the Man with the Healing Hands. Onkel Guenther was bigger than life to me when I was five and looked forward to his visits. He will be fondly remembered!
Healing hands, indeed. I love the people who referred to Dad Froese as “Onkel Guenter” (without the h, of course) with that good, original German pronunciation. Bless you, Katharina.
My heartfelt condolences with the loss of your father. You probably don’t remember me, but you were a young journalist for the fledgling St. Thomas, Ontario newspaper and you came to interview me at Rehoboth Home, a Christian maternity home for women with crisis pregnancies in the little village of Springfield, near Aylmer, Ontario. You listened very intently when I told you why we existed – to help women who chose not to abort but carry their babies – our Home helping them to parent and find a way to raise their little ones. Our aim was to teach them the Christian way. I followed your journey and your dear wife and pray you are continuing on that road – as I do, with God’s help, now in my early eighties. The Lord has been good to me and my husband, Neil, at that time pastor in St Thomas, Ontario. With Christian love, Ricky
This was a beautiful tribute to your late father. I very much enjoyed the column.
Alvin Spaxman, Paris. ON.
Thank you Alvin. I’m glad you enjoyed and took a moment to write.
Of course, Ricky, I remember you and the Rehoboth Home with fondness. It wasn’t so long ago. Life is short.
Our heartfelt condolences to you and your family Thom. Thank you for your eloquent writing, as always. Having been born into a first generation of a post war Italian immigrant family myself, I always respect the strength and courage it took (and still takes today) to uproot from a homeland and start a new life so far away, especially during times where technology and ease of travel was not as sophisticated as it is now. We offer our prayers for peace and healing for you and family after the loss of a father, grandfather, brother and uncle, and pray for the peaceful repose of his soul.
Thank you Thom for sharing your eloquence in your time of grief, mixed undoubtedly with hope and joy. I always enjoy your articles, shared by your Bride, who is a childhood friend of mine. May you and your family find comfort and peace that passes all comprehension during this time.
Thank you, Debbie and Dan. Strength and courage, especially those older generation immigrants had, for sure.
Comfort and peace. Thank you, Doug.