Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Hard Act to Follow - The Legacy of My Grandfathers

I think about my Grandfathers often, and with great love and respect for them and the impact they had on not only my own life, but on the lives of so many people in the communities of Medicine Hat and Bow Island, even if those people don't know it.  They were the sort of men that you don't see a lot of anymore, true "Pillars of the Community", the kind of men that others should aspire to be like.  They were men of integrity; hard workers, who faithfully served their families, churches and communities.  They weren't afraid of getting their hands dirty or making tough decisions.  They were men who tried to do what was right, even when it wasn't easy.  I wish that my daughters could have known them better and longer, and I'm so thankful for the time I had with them.

Here are brief biographies of both of my Grandfathers so you can appreciate the contribution they've made.

I'll start with my Dad's dad.

Ken Babe

Ken was born on the family farm North of Whitla on August 19, 1919.  He attended Golden Sheaf School until age 15.  After the passing of his father, he began his farming career.  He married my Grandma in March of 1948, they were married for 56 years.  They had three children, two boys and girl.  Grandpa continued farming until 2002, even after "retiring" to Medicine Hat in 1979.  He was a member of the Zion Lutheran Church in Bow Island, serving on council, teaching Sunday school and singing in the choir.  For 18 years he served with the Gideons.  He was also a councillor for 27 year for the County of Forty Mile, serving as Municipal Chairman for a time.  He served on the Medicine Hat Health Unit Board for 27 years, part of that time as chairman.  He also served on the Medicine Hat Hospital Board for 23 years, as well as on the Community Resource Centre Board.  Grandpa lived with Type 1 diabetes for 58 years. I think it is a testament to his character that he had none of the usual consequences of diabetes during that time.  He had tremendous self-control and was careful about how he ate, religiously controlled his blood sugar, and walked daily, even in the winter.  Grandpa was a constant gentle presence in my life growing up.  He came out to the farm almost every day to work, and ate his meals with us.

My Mom's dad:

Walter Strom

Walter was born on the family farm South of Burdett on January 8, 1916. He received most of his education at Ballman School. When their family moved to Calgary, where his father had purchased a home in order for his children to further their education in the city, he attended the Colonel Walker School until grade 11.  He married my Grandma in October of 1943 and they were married for 65 years. Grandpa was active in his church, community and also in politics. These organizations included the local and district Boards of the Evangelical Free Church, Southern Alberta Bible Camp, local and provincial Sugar Beet Growers, the Alberta Social Credit Party as well as the federal constituency board, and as Councillor and Mayor of Bow Island. He was also involved for many years with the Gideons.

It was actually from my Grandpa Strom that I first heard the term "Living Wage".  He thought it was shameful that employers would pay someone less than they could live on, especially if they were supporting a family.

The following is an article about my Grandpa Strom from the Lethbridge Herald (used with permission).

Strom made a mark
Ric Swihart

One of the truly energetic men of agriculture has died.
Walter H. Strom, 93, died peacefully at the Bow Island Health Centre, ending a life of service to industry and community.
Walter was a tall, slender man, a smile ever present in a disarming manner, who one simply couldn't forget after a single meeting.
With no pretentiousness, Walter could simply make his presence felt by being there and being himself.
This editor's first contact with Walter was through the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers Association, which since has become a marketing board.
He was actively involved in the association's labour committee in the days when hand labour was still the norm in sugar beet production.
It was a time when up to 2,500 workers, many of them returnees from Saskatchewan Indian reserves, flooded the Lethbridge Exhibition Grounds by bus and sugar beet growers would come to collect their summer help. Often, the workers would return to the same grower, testament to the relationship that often was built.
One day, Walter asked if I would be interested in a trip to northern Saskatchewan to visit several reservations, talk with the elders and leaders of the tribes and witness first hand the relationship he had helped build with those First Nations.
It didn't take long to respond yes, and on the given day, I hitched a ride to Taber to meet Walter at a restaurant for coffee before heading north on Highway 36.
He drove an older Volvo in those days, and it was like the old girl knew the road.
Walter was all business.
He explained the value of summer workers who had to weed the crop by hoeing, and to thin the beets to leave healthy plants a certain spacing so optimum growth and tonnage could be achieved. It was before planting to stand was introduced to allow farmers to regulate plant spacing by placing seeds in the right place. It was before herbicides were readily available to control weeds. And it was even before a mechanical beet thinning machine was introduced for about one year before planting to stand took hold.
The real magic Walter spun on that trip was his honest relationship with tribal leaders. There was a mutual respect evident at every meeting. And that meant no arm twisting to continue the labour movement, and no hesitation for the leaders to encourage those members who wanted to spend the summer in southern Alberta in a job situation for perhaps most family members.
Walter was much more than a farmer and farm organization man.
He had definite opinions of a range of topics, and could enunciate his position with the best of them, and always do it with that great smile on his face.
He had some real convincing “evidence” on fighting cancer, and admits to using a product that might have been considered radical.
With sincere condolences to the family, it is easy to say it was a privilege to have known Walter, and an even greater privilege to have worked to some degree in this business of news reporting with the man.

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