Obituary of Werner (Vern) Neufeld for his Celebration of Life

Our father was a gentleman in the old fashioned way. He loved to be active and he expected everyone around him to contribute to the common good. He was also a life-long learner – a role model for so many.

Werner was born in April 1932, during the worst of the depression, to immigrant Mennonite farmers. His father Gerhard became the pastor to the newly formed Whitewater Mennonite Church – and – to being the ‘Bishop’ for nine Mennonite churches. This work load profoundly affected his mother Helena and the home Werner grew up in. They were poor in worldly goods but they were at the centre of a quickly evolving cultural community.

Werner was conceived by 15 generations of farmers. The assumption that ‘if a Mennonite, then a farmer’ shifted during his generation. Of his five siblings Dad was the logical farmer. He covered for his father’s frequent absence on the home farm and soon got a farm of his own. He married Elsa, a farm girl and also a child of a minister, who was his high school sweetheart at Mennonite Collegiate Institute. At 21 years of age they set about doing what was expected – having babies, raising cattle, growing crops and devoting themselves to the practical Christianity of their forbearers and in particular to the fellowship of the Whitewater Mennonite Church.

Werner was a complex man – we learned later in our lives. He was honoured to take on leadership roles in the local church and even with the Conference of Mennonites of Manitoba for a time, but he also felt it important to soften the lines between the world of his youth and that of his non-Mennonite neighbours. His world grew tremendously when he discovered his young wife was interested in women’s liberation. He resisted at first but soon embraced the need to have women involved in all levels of church and society. From there his interests in traveling, growing new crops, flying an airplane, taking a great variety of part time and full time jobs and supporting his children and grandchildren took him into an ever-expanding universe. When he and Elsa decided to move to Winnipeg for their retirement, we at first thought he’d be a fish out of water, but soon saw him thrive in this context as well. He was always most comfortable in the Mennonite Church family and in expressing his spirituality as a baptized Christian. But he became ever more accepting of those who choose different paths to the loving arms of the Creator.

Dad went to his doctor in early 2016 complaining of energy loss and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August. He was willing to try alternative medicine. We were pleased he was able to remain pain free to the end. Being the man he was, taking his responsibilities seriously, he wanted to continue caring for Elsa as long as possible and was still her primary care giver two weeks before he passed away. He died in comfort and dignity at Riverview Palliative Health Centre in Winnipeg early on Jan. 20. The family thanks the care givers at Riverview, the friends who visited and those who sent messages of love and that each child and grandchild and some of the great grandchildren were able to offer and receive his love there.

Werner is survived by his wife Elsa now in The Rosewood in Winnipeg, by their children Debby (with Bob Kelly) in Winnipeg, David (with Maggie Andres) near Boissevain and Vicki (with Al Hicks) in Boissevain, by their grandchildren with their partners, by their great grandchildren and by three siblings – Helen in Boissevain, Marriane in Victoria and Bernie in Winnipeg.

Dad, you taught me about growing food, about building stuff and about driving – more or less carefully. But the best thing you taught me was that we can do great things when we let go of our pride, get on our hands and knees and do what we need to do. And yes, I’m talking as much about prayer as about changing cultivator shovels. Thank-you.  David