Irene Waltraud was born on April 17,1935 in Berlin, Germany to Herbert and Anna Hampel. The early years of her childhood were happy ones and eventually two sisters and a brother joined the family. World War II brought many difficult and traumatic changes. Her father became a cook for the army as a means of a meager income when the war negatively impacted his meat business and ability to provide for the family. As the warfront moved closer to Berlin mothers with children were evacuated. This meant numerous moves to smaller communities in Germany where they were assigned to live in a private home with strangers which wasn’t easy. By the time Irene was fourteen she had attended nine different schools.
Irene’s father died in the war. When the war ended the family home and business was in the east sector of Berlin so there was no returning to that happy childhood place. For a few years the family returned to Berlin and were happy to be reunited with relatives. Irene corresponded with relatives in British Columbia and together with these relatives encouraged her mother that there was opportunity for them in Canada. The relatives were willing to sponsor them. In 1951 when Irene was sixteen they boarded the Beaverbrae, a navy and cargo ship converted to bring refugees to Canada. On the ship Irene heard the song “Good-night Irene” and was so relieved that her German name had an English pronunciation.
After a dusty train trip across Canada they settled in the Aldergrove/Abbotsford area of BC. Irene had hoped to go to high school but they discovered that the relatives had gone into debt to bring them to Canada. Along, with her mother she went to work. In the summers they all picked berries as a family and Irene had numerous other jobs which at times required her to hitchhike or walk in the dark to get to work on time.
Irene was baptized at West Abbotsford Mennonite Church May 24, 1953. During this time, she met Albert who was from Saskatchewan and spent the winters in BC with his parents. They were married Dec. 30, 1954. The early years in Fiske were lonely as she was far from family and adjusting to prairie culture. Over seventeen years, they had six children and with her outgoing personality and connecting with other young families through church and the community, Fiske became home. She came to love being on the farm. The one thing she missed was going to a lake to swim. So eventually they put in a swimming pool and the backyard became an oasis creating lots of fun and memories for family, friends and the community, often followed with refreshments and meals on the shady deck.
With a German mother, family life was disciplined with chores and piano practice but there was also time for games and frequent visits and meals with other families. Irene worked hard but she also loved vacations so there were annual camping trips to the Okanagan where the last day was spent picking one hundred pounds of cherries to can. There were family ski trips to the Rockies where Irene learned to ski in her late thirties. There were weekend trips to Saskatoon to be with the Martens/Dick family, weekends with the Milnes in Regina and usually a yearly trip to be with the Hampel clan in BC. There were a number of vacations in Hawaii as well as Germany.
Food was an important part of Irene’s life. The garden fed her soul and provided both fresh and canned produce for the family. Food became her expression of hospitality and care for others. Raising and butchering chickens and turkeys ensured roasts for the many Sunday noon meals with guests. She became a phenomenal cook and baker. Her cookies, pies, buns, bread, German tortes, pastries and peppernuts were well known and loved by many! Irene grew her own gooseberries, currents, raspberries and apples that would be turned into jams and delicious treats; and if there was fruit on someone else’s yard that couldn’t be used she picked it as well rather than having it go to waste. When there were birthdays, holiday meals and guests there were feasts with elaborate full course meals and desserts presented with tablecloths, the good china dishes and flowers from her garden or candles with seasonal decorations.
Irene never forgot what it felt like to be displaced and was active with love and kindness. She welcomed newcomers to the Fiske community and that often meant coffee at the kitchen table. As newcomers from other countries arrived Irene befriended them, helping them adjust to a new culture with practical support of food, clothing, car rides to appointments, and inviting them for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. In turn she was welcomed into their lives and was invited to their special celebrations.
Irene faced many heartaches, including two sons with special needs, the death of their son Brent, and caring for Albert in the final decade of their marriage. Her strong faith, fierce independence, Albert’s dry humor, as well as care and support from the Fiske Mennonite Church and the many friendships formed over the years in this community made it possible to live with hope and experience joy in-spite of sorrow.
Irene and Albert celebrated nearly 59 years of marriage, the marriages of 4 children, and eventually delighted in nine grandchildren. Despite a disrupted childhood, Irene had learned from her own mother to make opportunities to celebrate life. So for both her children and grandchildren birthdays were special, Christmas was magical with lots of gifts under the tree and Easter meant numerous hidden baskets to find!
Summer of 2019 Irene began to experience health issues that continued to make her weaker. In the last six months she was frequently in the hospital and in December moved into Orange Memories in Rosetown. As her children we are incredibly grateful for the kind and good care that she received there and while in the Rosetown Hospital. With some of her children present and singing, ‘Take thou my hand O Father (So nimm denn meine Hande), Irene died peacefully in the hospital on April 16.
Irene was predeceased by her parents Herbert and Anna Hampel; her son Brent; her husband Albert, her in-laws John and Anna Martens; and her sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Frieda and Earl Dick. Irene will be remembered by her children Gary; Debra Smith (Norm); Karen Martens Zimmerly (Terry); Wayne; Darren (Krista) and her grandchildren: Justus (Vanessa), Curtis (Victoria), Jordon, (Meagan), Joel (Amy), Faith, Kennedy, Noah, Markus and Elyssa. Irene’s two great-grandchildren Ada and Maya will grow up hearing the stories of this special woman. Irene is also mourned by her siblings: Edith Heinrichs (Erwin), Gerda Milne (Craig) and Ben Hampel (Gloria) as well as nieces, nephews, cousins and friends in Canada, the United States, Germany and Switzerland.
A Public Visitation was held on Thursday, April 21, 2022 at Shanidar Funeral Chapel from 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. A Memorial Service was held on Friday, April 22, 2022 at 2:00 p.m. at the Fiske Mennonite Church with Pastor Gary Peters and Pastor Margaret Ewen-Peters officiating. A video recording of the service may be viewed below.
Donations in memory of Irene may be directed to the Mennonite Central Committee, 600-45th Street West, Saskatoon, Sask. S7L 5W9.