One of Altona's strongest supporters passed away June 9. Menno H. Friesen will be missed by his family and friends, and everyone who knew him.
The community of Altona celebrated the life of one of its strongest supporters this week.
Menno H. Friesen died on June 9, just short of his 73rd birthday, after a brief but relentless battle with cancer. He will be forever missed by his wife Jolanda, sons Curwin (Jill) and Corey (Holly), and five grandkids, Liam, Simon, Sophia, Waylon and Riverson.
While the national flag waved at half-mast downtown at the Civic Centre, hundreds of friends, relatives, business associates and former teammates filled the Millennium Exhibition Centre on June 18. They came to pray, listen to tributes and songs, and remember a man who has done so much for his community. After over a week, there was still a lingering shock that someone with so much character and passion for life could leave so suddenly, and so soon.
His role as a team player extended far beyond his decades at the arena or the baseball field. His signature #11 Altona Maroons hockey banner was lit up throughout the ceremony, and a slide show told a story that included his early years as a farmer, his careers with CSP Foods and Golden West Radio, and his passion for community events and projects.
From the Sunflower Festival, the Gardens on Tenth and the Pioneer Centre, to his involvement with his church, the Community Foundation, and the Field of Dreams, he was one of those people who seemed to have an extra eight hours in his day, as he worked tirelessly to make so many of the community’s dreams come true.
The photos also revealed a man who loved his family dearly, and played an active role in their lives. The tributes showed a person who believed in professionalism, balanced out by a healthy dose of humour and good times.
I met Menno for the first time in 2007, after he was named Altona’s Citizen of the Year. We talked in his office at Golden West, which was filled with memorabilia from his hockey days, and pictures of all the things and the people he loved.
He made it clear that his intent for the story wasn’t to brag. “I don’t need a pat on the back for doing things I love,” he said. He hoped that sharing the things he’d accomplished would inspire others to get involved.
It was one of the most insightful conversations I’ve ever had. I saw a man who could solemnly discuss goals and business plans one minute, and have his voice crack with emotion the next when he spoke about the loss of his daughter Connie, or burst with pride when he shared his sons’ accomplishments.
In the years to come, I interviewed Menno on dozens of occasions, usually in the midst of some fundraising project. He was always a straight-shooter, and he had no problem correcting me if I got a quote or a number wrong, but it was always done kindly.
The first morning I returned to work after my mother died, Menno walked up to me and said, “Okay, now it’s time to look forward and just keep going.” I was a bit taken aback. They were words I didn’t feel ready to hear.
But I can see now, they were words I needed to hear.
After his farewell service, I sat amid a sea of emptying chairs at the arena, watching photos scroll by on the big screen - images of presentations, teams, and happier, sunny days with all the people in his life - set to the music of Bob Seger, Don Williams and Willie Nelson. I realized again what a big gap a person like this leaves behind.
With a heavy sigh, I rose to leave, and I could almost hear him say, “Okay, now it’s time to look forward and just keep going.”
Farewell, Menno. Your legacy will live on through those who knew you. We’ll see you again, when it’s our turn.