The Life Story of Shirley Margaret (Sawatsky) Neufeld
Shirley was born on November 30, 1938, to Catharine (Loewen) and Jake Sawatsky in Altona, Manitoba. Shirley was their first born and only daughter, later joined by four brothers: Rodney, Terrance, David Allen and Richard.
Shirley grew up in a happy loving home and felt very special because she was an only child for her first five years. Her mother was a homemaker and seamstress, and her father managed the local Co-op store. She was raised in the church and had many friends. She enjoyed her years in school where she especially excelled in mathematics, music and drama. She was given the opportunity to take piano lessons throughout her school years, as well. She took an interest in 4-H clubs, participating in a garden club for three years and then a sewing club for another three years. She did put her years of sewing instruction to good use when she had a family and sewed many of their clothes. She took part in dramas throughout her school years, CMBC and in the community.
Shirley was baptized into the Altona Bergthaler Mennonite church on June 9th, 1957, and her many involvements included teaching Sunday school and DVBS, leading the SS singing and playing piano for SS singing. She attended bible camp every summer and was a counsellor there for one year. At the age of 14 she was asked to play piano for Sunday evening services and at 16 she was given instructions on the church’s electronic organ. Shortly after that she began playing for the morning services and later at many funerals and weddings. She also was a member of the church choir and enjoyed participating in the local community choir.
Upon graduation from high school in 1957, Shirley attended the Manitoba Teachers’ College and then went back to her hometown to teach grade one for two years, which she really enjoyed. She then decided to go to Canadian Mennonite Bible College because she was interested in doing some teaching on behalf of Mennonite Central Committee and felt she needed some more Christian education before embarking on such a venture. She had an enriching year at CMBC, but her planned MCC service didn’t happen because she met Vic Neufeld who asked her to come and live in Ontario with him!
They were married on October 8, 1961 and her life as a fruit grower’s wife began. Shirley didn’t turn out to be much of a farmer but did her best to be of help in the packing shed and orchard. Her calling was to be a good wife and mother of the best three children a mom could wish for: Jim (b.1962), Don (b. 1964) and Sheryl (b. 1967). She also helped Vic with several choirs he was involved with and sang in the church choir whenever possible. She continued to play piano and organ in church for most of her life. She was a long-term participant in women’s and quilting ministries.
Raising Jim, Don and Sheryl, seeing them do well in school and the community, going on to Eden and participating in all of the events there gave her many reasons to be thankful. She really appreciated their involvement in many church-related activities and was so grateful to God when they chose to join Bethany and confess to being Christians. Seeing them choose their future professions filled her with much pride and gave her a feeling of accomplishment, too!
In time she also became a mother-in-law, grandmother and great-grandmother, which gave her so much joy. She was very happy to welcome her children’s spouses: Charlene, Gayle and Kenton and they got along very well. Each grandchild was very special to her, and she tried hard to spoil each one of them. She has been so proud to attend their school, music and sports events, or just to play games with them at home. She also enjoyed baking “grandma buns”, favourite desserts or cooking main dishes for them! Her grandchildren: Aaron (Alyson), Adrian (Kristi), Zachary (Nicole), Noah (Rachael), Adam, Madalyn and Lauren, were her special treasures! The added bonus of Great Grandchildren filled her with joy: Felix, Maya, Rowan, Kayden, and Veyda.
Over the last couple decades Shirley enjoyed researching, reflecting on, and writing about family history, pulling together information that is a now a special gift to the family and extended family. Her personal story is entitled “Remembering in Gratitude”.
I never regretted having followed Vic to Ontario! We had a good life together! We loved to serve in the church in various positions, travel together, make music together, visit friends, volunteer together, spend time with our extended families, play many games and spend many quiet evenings at home. Life was wonderful, more like an unexpected dream. Thanks be to God!
On February 22nd, after experiencing increasing abdominal discomfort, Shirley entered hospital, and was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer days later. Ultimately, she came home where she stayed until passing peacefully in the night, sometime during the morning of April 3rd. Vic found her in quiet rest when he checked on her, received by God into eternal healing and peace.
As a family we are grateful for the care provided by Niagara EMS, Niagara Health System, Dr. Pratik Kalani and the Niagara North Family Health team, the PSW’s and staff of Pleasant Manor/Radiant Care, St. Elizabeth Health Care and NOTL Community Palliative Care Services.
Visitation will take place at Bethany Mennonite Church in Virgil, on Sunday April 9th from 3:00-5:00 p.m. and 7:00-8:30 in the evening. The funeral will take place on Monday April 10th at 11:00am, followed by a fellowship meal. A private family interment will precede the funeral. Donations can be made to Mennonite Central Committee and to Canadian Mennonite University.