Gerardus Theodorus Johannes (Gerald) Groenen passed away peacefully on Sunday, June 11th in Lloydminster Alberta at the age of 97 years with his daughters were at his side.
Born July 21st, 1925 in the Netherlands to Leonardus and Johanna (Lemmen) Groenen, Gerald lived a life as big as his name. The youngest of six children, he grew up on de kruidenteelt, a farm near Heibloem where he first discovered the love of agriculture that he carried throughout his life’s work.
His dream of farming with his dad was interrupted when the Nazis invaded Holland in World War II. Gerald spent his teenage years under occupation, finally picked up and sent to a concentration camp and then into forced labour on a German farm. When the war ended, he was simply told to go home, and so he did, walking for days through bombed out German and Dutch cities before being reunited with his family.
His plans to finish agriculture college were cut short by yet another war. Gerald was conscripted to fight with Dutch colonial forces trying to reclaim the Dutch East Indies; now Indonesia. It was during his training that he met the love of his life, Anna Cisse. They had three dates before he shipped out, and he wrote to her weekly for three and a half years.
Gerald was certain she was the one, but, on his return, Anna asked that he court her properly. And so, on weekdays he worked to finally complete his agriculture diploma and every Saturday biked to the Cisse home in Uden where they served him pancakes. It was 60 kms round trip and he never told Anna that he hated pancakes. Gerald finally ate enough of them to win her hand, and not long after their wedding in July of 1951, they emigrated to Artland, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Dressed in their finest, Gerald and Anna were greeted by their sponsor and boss who took them home in the back of a dray and deposited them at their new home, a glorified granary on a prairie farm. Those first years in Canada were hard; neither of them said otherwise. But until the end Gerald could regale an audience with stories of farming in Canada, how much he learned, but also how much he had to offer from his own Dutch experience and education.
Gerald left that farm and spent some years working a variety of jobs; drayman and maintenance for the town of Marsden, assembling farm machinery for the local dealership, and working as elevator agent for Searle, Federal and finally the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool where he spent the remaining thirty years of his working life as manager in Marsden. He loved his job, and he loved serving the farmers of the community.
In the meantime, he and Anna had six children, all girls, who they raised with a profound sense of their history in Holland alongside an almost sacred love for Canada. Gerald embraced everything about this country. He learned to curl and golf and bowl—all very badly—but winning wasn’t the point; it was the friendships and visiting he loved. The Montreal Canadiens were his team to the end, and he cheered them on every Saturday while Anna and the girls read their books and feigned interest when he hollered, “did you see that goal?!?!”
Gerald and Anna knew how to have fun. Their family and many friends all have memories of epic Christmas Eve parties at the house or huge gatherings at the cabin at Manitou Lake where laughter and music rang out and the whiskey flowed. There were also evenings playing trivial pursuit which Gerald, with his sweeping knowledge of history, often won. And the man could dance, sweeping Anna across the floor to a waltz, or bouncing to a foxtrot. If Anna got tired, let’s just say Gerald’s dance card was always full, his daughters especially happy to feel the joy of dancing with their dad.
Gerald loved music; listening to it, playing it on his harmonica, or singing rousing renditions of This Land is Your Land with the kids in the car on trips to explore the Canada he loved so much. Banff, Jasper, Waterton and the parks of northern Saskatchewan were all visited, often with the Koch family from Marsden which meant eleven kids in total. Gerald and Anna often travelled back to Holland, and from there all over Europe, courtesy of funds he made selling weanling pigs raised on the small acreage on the edge of Marsden that he bought and loved.
Community was very important to Gerald. His belief in the strength of people working together gave him pride in his work with Sask Wheat Pool and made him a loyal Coop and Credit Union member and board person. He also served on the hospital board and was an active member of the Legion and Knights of Columbus. His community spirit helped establish the regional library in Marsden and he instigated the Marsden dinner theatre. There may have been an ulterior motive for his theatre passion. He loved being centre stage whether playing a theatre role or telling jokes and stories at the café.
One might think that the loss of his mother at five years old, two wars, and the difficulties of being an immigrant might have dampened Gerald’s enthusiasm for life, or his trust in people. Instead, Gerald found the good in everyone he met and believed they would rise to meet his expectations. He could be a judgmental man, but he worked to create room in his heart for patience and tolerance, and he was kind to those in need. He focussed on simple things like the joy of picking saskatoons, and he chose to be curious and fascinated by the world. His daughters were fortunate to learn that the old adage, “Life is what you make it”, is, indeed, true.
Family and faith were the center of Gerald’s life. He went to mass every Sunday, always questioning and thinking deeply about the nature of his faith. He loved his daughters, his grandchildren, and their families.
Mostly, he adored his wife, Anna. She was the center of his life, and he was hers. Watching them grow old together still passionate and always connected was the best part of being their daughters. He and they will be missed.
After a long life, Gerald leaves to mourn his passing: daughters, Diana (Bill) Worman, Joanna Sookocheff, Leona (Don) Yez, Wilma Groenen, Petra Groenen and Anne (David) Lazurko; 17 grandchildren; 19 great grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews in both Canada and Holland.
Gerald was pre-deceased by: Anna, his wife of 70 years; parents; and siblings, Leo, Matt, Pete (Fr. Cletus), Marie and Alda, all of Holland.
A private family service for Gerald will be conducted from St. Charles Roman Catholic Church, Marsden, Saskatchewan.
We invite you to come join us in celebrating with family, friends and community for a Come and Go "Gathering of the Clan" at the cabin at Manitou Lake on July 1, 2023, from 1:30 to 4:00 pm. Those who knew dad, know that his favorite place in all the world was the cabin. It was his pride and joy, his retreat place, and the place where he was happiest. We cannot think of a better place to talk about dad, share memories, perhaps a few tears and lots of laughs.
A Special thank you to the care aides, nurses, recreation and all staff at Dr. Cooke Extended Care for their kindness as they cared for Gerald and the grace they showed as they helped him on.
Donations in memory of Gerald can be made to St. Charles Parish or Dr. Cooke Extended Care.
Gerald's memorial card can be viewed or downloaded from the link below.