Hans John Eckert (Dad) was born in March 1932 in Lindenau, Ukraine. His actual birth date is unknown as his mother was unable to register the birth, being a single mother in a tumultuous time in history. His father died within a year of his birth and his mother never remarried. Given that he was raised without a role model for fatherhood, I think it is remarkable that he became the father he was to us kids. As a very involved father, we never doubted his love, always felt safe around him while he raised us with a firm hand and his own brand of humour (cue the eye rolling and groaning).
He wrote about the first two decades of his life in a book that is treasured by his children and grandchildren. It is a story of hardship: dire poverty, tragedy and lots of fearful, anxious times as his family trekked across Europe in their attempt to immigrate to Canada. When we asked him why his early life experiences didn’t seem to take an emotional and mental toll, he would say that he always knew he was loved and that was all he needed.
Once in Canada he attended and graduated from high school as an adult student. He went on to obtain his Bachelor of Theology at the Mennonite Brethren Bible College, following that up the following year with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Western Ontario (Waterloo College). Upon returning to St. Catharines, he began his teaching career as a high school history teacher.
In 1961 he married Viola Durksen who lived one street over in St. Catharines. We children were privileged to witness what we experienced as a true love story. While raising their children . . . daughter Shannon Peters (Howie), daughter Marsha MacLean (John), son Matthew Eckert (Janice), and daughter Merelee Janzen (Karl) . . . Dad continued his education at the University of New York (Buffalo College) with a Master of Arts followed by a start on a doctoral degree. After one of his children made a comment about his regular absences from home, he decided to withdraw from his studies to be a more involved father. We have wonderful memories of extended camping trips across Canada and to the US. Dad seemed to never tire of building bon fires in the evenings and we spent much time singing as a family both around the fire and as we travelled in our station wagon. Add to that family bike rides across St. Catharines, tobogganing on Fireman’s Hill, weekly family game nights, backyard barbecues, late nights watching Dad shovel motorists out of snow drifts on Trelawne Dr. . . . our family life was rich and full!
Dad had an ability to juggle many things at a time. While continuing as a high school teacher, he became an ordained lay minister, was instrumental in two church plants due to expanding memberships, chaired the building committee for Grantham Mennonite Brethren Church, and was conference moderator for the Mennonite Brethren churches of Ontario for a time. During our growing up years he became a high school vice principal, eventually retiring to a new career as senior pastor of Fairview Louth MB. That was followed by a part time job as a German speaking tour guide in the Niagara region which he continued to do until 2020.
Dad was a hard man to keep up with. He walked fast, acted fast and ate fast. He loved to cook and was partial to recipes that celebrated his Mennonite/German heritage.
His passion for history was fed through numerous travels with mom around the world. [Quote from mom: I like to be his social accessory.]
Besides being a voracious reader, he never missed the daily news on TV and via the St. Catharines Standard. He loved to discuss politics and religion and often expressed his unending gratitude for Canada.
As a grandfather, he left an indelible mark on his grandchildren: Darren Peters (Amy), Colin Peters (Mandy), Emmalyne Sullivan (Ryan), Mark Robinson (Christina), Manley Robinson, Taylor Eckert (Stephanie), Madison Eckert, Joshua Janzen, Megan Janzen. Each one was special to him in their own unique way, and he was always happy to lend a listening ear and advice as they progressed toward adulthood. It seemed that disappointing Grandpa was more of a deterrent from errant behaviour than disappointing their parents! Annual trips with the whole gang to Fantasy Island were much anticipated. Playing card games with Grandpa and Grandma was always a highlight and many life lessons were learned from the ups and downs of winning or losing a game.
Dad was also a very proud Great Grandpa to Kieran and Declan Peters, Elliot, Rowan and McKinley Peters, Jonathan, Lucille, Sadie and Leona Eckert, Allie Sullivan and Josephine Robinson. Pictures and videos of these little people brought him much joy over the last few months as he moved from hospital to hospital with a final brief stay at Tabor Manor long term care.
Dad's faith, while a steadying thread throughout his life, also inspired a constant searching of his own heart for guile and opportunities for growth. It was not without personal struggle that he considered changes in areas of his beliefs, learning to hold dogma loosely with a heart that desired to understand and love people. It is one of the things I personally admired most about Dad.
Dad, you have enriched our lives immeasurably and left us with a wonderful legacy of faithfulness, hard work, an open mind sprinkled with humour that helped us to not take ourselves too seriously. I think we as a family resonate strongly with Mom's final words to you on the day before you died: "Don't go. You belong to me."
We love you, Dad.
Visitation will be held at Southridge Community Church, 201 Glenridge Ave, St. Catharines, ON L2T 3J6 on Friday, March 3rd from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, March 4th at 10:00 a.m.
The funeral service will follow at 11:00 a.m. at Southridge Community Church. For those wishing to view the livestream please click this link - Livestream - Hans Eckert
Memorial donations may be made to either: Camp Crossroads or OMS Canada - Disaster Relief Ukraine