May 1, 1923 – January 28, 2018
Good morning. My name is Jason Shkopich. I am Olga Shkopich’s eldest grandson. I would like to thank Uncle Roy, Auntie Mary and my dad Peter for asking me to say a few words today regarding my grandmother. It is an honour.
When I was first asked to speak about my grandmother, Baba, as the grandsons called her, hundreds of memories flooded my thoughts. All of the grandsons can easily transport back to being a ten year old boy attending Lakeview School, racing across the playground for lunch at Baba’s. I do not think there was ever anything she cooked that I did not like. For anyone who thinks they are a good cook, I hate to break it to you, but you are not in the same league as our Baba.
Her garden was of great importance and included potatoes, many vegetables, berries, flowers as well as cabbage. She spent many hours tending to it. I found it funny when I was young that Baba and Grandpa had separate gardens. They could not agree on how to tend one garden so they grew separate ones. Competitive spirit or stubborn, not sure; possibly both?
Then of course there is Baba’s distinct personality. One of the first things that comes to mind is that she definitely was not scared to share her opinion with you. I am sure there are a few people in this room, including myself, who have had that pleasure. I think as she got older her “filter” may have deteriorated a little, but that was who she was and we loved her for it.
In preparation for today, after reminiscing and hearing dozens of stories, I tried to collect my thoughts. I tried to develop a “theme”. What was that single word that could embody Baba? I found it to be strength. The first thought that comes to mind when one thinks of the word strength is physical strength. In the case of Baba, it would probably not be the first thing that comes to mind given her stature, but one is reminded that dynamite comes in small packages, and I think that phrase embodies Baba perfectly.
I am not sure where her physical strength and determination came from. Maybe it was the time and circumstance, or was it the experience of her life when she immigrated to Canada? Uncle Roy, Auntie Mary and Dad often tell stories of her days on the farm. She would be milking cows, tending to pigs, turkeys, chickens and her garden. She sold potatoes in the fall. She cooked meals for the many farm hands on the farm through the summer. All of this with three young children. Somewhere in there she ran a grain binder and taught herself to drive a standard truck. She was fearless and would try anything. Baba was determined and continued gardening this past year at the age of 94 while still living on her own. That is real strength and determination! Strength is not only a physical attribute, but it can also be viewed to describe Baba’s personality, specifically her mental strength and fortitude, resilience and spirit.
Baba was born in Belarus (White Russia) on May 1, 1923. She immigrated to Canada in 1933 with her mother, Olga, sister, Luba and brother, Alexander. Her father, John Dikowicki, had already been in Canada for seven years, working and saving money to bring his family to Canada. She mentioned to me on several occasions that she actually really did not even remember her father until she got to Canada, as she was three years old when he left Europe.
I cannot imagine traveling in 1933. Landing in Canada after one month on a boat, then taking a train for seven days to Meadow Lake, then a wagon ride to their small home in the Meadow River District. Meadow River of 1933 was bit different from today and dramatically different from what Baba had experienced in Europe. They lived in a one room granary with a dirt floor during their first year at Meadow River. She didn’t speak the English language and the environment was harsh with cold, difficult winters. There were many significant sacrifices and experiences for a young immigrant girl. This developed mental toughness in Baba. One can be certain that these early experiences contributed to her personal and family success later in life, but I am sure this mental toughness was also a blessing during troubling times as it gave her the ability to navigate her family through trying situations. In saying this I cannot help, but think about her losing her young son George in 1966.
Baba definitely had physical strength, a rather physical toughness as well as determination. She also had a strong mind and was resilient. What I feel was most important for Baba was not what she embodied, but what she valued most, her family, as well as strength of the family and friends.
I never knew Baba to really fret over material things. As long as everyone was healthy and happy, I really believe she felt she was the wealthiest person in the world; probably because she knew how tough things might really be. Family was most important and it provided her with that strength. I rarely recall arriving at Baba’s where people were not coming or going. Always coffee on and you always had to have something to eat before you left. She was always there for her neighbours and her family, until she couldn’t be.
In Baba’s last year, everyone was there for her. Neighbours watched out for her, each lent a helping hand when they could. I talked to my parents just about every day and Mr. Gray and Mrs. Brown often came up in the conversation. Her three children did everything they could to ensure Baba could live in her own home, exactly as she wished. Baba’s example and contribution throughout her years was eagerly paid back by all who could help. Many of us wished we could have done more, but I am sure she would have told us to mind our own business, she would handle things on her own, then would have asked us in for a cup of coffee and visit and offer us something to eat.
With that thought, I would like to share with everyone my initial memory that comes to mind when I think of Baba. It is not the occasional dollar she would give me to buy candy at Eastside Confectionery. It was not the $50 I would get on report card day. It was not the gigantic hug and kiss I would get every time I dropped in to visit and how she said she would say she was so happy to see me, making me feel I was the most important person in the world. The memory that comes to mind when I think of Baba is the collection of family dinners at her house. Not any specific dinner or holiday. I could not give you any specifics, whether it was Christmas Eve, Easter or a birthday. I could not tell you what we had for dinner, what the topic of conversation was or what joke Uncle Roy told his nephews at the table. What I can tell you is that despite being jammed around that small oval, tan coloured table Baba’s tiny kitchen, seated elbow to elbow, those dinners were absolutely amazing. They were full of laughter and happiness. Even today, as an adult, many years removed from my home in Meadow Lake, I still long for those get togethers. They meant so much to me!
This message is to you Baba. I know you are listening. Your strength of mind and body is admired by all. The value you have put on family and friends is something which we have all witnessed. Now I have my own family, and when we gather around the dinner table, you are not far from my thoughts because of the examples you have set. We will all love you and miss you always.
Card of Thanks
The family of Olga Shkopich would like to thank her neighbours and friends for the visits and help during the last years. Many thanks to J.E. Thomas Funeral Home & Crematorium for their help and thoughtfulness, Diane Gagnon for the lovely service and UCW for serving the lunch. A big thank you to all who phoned, sent flowers and cards. Your support and compassion was greatly appreciated during our great loss. A huge thank you to Jason Shkopich for the lovely eulogy and Marvel Blachford and Janet Caldwell for being part of the service.
Mom touched many lives and she will be deeply missed.
Mary Berezowski, Peter & Roy Shkopich and families