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Margaret Bernice (Labach) Friesen


Margaret Bernice (Labach) Friesen

Margaret FriesenMy mother, Margaret Friesen, was born Martha Labach on the family farm 7 miles south of Blaine Lake, on July 22, 1925.  Her parents were Peter and Anna Labach. She was fourth of five children in the family; her sisters were Mary, Dora, and Helen, and her brother was Alec.  The family was Ukrainian, and Ukrainian was therefore her first language.  She would learn English later in public school.  After finishing her grade 12 in Blaine Lake, she went to Normal School in Saskatoon to become a schoolteacher.  Her teaching career began in 1944, and over the next 13 years taught at the following traditional one-room schools:


Three Creeks School, near Shellbrook,

Rothermore School, near Spiritwood,

A school near Rabbit Lake, the name of which we do not know,

Aldina School, at Martens Lake near Marcelin,

Greystone School, her home school, at Blaine Lake,

Pike Lake School, southwest of Saskatoon.


She could not finish her last year at Pike Lake as she had a ruptured appendix, and nearly died at the time.  She stayed with her mother for a year to recover from the operation, then she moved to Rosthern in the fall of 1958 and taught Grade One at Rosthern Elementary School for four years.  She finished her teaching career in 1962.  She enjoyed teaching her Grade Ones and in later years she would talk with great affection about her students, usually by name.

Mom married Dad, Jim Friesen, on July 16th 1960, and they lived on their farm 3 miles east of Rosthern.  They had two children, Russell born in 1964 and Bernice born in 1966.  Mom and Dad did quite a bit of traveling, in early years with the children and later without, to the east and west coasts, twice to Yellowstone, to Hudson Bay, to the Northwest Territories, and to California and Arizona, as well as many shorter trips around the province.  Mom's daughter Bernice married Colin Boyd in 1995 and Mom's grandchildren, Alexander and Josephine, were born in 2001 and 2004 respectively.

Mom enjoyed gardening, and our yard had lots of flowering plants.  She loved fresh vegetables from her garden, but took special pride in her tomatoes.  Our house was also full of plants, and our upstairs living room was transformed into a virtual jungle by all of them.  Favorites of hers were African Violets, Amaryllis, a poinsettia that grew to fill half the room, and a hibiscus.  No one could get a Christmas Cactus to bloom the way she did.  There was also a palm tree that threatened to grow through the ceiling and had to be donated to the Station Arts Centre.

One of mom's favorite sayings was, "My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy!"  She loved caring for her family and we were very well taken care of.  For many years, she did our laundry with two old roller type washing machines in our basement, and in summer, laundry was dried on clotheslines outside.  She loved the way the sheets smelled after being dried in the prairie wind.  Mom was a very good cook and baker.  Family favorites were Denver Chocolate Pudding, oatmeal brownies, Saskatoon berry pie, waffles with custard sauce, "cheezies" (which were simply a cheddar-filled pastry made with pie crust and baked in the oven), Ukrainian Easter bread, but especially butterhorns, which were like small croissants but made with bread dough saturated with lots of butter.  I once said that I ate them like candy, but it would be more accurate to say that I inhaled them like oxygen!

Mom liked to crochet, knit and do needlework, and also collected crochet and cookbooks. She loved books and reading in general.  It might be said that she accumulated books and women's magazines on the vacuum cleaner principle!  On our shopping trips to Saskatoon, we always had to stop at Westgate Books (when they were still in Westgate) and rarely left empty-handed.  We were once taking a load of refuse to the local landfill and we found that someone had thrown out several boxes of books.  Well, Mom was aghast!  "Why would anyone throw away books?" she said.  "A book is a friend!"  And we loaded all those books up and took them home.  However, when we got them home and looked them over, we learned that not all of those books could be called friends!  After she moved to the nursing home, we donated many of her cookbooks to the Salvation Army, and there were so many that they had to hold a special sale to clear them all out!  Mom's love of reading and women's arts will be commemorated in the donation of nearly 500 of her women's magazines dating from 1909 to 1941 to the University of Saskatchewan library, a series which will be permanently housed in a collection to be called the Margaret Friesen - Labach Collection of Early 20th Century Women's Magazines.  The University intends to issue a news release and hold a reception in her honor.  The University librarian described the collection as unprecedented, and said it was the most significant donation she had ever received, as many of these magazines no longer exist anywhere else.

Mom liked animals.  When Mom married Dad, she came with a black cat named Old Timer. Later we had a sheltie dog named Lassie.  There was also a budgie, a couple of turtles, and various strange creatures that her children brought in from the yard.  We had poultry for some years also, and some of them turned into pets.  One year we took some eggs from our own chickens and hatched our own chicks.  When Mom told stories of growing up on the farm from her youth, most of the stories involved animal antics.  One of her favorite stories was when her parents needed a few more cats on their farm.  They mentioned to her brother-in-law Bill that they needed cats, who replied, "You want cats?  I'll get you cats!  I got lots of cats on my farm!"  Bill gets in his truck, drives back to his farm a few miles away, finds a large cardboard box, rounds up several cats, puts them in the box and closes up the box.  He then puts the box in the back of his truck, drives back to Mom's parents' farm, pulls up to the barn, gets out and climbs in back to hand the box of cats over to Grandpa.  Now after being sealed in a box and driven in the back of an old truck over country dirt roads, you can imagine the state of mind of these cats, and all the commotion has attracted the attention of their terrier dog, Blacky, who was running around at Grandpa's feet, trying to sort out all the strange noises coming from the box.  Bill hands the box over to Grandpa, and just as he is doing so, the bottom gives way, and all these cats fall right on top of the dog!  Well, a few barks and these cats are gone all different directions, not to be seen again for the rest of the day.

We had animal stories of our own, too.  Late in the fall one year in the late seventies, Dad was hauling grain into Rosthern.  This took many repeated trips, all week long, and Dad kept noticing that there was a Leghorn rooster that seemed to be hanging around by the neighbor's driveway across the highway, north of our driveway.  Dad stopped to have a look, but the rooster would run into the culvert under the driveway and hide when Dad approached.  As none of our neighbors had poultry, and we had no roosters at the time; just laying hens, we concluded that it must have escaped from a truck taking chickens to slaughter, and that it was living in the culvert.  Since winter was getting close, and if a fox didn't get it the cold weather would, we decided that we would catch the rooster and put it in with our hens.  So that Friday the four of us gathered up a long aluminum stick, a flashlight and a burlap sack, and after dark got in our '54 Mercury grain truck and drove up our road up to the highway.  The plan was that Mom and Dad would go to the west end of the culvert and use the aluminum stick to cause the rooster to run out of the east end of the culvert, into the burlap sack that Bernice and I were holding on the other end.  With the flashlight, we saw that the rooster was in there, but despite all the noise and probing that Dad was doing with the stick, it wasn't coming out.  I put the sack down slightly and saw some tail feathers sticking out from my end of the culvert, so I grabbed its tail.  The rooster lets out a big squawk and takes off back into the culvert, and all I'm left with are tail feathers.  Blinded by the flashlight, the rooster bolts towards the west end of the culvert, where Dad can see him coming, and as he runs out the culvert, Dad grabs him.  Now I've heard chickens squawk before, but I've never heard one make the ruckus that this one made!  As fast as we could, we grabbed our stuff and ran for the truck, the rooster screaming all the way!  In the truck, we stuffed him in the sack, and he stopped his commotion.  We drove home, took him into the chicken barn and released him there.  Next day we saw him out with our hens in the chicken yard, happy as a lark, cock of the flock, and he never did try to escape!

Mom's parents were Baptists, and she attended various churches, wherever she taught at different schools.  After marrying Dad they attended the New Jerusalem Church in Rosthern.

Mom passed away June 28th 2008 at approximately 10 A.M.  She was predeceased by her parents, Peter and Anna Labach, brother Alec Labatch, sister Mary Buzowetsky and husband Nick, and brother-in-law Bill Serhienko.  She leaves to mourn, husband Jim, son Russell, daughter Bernice and husband Colin Boyd, grandchildren Alexander and Josephine Boyd, sisters Dora Serhienko and Helen Seneshen and husband Walter, sister-in-law Sally Labatch, and many nephews and nieces.

In closing, I will read a tribute poem, written some time ago by the late Mrs. Linda Riekman of Rosthern, whose daughter Edith was one of Mom's Grade One students before Mom and Dad got married.


To Miss Labach our greetings go,

For by the youngsters she's much admired.

With all the students she's really busy.

But quoting Edith, "She never gets tired."

Yet she buckles boots and looks for mitts,

She ties what seems three dozen caps.

She vows the winter she'll not miss

When they will shed their endless wraps.


She lovingly pats the arm or knee

To ease away the pain and hurt.

When too much play has caused a rip

She even pins the hem of a skirt.

If messy chalk or grubby hands

Upon her dress some glue do spatter,

She understands, "They're only six,"

And tells herself it doesn't matter.


She manages to find the time

To read a book or nursery rhyme.

They color, print and even read

What one could call the normal speed.

Though no one gives her a golden medal,

She deserves at least a hearty cheer.

For Edith considered the thought of failing

To have her as teacher another year!