Joseph Verdurmen

Joseph Verdurmen

Our family gathered today in room 34 of Hillside Village Care Facility to be with our: father, opa and husband as he took his last peaceful breaths. Our time together allowed us to reflect on the way he had lived and how he has given us all his unconditional love and support to carry on.

Joseph Peter Verdurmen was born on June 15, 1926 just behind a dyke on the Scheldt Estuary between the North Sea and the Port of Antwerp. Joe’s father, Alphonse, was a farmer and draft horse breeder. Joe’s mother, Maria (nee Serrarens), gave birth to 2 more children namely, George and Marieke. She lovingly raised the 3 children on their traditional Flemish farm near the sea.

Joe was a great storyteller and his hometown of Ossenisse and its characters provided most of his material. He described his upbringing as being in an almost medieval society which reluctantly and only very slowly accepted: automobiles, telephones and the modern world. Joe was barely in school when his mother died in childbirth and he was only 10 when his father died of Tuberculosis. Yet, it would be hard to call Joe an “orphan” as the 3 little children were warmly taken in by his Tante Tille and the Boonman family. She raised them like her very own while she, herself, had 9 more children. This then was Joe’s “Dutch” family and the source from which he draws his fondest memories of: skating on canals, playing soccer and the arrival of St. Nicholas on a Steamboat in the village of Rilland-Bath.

The Netherlands were violently invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in May, 1940. Joe was in high school and could have adapted to a risk free existence under the imposed regime but he chose to join the Dutch Resistance instead. The stories he told were unnerving. He described the retrieval of allied airmen and the couriering of stolen Luftwaffe documents. He told us how his heart stopped as his school bag was searched by Gestapo agents on the train. The heavy thumb of the agent went through the pages of the school atlas between which those secret documents were hidden. Joe dodged death early and often in his life. He did not believe he was lucky only that he had had a good guardian angel.

When the Canadians liberated Holland and Joe met the soldiers from afar, he decided to immigrate as soon as possible. He booked his voyage aboard the Liberty Ship Franconia in 1952 and docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Joe travelled colonial class to Bird’s Hill in southern Manitoba where he worked for his farmer sponsor Jack Verbrugge. He experienced his first harsh winter without complaint all the while developing a deep love for his new country and its people.

He worked at the slaughter house for Canada Packers and then spent 10 years in Lynn Lake, Manitoba in the gold and silver mines before going to receive his B.A. and Teaching Degree at the University of Manitoba. In 1961, Joe met his wife, Theresa (nee Van der Zweep) who had also immigrated to Canada with her large Dutch family. The couple was soon married and as Joe moved about Manitoba teaching high school, 3 of their 4 children were born: Marie (1962); Glenn (1964) and Ivan (1966). On a camping trip the natural beauty of BC beckoned the family west. Fully intending on teaching in Victoria, a casual stop at the school board office in Salmon Arm resulted in a position being offered and accepted.

Unconventional by nature, the economy of using an old grain truck to move resulted in a catastrophic mechanical break of the railhead in Moosomin, Saskatchewan. The household boxes were loaded on the train and were offloaded in Salmon Arm – Joe had brought his family home!

The last of Joe and Theresa’s children, Astrid, was born in 1969 and in 1970 the family purchased: bush, barn, house and cherry orchards at 6350 Lakeshore Road. Joe taught French, German and photography for many years at J.L. Jackson and then went on to be a substitute teacher. He made every personal sacrifice for the success of his family. He loved farming though his fences were poor and timing for haying was often wrong. He dabbled and experimented in many things and in many areas where he would have been well served to hire professionals. 

Joe loved people. He was warm to every person and student he met. He always had time to listen. As a photographer, he rarely photographed landscapes as he wanted people in his photos. He always claimed that the most interesting subject was the human face.

Joe became a Canadian citizen quickly and loved his new country. He loved the freedoms we have and the opportunities of the “new land” yet he still had fond memories of Zeeland where he was born. He was very happy to visit his brother and sister, the Boonman family and the Neves. 

Joe was nostalgic by nature and enjoyed roaming the medieval walls of the city of Hulst where Marieke and George lived. He ate patates frites with mayonnaise and apple beignets whenever possible. The past meant a great deal to him.

Joe had a generous and hospitable nature. He loved having guests from Holland and Canada. He brought out wheels of Gouda, shook the prune trees bare and emptied freezers to make sure everyone ate well for that was the Flemish way. He enjoyed all the visits from the Neves, Bookman’s and finally after 50 years the 2 visits by his brother and sister.

Joe lived a quiet life on his farm where he read history books, raised a few beef cattle and waited for the blossoms on his next cherry crop. He loved his wife, Theresa, dearly and they had a good life together. He did not look for perfection and would seek beauty in the simplest of God’s creations. He never gardened in a square but planted daffodils here and there along his paths. 

As a father he was always there for us. No cause for his children was ever hopeless. He stood by us in our darkest and happiest hours. We all remember the Salmon Arm Greyhound bus station because no matter the time or weather of our departure or arrival, there always stood his solitary figure in his parka and hat.

The last years have not been kind to Joe; the forgetting, the anxiety and the confusion. We were devastated as he lost most of the functions of his body and as well as his communication skills; yet people told us that this man had an unusual dignity and poise in spite of it all. Care Aids told us that they had not known Joe before but sense that he was a wise and kind soul. We realize that Joe could not stay longer for our needs and that the time has come to let him wander along his path towards the daffodils.

We remain: 

His wife, Theresa; 

His daughter, Maria (Michael) and granddaughter Patricia; 

His son Glenn, grandson Jack and granddaughter Kate; 

His son Ivan (Martine), granddaughter Dominique and grandson Alexi;

His daughter Astrid (Peter) and granddaughter Hanna; 

His brother George; and

His sister Marieke.

A Memorial Mass was held on Saturday November 7, 2015 at 10:30 am at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church (90- 1st Street SE, Salmon Arm) with Father George LaGrange officiating. A time of fellowship and refreshments followed.

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