DOLORES FRIESEN BLOCK
December 29, 1933 - January 3, 2019
Dolores Friesen Block, passed away quietly and swiftly, on Thursday, January 3rd, 2019, 5 days after her 85th birthday, at the end of 23 years dealing with Parkinson’s disease; the last 7 made more challenging because of dementia.
She is survived by her husband William Block; sons Mark (Wendy) and Merle (Susan); daughters Denise (Thomas J) and Christine; four grandchildren, Reece, Lane, Olivia and Isabelle; one sister, Doreen; one brother John (Katie); brothers-in-law Peter (Mary) and Jim; sister-in law Martha (Leonard); and numerous nieces and nephews.
Dolores was born in Steinbach to Catherine and Henry D. Friesen. She had a happy childhood with numerous cousins to play with, lots of swimming, as well as trips to Kansas to visit more cousins, favourite aunts and uncles. Dolores also enjoyed lawn games in summer and outdoor wiener roasts in the winter, which also provided her exercise. There was no TV to lean on, nor cell-phone gossip.
In her youth Dolores’ joys were skating, music and art. She accompanied and sang in several groups, including choirs, (church and high school), and congregational singing. She was totally involved in living her faith. With her father she sang duets, and was a frequent soloist at events, including the Music Festival. Dolores and Bill began dating in high school, specifically at the outdoor skating rink in town. Arms linked, they made many a counter-clock wise round, facing the wind in every direction. She and Bill were married on August 3, 1956, and within a month moved to Chicago, where Bill began studying for the ministry at Mennonite Biblical Seminary. Dolores put Bill through school, working for an insurance firm in downtown Chicago, commuting to work on the L-train. Their lives were enriched through visits to the famous museums and the Art Institute, Sunday evening concerts downtown in Grant Park, and an occasional swim in nearby Lake Michigan.
The final year of Seminary took them to Elkhart, Indiana. Dolores had harboured a dream to be a pastor’s wife and partner. In those days, that was a noble calling and there were many books written on the subject. After Seminary Graduation they moved to Vancouver to serve in a fairly new congregation. Her dream was realized. They were a team and worked at numerous weddings and funerals, as minister and organist/soloist. On a ‘missions’ salary, they had to learn frugality, but she never let that demoralize her. Those were wonderful years of raising a family and growing.
Dolores also accompanied her husband in home visitations, and did her own kind of counseling. As a kind of hobby she joined a new choir: The Motet Singers, led by John Wiebe who had studied music in Germany. They sang fairly heavy classical church music. Occasionally she did some solo work with that choir as well.
Three children blessed the family during those years on the coast. The wet outdoors were a challenge for a mother with youngsters who needed to play outside. So after 8 years in Vancouver, she was ready to move back to Winnipeg, when a call came to serve at Bethel Mennonite Church. That was in 1967. Dolores would have the kids in the backyard deep in snow, visible from the kitchen window or the sun room, this was a much cleaner playground than Vancouver. A fourth child arrived early in 1968, to complete the family. Then came the real tests, feeding and clothing two boys and two girls, while balancing their homework, music lessons, swimming lessons, children’s choir, etc. This was all in addition to the other tasks she had done earlier such as taking turns on the organ, singing solos, and duets. The latter with the other organist, Jane Friesen, was a kind of highlight, as they sang some classic pieces. She was also active with the Ladies’ groups. And, although hard to believe from this vantage point, she continued to willingly and energetically accompany Bill in home visitations. Her winning smile and gentle personality opened doors which the young serious pastor found very helpful.
But there was more. Her father had suffered a major stroke shortly before she and her family moved to Winnipeg. This meant additional responsibilities to help her mother care for her father. Part of the impetus for moving to Winnipeg, was the concern for aging parents, Bill’s as well. Both fathers died in early 1972, so now they had two widows to keep cheerful. Fortunately there were other siblings to help share that responsibility. And there is more. Any good wife, and perhaps especially a pastor’s wife, has to provide encouragement, and dare I say it, the ‘sanity check’ for the husband. That simply means that she needs to be willing to say: “That is crazy . . . I don’t think you should do that.” Perhaps even edit the odd sermon before it is preached.
Beside this she was the anchor mother, and house-wife: feeding and cleaning for four children and a husband. Bill was left with the easier parts. The writer of the last chapter of Proverbs, in the Old Testament had it straight, or right, when describing a capable wife thus: “She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her . . . she does him good . . . all the days of her life.” There is much more in that chapter that fits.
In the mid-1970s Dolores’ husband was dealing with a kind of restlessness, some called it the ‘mid-life crisis’. To make a long story short, Dolores willingly joined Bill in moving to India for three years, where he was to serve as chaplain in a Christian International School. This meant shutting down a going operation and packing up four school children who were in grades 3 to 12; in spite of fear of snakes and scorpions. Some friends wondered about the sanity of the couple.
It was a great experience at a wonderful institution with students from 36 countries and staff from about 8 more or so. Dolores remained the mother of 4 school children, with all that entailed. Since she had not been officially hired, she volunteered in the High School office as secretary to the academic principal. She and husband were responsible for a weekly children’s worship, and when the High School choir (sometimes combined with staff) put on major productions she would sometimes lead sectional rehearsals for women’s voices. Dolores also played host many Sunday evenings when the Christian youth group would gather in there living room. She would often entertain parents of students who came from far away to visit their children at the boarding school. Word got out that she was something of a barber, (she had learned this on her nervous husbands’ head, in the Chicago days when haircuts cost 75 or more cents) and some of the high school boys would come to get their hair styled. This is only a small slice of this marvelous woman’s gifts to humankind.
This too had to come to an end, and so 1979 found her toting her family back to Canada and pastoral work in Morden. Again she took the role of the pastor’s wife. By now society was changing its views, and there were wives of pastors who said they did not fit with the old model. In this town church the signal was conveyed that the pastor’s wife should not take a job in town. So all the old responsibilities appeared, except now the children were in middle or high school, and suffering some culture shock. Tears, heartaches and worries of a new kind arose. Her children were being watched by the neighbours and other community people. This meant she also had to take on being a role model for those watching. To get some relief from all this, Dolores took some correspondence courses and joined a couple of choirs including a women’s chorus in town and the Southern Manitoba Choral Society. They sang serious music and performed in various communities. Again Dolores also did some solo performing.
In 1985, the couple moved back to Winnipeg where Bill had a position with Mennonite Church Canada. Dolores worked as secretary at Booth College for a number of years and then kind of “retired”. In support of Bill in his new position, Dolores put on an annual dinner for his co-workers at the Conference Ministers of the Area Conferences. Entertaining and hospitality was her gift to many friends and some strangers, as long as she was able. In the late 80s, she and her husband were part of a group of seven commissioned by Bethel Mennonite to begin a new congregation near to downtown. Thus, Hope Mennonite was born. Dolores was the musical anchor in those early years. Once the nest was empty, and outside employment was finished, it opened the door for some art courses, specifically with the Calligraphy Guild. What a joy that was, and again she took to it with great interest.
In 1995 Dolores was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Thus began a long trek of appointments, exercises, pills and a slow deterioration. She accepted this with calm grace, and steadfast faith; but it was not kind to her. The last 6 plus years were spent in nursing homes. We want to express our thanks and appreciation for the kind care she received from the wonderful Health Care Aides and Nurses at Tuxedo Villa.
A wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, and friend who was humble, gentle, quiet, generous in love, had deep faith in God, and was altogether an amazing woman, has “finished the course”. We who knew and loved her, will miss, and remember her with gratitude.
A funeral service will be held at 2pm, January 10, 2019 in the Bethel Mennonite Church located at 465 Stafford Street.
In lieu of flowers, friends who want to honour her may send a donation to Mennonite Central Committee or to Parkinson's Canada.
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