Cover photo for Donald Friesen's Obituary
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Donald Friesen

August 11, 1932 — October 31, 2023

Altona, MB

Donald Friesen

Donald Harvey Friesen was born on August 11, 1932 and died on October 31, 2023. A farmer to the end, he made it through harvest.

Don was born the only child of Dave and Katherine “Toots” Friesen at a time when single child households were exceedingly rare. Despite this, he did not grow up to become an unbearable narcissist but a man of generous spirit; a testament to his parents, no doubt, who were beloved by all. 

Which isn’t to say that Don did not misbehave. As a child attending a one room school in Weidenfeld, Don was once admonished by his teacher for speaking out of turn in class. To better make his point, the teacher slammed a book into the side of young Don’s head, ultimately giving him a quiet ringing sound in his ear that would last the rest of his life. While we do not know who this teacher was, we take comfort knowing that he died many years ago.  

While skating someplace in the early 1950s, Don met Helen Giesbrecht of the Giesbrecht family, the second oldest of four Giesbrecht sisters (and one brother), who were basically running the show in local baseball at that time. Helen was a slick-fielding third baseman, bringing a steady hand to what Don might have likened as “the hot corner”. With ringing still in his ears and romantic pursuit on his mind, Don called his shot and rose to the occasion, later claiming that he “got the best one” of the Giesbrecht girls. And while Helen made no such claims of Don, she did in fact get the best Friesen boy, mathematically speaking. 

Don and Helen married in 1955 and later built a home next to the family farm where they lived for many years, raising their two children, Jeri and Jodi, along the way. Adding a second story in the 70s to what had earlier been a bungalow, the house was naturally 50s vibe on the main floor, 60s in the basement, 70s upstairs, and classy throughout. We should now take a moment to note that, while it is the prerogative of new owners to renovate and redesign as they see fit, no changes need further occur on the second floor of this particular house; just leave that floor alone, Fuchsmeiers. 

Once Don’s father retired from farming, Don ran the grain farm with son Jeri and son-in-law Darrell under the name, DJD Farms. While no longer in operation following the retirements of all involved, the name still rings out today, at least among relations who share those same initials. 

Contrary to popular depiction, farming isn’t all fresh air and natural exercise, unfortunately, and farmers aren’t in fact their own bosses, answering instead to whatever malevolent deity might be controlling the weather on a given day. During these less idyllic periods, when equipment might malfunction or the weather had turned disadvantageous, Don would often turn to his 2-way radio for comfort, making sharply tongued appeals to either God or the Ether in earshot of any (all) family members who also had radios installed in, say, their homes and cars. Younger family members and their guests were thus educated in a newly expansive vocabulary that would always now be available for their access, too. 

More often than not, all was not lost, however, and Helen always remained a patient, steadying presence for Don. Whether checking the fields or on a family trip or via their surprising later-in-life gig transporting cars at low cost for Rhineland Car, they both loved to drive and would take turns doing so. Why did they need to try every car on the lot when they drove the same Lincoln for 30 years? It was between the two of them. They were simply driven to drive. 

It should also be noted at this point that Don recently described himself and Helen as “party people”. Make of that what we will, this description has not been disputed. And on that note, whether out of a love of athletics or befitting their “party people” status, Don and Helen both partook in the most partying sport of all: curling. They curled competitively for many years on separate men’s and women’s teams and together in mixed bonspiels, particularly in Grafton ND, a bonspiel they never missed. 

In 1972, Canadian Orest Meleschuk defeated American Bob Labonte in the finals of the World Curling Championships in a game that became known for establishing the infamous “Curse of Labonte”. While the details of that particular game are well-trodden and can be researched elsewhere, it is less known that, just a few years later, in the mid-1970s, Don defeated both skips in different bonspiels in the same year. The debate is thus settled: between Meleschuk - officially recorded in history books as the ’72 winner - and Labonte - who by most accounts had victory in his grasp before inadvertently kicking Meleschuk’s final stone before it came to rest - we know the real champ. It was Don Friesen. 

To his own surprise, Don later took up golf when he was 60, joining Helen who had started a decade earlier. Though he would simply never be as talented or accomplished as Helen with her steady and repeatable drives down the middle of every fairway, he came to enjoy the “sport” nonetheless, finding idyllic pleasure going to the club for breakfast in the summer mornings, golfing more holes than one would think necessary with friends during the day, then enjoying cold beverages back in the clubhouse post-game before returning home for dinner. He also became obsessed by a decades long quest to find the elusive perfect golf ball - one that would submit unceasingly to his will and his drive… something he would fail utterly to accomplish. 

At age 68, Don retired, leaving the farm life he’d always known for a new home in Altona. The nonstop stress of farming was thereafter replaced by the more infrequent stress of part time farming. These would in turn become the “golden years” and, with winters spent in the south of Texas, a new mode of greater relaxation found, children and grandchildren who loved him, and good health maintained until nearly the very end (for reasons partly of embarrassment, we will decline to report the number of daily push-ups he did well into his 80s), the years were very golden indeed, symbolized perhaps by his omnipresent gold chain. 

It's been said that more than anything in life, Don loved his kids and his grandkids and, more than that, he loved sandwiches. Here are some other things Don loved: 

-Cars 

-Driving 

-Driving cars 

-Driving cars fast 

-Driving cars fast with soft music (Elton John, Rod Stewart for whatever reason) playing LOUDLY 

-Action movies, particularly ones featuring cars  

-Auto Trader magazine 

-Also: bolo ties, hot coffee, scotch, and room temperature martinis (appalling, this last one) 

-And, of course, CNN 

Here were some of Don’s dislikes: 

-Lowering a car’s radio volume or A/C fan before shutting off its engine 

-Thrown stones that initially look like clear misses out of the hand (Don: “Never”) 

-A driver on the news about 30 years ago who had overturned his truck on a highway,  

unleashing an enormous swarm of bees that he had been carrying 

-And CNN, of course 

Also, dementia. When Helen’s health began declining due to Alzheimer’s disease in her 80s, roles suddenly reversed and Don became the steadying presence in her life. While Helen’s memory has deteriorated, her wit has not and Don withstood a daily roast at his expense with enduring grace and charm. At the end of every visit to her care home, Don would dote on Helen, saying “I love you, I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

And now… no tomorrow. While issue cannot be taken with the duration of Don’s long and most fortunate life, it must be said that he always had a vibrant presence and was of good humour and health (without being annoying about it). As a man who loved life and living, he died 91 years old and 100 years too soon. Thus, we find ourselves making our own private complaints into the 2-way radios of our minds. 

Goddamn it. 

Don is survived by his wife Helen, children Jeri (Wendy) and Jodi (Jim), grandchildren Terri (Dylan), Jason (Jessica), Daina (Dan), Lonnie, Carli and Morgan, great-grandchild Daisy, and voluntary nurse/granddaughter Ana. He was predeceased by parents David and Katherine. 

As a final note, we want to extend appreciation to the nurses at Boundary Trails and the Altona Hospital who did so much and worked so hard in Don’s last weeks and months. Don expressed repeatedly how much he appreciated their dedication and care. In particular, a special shout-out to a certain Ukrainian nurse at Boundary Trails. She inspired an additional lease on life. 

 
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