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Gerhard Klassen – a legacy of love and generosity

He was the elderly gentleman with a big smile behind his stand at the Market at the Village, Gerhard Klassen's table was always loaded with fresh produce and quarts of pure grape juice that he and his wife had canned from their own grapes. Proceeds from the grape juice went directly to several local charities they supported over the years.

It was later than usual to take my dog for a walk one August night but cooler temperatures drew me out to enjoy the cricket choir and star studded skies. It was almost 11 p.m. when we were halfway down Wall Road, ready to turn back, when I spied a curiosity. It appeared to be a bike light bobbing about erratically at the side of the road far ahead.

Intrigued, we made our way down the darkened road and saw it was something in the front yard of the little farm house belonging to Opa and Oma Klassen — Gerhard Klassen was outside, wearing a contraption like a miner’s cap.

“Nah, Opa, wie geht’s?” I asked.  He laughed when he recognized me.

“I’m chust getting to my garden now,” he sighed. “My wife is not doing so well these days. This is the only time I can get my outside work done!”

He straightened slowly. “It’s so peaceful at night, and cooler too.”

He gave me an update on his garden and we talked a little about what he was taking to the farm market at the Village the coming Saturday.

“You want some zucchini? Come, let me get one for you, fresh!”

Despite my protests he shuffled off down the driveway and returned with a zucchini as long as my arm. I gratefully accepted, thinking it could come in handy to fend off any coyotes on the walk home at that hour. Later that week it was transformed into eight loaves of zucchini bread, fragrant with fresh nutmeg given to me from Mr. Klassen’s Jamaican neighbours across the street.

Little gifts that keep on giving, exponentially.

Many locals will remember Gerhard Klassen as the elderly gentleman with the big smile behind his stand at the Market at the Village. His table was always loaded with fresh produce and quarts of pure grape juice that he and his wife had canned from their own grapes. Proceeds from the grape juice went directly to a number of local charities they supported over the years.

“We have enough. We just want to share the blessings,” he said.

He and his wife had lived on Wall Road for almost 50 years, since they moved here from Paraguay. After retiring he loved nothing better than to get his hands deep in the rich earth and tend to his flower and vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Making jam and grape juice to be sold at the market or shared with neighbours was a close second. He had the last damson plum tree in the neighbourhood and there are several precious jars of his “kretel” plum jam tucked away in my pantry.

Loving his neighbours was evident in how he lived his daily life – open-hearted, open-handed, ready to give an encouraging word and a jar of pickles.

After his wife Renate developed health concerns they made the decision to move into Pleasant Manor. In the following years the new owners of the little farmhouse became the beneficiaries of his gardening knowledge, welcoming him back to use a portion of the land to harvest rhubarb and grow his favourite vegetables. The past two years he became a familiar face at the home of his grandson Jon Postman and his wife Gillian, a few doors down on Wall Road, who have been carrying on the tradition of an open heart and open home. He loved being part of their growing family, working in the garden surrounded by ducks and chickens and having the space for new projects.

Late in February I braved a cold snap for our daily walk down Wall Road. A solitary figure was hunched over against the wind in Jon’s driveway. It was Gerhard, all bundled up, putting the finishing touches on a homemade plywood trailer.

“Wie geht’s? Nah Opa, it’s so cold your fingers must be frozen!” I say.

He straightens slowly, a huge grin on his face. “I’m chust finishing my new project! What do you think? I’m going to work with young men (in rehab) this summer, teach them how to grow their own food!”

He opened the door revealing the custom shelves he had built to accommodate specific tools and equipment. He was bubbling with enthusiasm in anticipation of new friendships.

At 85 years of age he continued to live out Jesus’ command to love God and love his neighbours whole-heartedly. He lived simply, that others might simply live, a rare commodity in our consumer-driven society.

He passed away unexpectedly on May 29. His big smile will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved him in this little corner of Niagara-on-the-Lake. May we carry on with the loving kindness, generosity and joy he exemplified.

Interment will be on Saturday, June 15 at 9:30 a.m. at Lakeshore Cemetery. A Celebration of Life will follow at 11 a.m. at Northend Church, 455 Geneva Street, St. Catharines,