Tuesday, April 17, 2007


As written and read by Ken Franz:

Herman James Franz was born March 19, 1947, in Filadelfia, Chaco, Paraguay, the 2nd of 6 children to Jacob and Helen Franz - missionaries working with the nomadic Chulupii Indian tribes. He was predeceased by his father in 1978.

Jim spent the first years of his life, in a frontier type setting, completing his elementary school education at the local German Mennonite Colony School.

Early on he was a helper; “was can ich helfen”, “what can I help with” he would often say to Mom. He helped with the care of his younger siblings, he helped remove weeds and grass around the house so that snakes could be seen and avoided. When the Chulupii hospital was being built he wanted to help with the mud bricks. He was given permission after promising to carry only one brick at a time.

Jim always enjoyed spending time with the Indians, eating the beans they would cook in their big black cauldrons on an open fire. Their carefree spirit and love for nature probably attracted and influenced him considerably. He was thrilled when they made him his very own slingshot, and would meticulously roll clay marbles and dry them in the sun, just like the Indians did. He loved to target practice and, in time, also brought home a few pigeons for his mother to cook.

At the age of 13, Jim’s spiritual formation was also well underway. One evening after a special Church service his parents were already in the Jeep preparing to leave when they noticed Jim was not with them. They found him kneeling at the front of the church, praying with someone. He was never vocal about his faith and often appeared uncomfortable with religious ritual and form. Yet, he always acknowledged faith in God.

Early on he also demonstrated a keen ability to evaluate critically. Once, after Sunday school he told Dad about what he had learned. He had heard this fantastic story about a man who rode right up into heaven in a blazing chariot pulled by magnificent horses. Then he paused and said, “aber erzaehlen can man so was”, “but you can tell such stories in Sunday school, right?” Dad later lamented to Mom that the teacher had failed in placing too much emphasis on the chariot and horses rather than God’s care for Elijah.

On still another occasion, in his teenage years, he saw the young people doing something called “Bunsching”. They would form a circle and, as couples, skip around to music. He said to his father, "Shau mal Papa, Mennonitisher Tance”, “Look Dad, Mennonite dancing.” Of course he knew that dancing was not allowed among Mennonites at that time, but he had caught the religious loop-hole. As a teen he was quite a mature and critical thinker, often preferring to spend time at home with his family or just reading a good book.

At age 15, his family was transferred to Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay. Jim shared a room with his two much younger brothers. He taught them how to build and fly kites. Just as he had taught them to catch fire-flies in the Chaco, they now graduated to capturing big hairy tarantulas. They would scoop these spiders into canning jars with punctured metal lids, and keep them under their beds…that is, until Mom found out!!

In Asuncion he attended ACA – an English Missionary School. Since the students were largely American, we all had to pledge allegiance to the USA Monday to Thursday and only sang Oh Canada on Fridays (when many of the Americans would not sing). It was here that Jim developed distaste for patriotism and politics. He was never very patriotic or ethnocentric, but he was loyal. In school when Eleanor got into trouble Jim stuck up for her – she really appreciated that loyalty.

Jim completed Junior High in Asuncion and he knew that, like his older sister and other missionary kids, he would also be returning to Canada to complete his High School education. It was very hard leaving his family at the age of 16, yet he never complained.

He completed grade 10-13 at the Mennonite Educational Institute in Abbotsford and lived with his Uncle Johnny and Aunt Anne Friesen for all but one of those years. In grade 11 his family returned to Canada for one year, so he was able to live with them. Mom returned to Canada for his graduation celebration. At that time she told him how much she had missed him when they were apart. In his quiet and philosophical way he simply acknowledged that, sure, it was not like being at home, but he could understand why they did what they did.

In 1969 his family moved to Canada from Paraguay and Jim, who had been working in Vancouver, was transferred to Abbotsford and joined them in their Abbotsford home. He had become quite independent. At first Mom wanted to make his breakfast and lunch but he simply told her not to bother, he could take care of that himself. In 1972, after a lot of saving and planning, Jim set out for Europe and the Middle East. He planned to go for one year but in fact stayed for three.

He traveled around Europe but spent most of his time as a volunteer in Israel working on the various Kibbutzes. He lived in the Golan Heights during times of conflict, even ended up in bomb shelters, enjoyed nature tours and exploring caves, and, of course, worked hard in the fruit orchards, large gardens and communal farms. He really enjoyed the more free spirited, communal life experienced on the Kibbutz. Perhaps it was an unconscious connection to his earlier childhood among the Chullupii in the Chaco.

It was at one of these Kibitzes where he met this very special girl named Jane. Throughout his school years he had never shown much interest in girls, always just being the shy, quiet and studious type. Here, however, was a girl that was obviously perfect for him. Although they shared many similar interests like reading, love of nature, a dry wit, she was not shy - a perfect compliment for him.

In March, 1975, he returned from Israel and informed his parents that this very good friend - an English girl from Lancashire, was coming to Canada in July. In August they were married, making Coaldale their home. Jim worked first at his uncle’s farm in Lethbridge and Jane got a job in the produce department of IGA. Jim’s siblings first met Jane that Christmas – and she quickly won their hearts with her warm personality and that English accent!

After that Jim worked for the Public Works Department of the City of Coaldale until his early retirement, and Jane began working at the Library, something she still enjoys today.

Their lives were enriched by the arrival of their son, Aaron Jay on September 21, 1980 followed by Simone Emily July 5, 1982. Jim loved his children dearly. Both Aaron and Simone inherited their parent’s love of nature and adventure, as evidenced in their travel and career choices.

Although Jim and Jane lived far from family, they always participated in family gatherings, weddings, special birthdays, and anniversaries. Joint family holidays gave opportunity to reconnect, bond and create great memories at summer family gatherings, first in Vasseux Lake, then in Parksville and the last years in Osoyoos. Celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in Balfour was also a real highlight. At these holidays Jim enjoyed competitive card games, botchy ball, volley ball, going for long walks (in his trademark shorts and Tillie hat), and just visiting together as a family, sharing good food, conversation and laughter. He introduced our family to Beer chicken – a must now at all reunions. Any visits to Jim and Jane in Coaldale proved to be an experience in wonderful hospitality. If Jane happened to be working, Jim was comfortable taking over the kitchen.

Jim was active and loved the outdoors – a book could be written on the hunting and fishing memories together with good friends Ernie and Dietrich, all born the same year as Jim. He was an expert when it came to “roughing it” - he was adventuresome, but not reckless. A creative gardener – he built a beautiful flower garden and fish pond in their back yard. He shared Jane’s enjoyment of bird watching.

Several memorable holidays included a trip to England, a trip to Paraguay reconnecting with childhood landmarks and friends as well as getting stuck in the mud with their 4x4, going hunting and preparing game the traditional Paraguayan way. Visiting Aaron in Taiwan and other exotic stops two years ago took some convincing on Jane’s part, but he thoroughly enjoyed the experience – seeing first hand the adventuresome life his son was living far away from home! Kayaking through the Broken Islands Group with Jane and friends last summer was also a natural expression of his love for nature and water. Jim and Jane returned from their second Mexico trip only two weeks ago.

Being more private and quiet, Jim was sometimes an enigma. That streak of non-conformity and questioning authority was a natural result of his ability to think critically. In life he never lost his sense of right and wrong, of fairness, and learned through personal experience that life is not always fair. With that he also learned to forgive. He disliked confrontation and was much more a peacemaker – a trait he must have inherited from his father

He had a quiet spirituality that did not force religion but rather let goodness, truth and honesty guide his life. Jim was a unique person, who contributed much to our lives, influenced us more than he realized, and at the end, taught us important lessons about family, love for life, and forgiveness, all without saying too much about it, just living it. Thank you so much Jimmy, Jim, James.

Jim, we already dearly miss you, but we know your spirit is free, even more so than it was as a young boy in the great outdoors of the Grand Chaco. No doubt, you are also enjoying the undivided attention and love of Dad.

As for us, we are thankful to still have Jane, Aaron and Simone and Neil, a constant reminder of you. Loosing you makes them even dearer to us. We look forward to many more family reunions with them and some day in the future, an absolutely glorious reunion all together once again in heaven.

Till we meet again!


As written and read by Aaron Franz

Your parents are a mystery when you’re a child, and that becomes more apparent the older you get… at least to a point.

When I was really young, I would find margarine containers full of ball bearings downstairs. And, there were always these perfectly round hand made balls of clay rolling around under the work bench downstairs. Obviously these were sling shot ammo. When you are 5 years old these things might seem normal, but it still made me wonder.

Finding out that Dad grew up in South America… I think I used to imagine the family living in huts in some kind of Amazon like jungle, which maybe wasn’t that far from the truth, but the mental picture definitely had a Tarzan-like aspect to it.

Discovering that Dad spoke German and Spanish was also something that always intrigued my Sister and I. Sitting around the campfire, there were countless occasions when we would prod him relentlessly to speak Spanish – a sentence or at least one word.… usually to no avail.

Those of you who knew my Dad well – and even those of you that didn’t – know that my Dad was generally a quiet guy. People variously describe him as “level-headed”… or, he was “a subdued guy”… or “he liked to just take it all in.” Doubtless he was modest and rarely spoke of himself.

Later on when I was a teenager, I can remember becoming interested in how it was that my Paraguayan raised father and my British mother ever got together. Well… we aren’t Jewish but… they met in Israel on Kibbutz. At that time I never considered my father to be anything but part of the strict conservative archetype, so it was quite a shock when I found out that the Kibbutz are actually socialist communes. And he spent three straight years over in Europe... renting apartments in Spain and traveling around by ferry between Mediterranean countries. These things were all incomprehensible for me when I was in high school.

But things revealed themselves over the years.

There was the time that Dad, Dietrich, Tom and I were hiking around in West Castle. I think I was about 11. Tom and I had our sling shots, and we were up ahead chasing grouse. We had been practicing on tin cans, but we still missed the grouse every time… and when we did hit them, the rocks would just bounce off their wings. Eventually, Dad walked over and said something like, “gimmie that thing.” So I gave him his sling shot, and he rummaged around on the ground for a couple of suitably round rocks. In three shots, three of those grouse were dead. They were sitting up there in the trees, and he hit them square in the head. Tom and I were understandably awestruck. All of the ammo that I found around the house made a bit more sense after that.

Much more recently, my Mum and Dad came to visit me in Taiwan for three weeks. By all accounts it took some convincing for my Dad to get out there… it was well out of his comfort zone. But as the days went by, and I toured them around the countryside, stories that I had never heard before came out. Traveling on trains and buses again, his time in Europe came back to him as I’m sure it never had before. Every night over dinner the stories would pour out. I’m so happy that we shared those times, and that I got to hear those stories from Dad.

And just this Christmas, I gave Dad a Spanish audio course to help him brush up for future traveling. He studied Spanish everyday for the 4 weeks leading up to their last trip to Mexico, and Mum said that he was more outgoing and confident in using his Spanish on the trip. He planned to continue studying Spanish when they got back. I had good fun trying to convince him to rent a little apartment in Mexico and spend the winters down there.

Many of you know my Dad as an avid hunter and fisherman. I think it’s fair to say that he enjoyed the outdoors more than most people. He was at his prime in Nature… very calm, relaxed, and happy.

Over the years he spent countless days hunting with Dietrich and fishing with Ernie. He actually went off hunting for a week when I was 5 weeks old and left my Mum and me with Agnes. He and Dietrich spent a good part of the last 30 winters in West Castle. They spent over 20 of those winters in a Canvas French Army Tent, until the night Dad awoke to see the Milky Way shining down in all its glory… and realized that the tent was burning down. It was around that time that they moved into the new cabin that Dietrich built.

Dietrich told me about a time when Dad spent the day sitting under a tree… just to prove that you could sit in one spot all day without moving when it’s cold. He was waiting for an animal of course, and he sat there from sunrise until sunset. This wasn’t a story that Dad told people, it was just one those things that he did. He did it to prove to himself that he could. He also said that he would never do it again.

And summers were spent camping and fishing at Payne and Police Lake, Dipping Vat, and the rivers around West Castle. In his canoe or in his belly boat, I think he spent most of his time trying to out fish Jason. There were periods of intensive fish smoking and sausage making that Ernie and Dad both did… and at the next dinner party there was always plenty of the latest recipe to taste and critique.

Grandpa settled in this area when he first came to Canada, and Dad had spent six months here on furlough when he was 11 years old. My parents ended up in Coaldale as part of their back to the land kick. He told me once that he came here intending to become a farmer. That never worked out, but in the last few years, he managed to channel that desire into our yard and garden… I always remember him spending the summer in the vegetable garden, but since he retired he expanded the flower garden, built a rough stone patio, a small pond with goldfish, and a prairie rock garden. It’s the perfect place to spend late summer afternoons with friends, a beer, or a book. He was most proud of the Concorde grape vine that he planted four years ago and tended to daily in the summer. Last summer he harvested 35 pounds of dark purple grapes.

Although I was living outside of Canada for the last few years, we always managed to get on the phone a couple times a month, usually for about an hour, to catch up, tell stories, and talk about our plans for the future. This Christmas I spent a month at home, and he and I sat around the kitchen table every morning for hours talking over tea or mate.

I’m thankful that I got to know my Dad as well as I did.


Katherine said...

thanks for putting these up Aaron. It was disappointing that we couldn't make it for the memorial. Good to read more about your Dad's life story. I wondered how your parents ended up in Coaldale after travelling the world and meeting in a kubutz! You didn't mention that they were getting back to the land. My parents went through that stage too.

Shelley said...

That was beautifully written, Aaron! Your dad sounds like he was an amazing man!~