Vernon Toews

1921 - 2013


Vernon Toews

Sept. 2, 1921 — May 15, 2013

Former Walla Walla resident Vernon K. Toews passed away on May 15, 2013, in Maple Ridge, B.C., Canada. He was born on Sept. 2, 1921, in Rosenfeld, Manitoba, to Julius and Helen Toews. He was the seventh of eight children. His family moved to Steinbach, Manitoba when he was two years old, and he remained there through his formative years, leaving at age 17 after graduating from high school and completing a year of normal school. He then taught grades one through six in a one-room school house until his career was interrupted by WWII.

While teaching public school in Manitoba he began to court Rosella Toews, and this, too, was interrupted by the war. He did his best to continue the courtship through writing many, many letters to her, actually proposing to her in one of them. She accepted and they were married on Aug. 11, 1946, shortly after his return from Europe. They spent the next 14 years moving as necessary for his education. During this time of wandering they had two children, John and James.

As a conscientious objector during the war he was initially sent to a work camp in Alberta before volunteering for European relief work with the Mennonite Central Committee: in England in 1944-45 and in France in 1945-46. He assisted in running an orphanage in London during the Blitz, and was in charge of an orphanage south of Paris while in France. He was among the first civilians allowed into France after the war.

Following his return from Europe he resumed his formal education, earning a bachelors degree in German language and literature from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and his masters degree from the university of Toronto in Ontario. He then spent a year studying German literature at the University of Marburg in West Germany. He worked on his doctoral thesis at the University of Washington State in Seattle. During the years he was working on his thesis he taught at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.

In 1960 he accepted a position at Whitman College, where he taught German (and some French) until his retirement in 1986. During his tenure at Whitman he touched the lives of many students over the years, some of whom continue to contact his family with statements of gratitude for his genuine interest in them and the positive influence he had in their lives. On his retirement from Whitman he moved to Abbotsford, B.C. where he lived until shortly before his death.

Vernon was raised in the Mennonite church, and remained active in his faith and personal ministry throughout his life. He had a gift for cooking, and shared this gift freely with many students and elderly people, usually at the same meals. He felt strongly that the youth and the elderly have a lot to offer each other and he regularly and successfully put this belief into practice. He felt meals were meant to be shared, and his family was seldom alone on Sundays or holidays.

Vernon also enjoyed gardening, growing dozens of varieties of irises and roses, as well as collecting antiques and oriental carpets. He spent many patient hours working on needlepoint tapestries while listening to his beloved classical music and opera.

Vernon was preceded in death by his wife of almost 60 years, Rosella; as well as his parents and all his siblings. He is survived by his sons, John (Lynn) of Pitt Meadows, B.C., and James (Debra) of Walla Walla; five grandchildren, Mark Toews, Janet Toews Cowan, Heather Toews, Catherine Toews, and Peter Toews; and one great-grandchild, Meredith Cowan.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in