Father, husband, opa, brother, friend, life of the party. Born May 24, 1950, in Rosser, Man. Died Dec. 3, 2011, in Winnipeg of cancer, aged 61.
If ever there was a man whose smile took over a room, it was John Holtmann.
Born to a dairy-farming family, John was the eighth and youngest child of Heinrich and Johanna Holtmann.
At the foremost, John was a family man. He was devoted to his wife of 39 years, Mary-Jane. On his first date with her, however, John backed into her father’s car. It must have been John’s charm that won over his future father-in-law, because he and Mary-Jane married the following year. Together, they raised five children: Charles, Andrew, Daniel, Mathew and Caitlin. These children blessed him with six grandchildren who lovingly knew him as Opa.
There was much happiness in the Holtmann household as the family took part in camping trips, ski trips and Sunday dinners. These dinners were forever growing busier and noisier as friends, new spouses and eventually grandchildren joined. But you could always look over at John at the head of the table, smiling that big smile.
As the family grew, more people experienced Holtmann family ski trips to Colorado and later to Fernie, B.C. Many think the real reason for the ski trips was not necessarily the skiing, but the fact that John had the opportunity to make new friends while riding the chair lift.
At 21, John took a summer job at his father-in-law’s company, Vita Health, and never left. A successful businessman, he derived great pleasure and satisfaction from guiding and helping the business grow. It was a source of particular pride for him to see his son take over the company he loved. John served on the board of the Canadian Health Food Association and was a founding member of the Health First Network. He contributed to the evolution of Canada’s natural-products industry, making lifelong friends and business associates across the country.
John was a devoted friend. He was truly interested in people, what they did and where they came from. When he arrived, the party came with him. Loved by many, he was always genuine, always sincere and always gave his whole self to whatever he did.
His son Andrew said during his eulogy that his “Dad lived cancer.” Diagnosed in 2008, John knew in the back of his mind that the prognosis was not good, but he refused to let it stop him and his desire to live his life. He travelled the world with Mary-Jane, spent precious time with family and friends and never complained. His hardest times turned out to be the most inspirational for those around him. When visitors came to comfort John in his last days, many said they left feeling comforted by him.
His infectious smile, laughter and zest for life will always be remembered. We will miss you, Big J.
By Ashley Burner, John’s daughter-in-law.