Husband, father, great-grandfather, old-world craftsman. Born on Nov. 11, 1930, in Rijnsburg, the Netherlands; died on March 12, 2014, in Norval, Ont., of cancer, aged 83.
On May 10, 1940, nine-year-old Case awoke to sounds of gunshots and aircraft overhead. Black figures with white plumes above them were dropping from airplanes; the sky over Rijnsburg was filled with enemy paratroopers. Five years of Nazi occupation followed.
Although born into the Great Depression, followed by the privations of the Second World War, Case had a resilient spirit and a lust for life. The fifth of 12 children, he was apprenticed to a carpenter at age 12. Bombing disrupted his education but he was enterprising, bright and precise, and proved well suited to his craft.
By early 1945, his family was scrambling to survive, eating tulip bulbs to stave off starvation and scavenging to find the most basic essentials. Then on May 5, when Canadian troops liberated the Netherlands, the war ended. Case danced in the streets with his neighbours, waving long-hidden Dutch flags and orange streamers.
When Case became engaged to Martina Zandbergen in 1951, housing in war-ravaged Holland was scarce. Couples could get accommodations if their combined ages equalled at least 60, but 21-year-old Case and 19-year-old Martina were out of luck. They decided to immigrate to Canada.
They bought an old log cabin near Pembroke, Ont., and Case became a carpenter at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa. Planning to pursue higher education, he later moved his young family to Brampton, Ont., and started to build a home there. But he sold it to an acquaintance who wanted to buy it – a sale that launched a career in the building business. For the next four decades, Case put his skilled hands to homes, schools, businesses, churches and synagogues around the Greater Toronto Area. He whistled as he worked, continuing to build projects in his shop until his final year.
Self-taught and financially astute, Case was above all generous. A man of faith with a heart for justice, he was ready with his cheque book, supporting many causes. He regularly opened his door to those in need of a haven: three teenage Vietnamese refugees sponsored by his church, Crosspoint Christian Reformed Church in Brampton, in the 1970s, a lonely immigrant from Lebanon, a number of troubled teens, and others on the margins.
His son Mark, who was born with Down syndrome in 1974 and died suddenly at the age of nine, occupied a tender place in Case’s heart for the rest of his life. And although his own educational plans were shelved, he insisted his children John, Sophie, Joyce and Cornel attend university.
For his 18 grandchildren, he filled his home with hand-crafted, child-friendly furniture: every corner rounded, every table strong enough to jump on. Opa became the go-to man for his grandkids to learn how to do taxes, make a good car purchase, or unload an impossibly heavy wood chipper from a vehicle. “You don’t need muscle when you’ve got a brain,” he told a granddaughter, showing her how to create a pulley system.
His final two years were riddled with debilitating illness and were marked in 2012 by the death of his beloved wife of 59 years, but he remained grateful and engaged. He followed national and international affairs with keen interest, attended a grandson’s wedding, delighted in the birth of his first great-grandson, and ensured that his backyard bird feeders were always topped up. He often sang and continued to whistle. One of his granddaughters put it best: “Opa showed us that getting old can be just plain hard, but that doesn’t mean life is not still beautiful, that there aren’t still relationships to be built, or that God is any less faithful.”
Sophie Vandenberg is Cornelis’s daughter.