Father, dido (grandfather), volunteer, Second World War survivor. Born Feb. 15, 1925, in Dobromyl, Ukraine, died Dec. 5, 2012, in Toronto of pancreatic cancer, aged 87.
Stefan was an extraordinary individual who lived through a difficult time.
As a child he attended school off and on, depending on whether he had appropriate shoes, which were shared among his eight siblings, and whether his help was required on the family homestead.
His father died of pneumonia when Stefan was 8. At the beginning of the Second World War, 14-year-old Stefan was taken from his village in western Ukraine by the Nazis and sent to Höhefeld, Germany, as a slave labourer.
He stayed in Germany after the war. Afraid that he would be captured by the Russians and taken to Siberia, he missed his mother’s funeral in Ukraine.
When the Soviet army arrived in Germany to collect its citizens, Stefan’s name was read out at the town square. A kind German had lent him a bike to escape. Eventually, he was reunited with his siblings Anastasia, Olya and Vasyl, who had also been taken to work. Later in life, they resettled in different parts of Europe and Canada, but remained in close contact and visited each other regularly.
As part of the resettlement of displaced persons in the Marshall Plan, Stefan followed Olya to Canada in 1951. To be granted Canadian citizenship, he worked for a year as a gold miner in Pickle Crow, Ont., before moving on to Toronto.
There, his sister introduced him to a co-worker, Frances Liakopolous, and they married in 1957. They had three children, Marijka, George (Yuri) and Bill.
Stefan worked in maintenance at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry. He did not make much money, but regularly sent financial help to family members still in Ukraine, and those payments continue through his estate. He was also a benefactor of the new Catholic Church in Dobromyl.
Despite his difficult younger years, Stefan loved life and remained compassionate, optimistic and generous.
He loved the outdoors and spent 30 years volunteering as a groundskeeper at a Ukrainian-Canadian summer camp near Acton, Ont., where he grew his famously potent garlic, which he shared with family and friends. He was recognized for his ongoing and dedicated service to the camp with several Ontario Volunteer Service Awards.
The door to his home was always open, and brandy was always on hand in case a friend stopped by. Inside, Ukrainian trinkets, art and photography adorned every space – much to his wife’s chagrin. In 2001, after Frances passed away, Stefan hung even more pictures on his wall.
He loved to fix and build things, and always had a shed for woodworking. He regularly picked up things on his daily walks, then restored them and put them to a new purpose. He would dismantle wooden furniture, sand it and reuse the wood for framing art.
Up until his last year, he washed and hemmed his own clothes, and cooked for himself. He was a true survivor who will be forever missed.
Alexandra Stadnyk is Stefan’s granddaughter.