Maria (Mika) Regier: Mother. Wife. Refugee. Storyteller. Born Nov. 11, 1930, in Neuendorf, Ukraine; died Nov. 11, 2018, in Winnipeg, Man., of complications from dementia; aged 88.
Mika Kroeker was a born storyteller. She had the gift of expression and an exceptional memory. She had a lot of material to work with. By the time she was 25, she had faced starvation, escaped Communism, twice fled the frontlines of the Second World War and immigrated to two continents.
Mika was born in the Mennonite farming village of Neuendorf, Ukraine, the sixth of nine children. She started school in Russia, where they were taught to be atheists and obedient Russians, which she resisted by speaking German as soon as her foot left the schoolyard.
During the Second World War occupation, German-speaking Mennonites in Russia had a chance to live without fear but by the time she was 13, the war turned and the villagers abandoned their homes rather than fall into Soviet hands again. They were loaded into boxcars (so tight that when she picked up her foot she couldn’t put it down again) and arrived in Kulm, Western Prussia. From here the family was sent to Poland. They fled again when Russian Army advanced.
When peace finally settled on a broken Europe, they were refugees in Germany. The Mennonite church offered to resettle them in Paraguay. In later years, Mika would enthral her family with stories about the hardships and triumphs of building a life out of raw land in Paraguay, and the harrowing journey to reach the country by boat, train and, finally, ox cart. Their land was without infrastructure and they had to make everything themselves, including the bricks to make the house.
One day, a handsome young man showed up at the farm. Peter Regier had just sold her father horses and when Peter saw Mika, then 18, he decided to come and check on these horses often as an excuse to see her. Love bloomed and they married in 1950.
Mika and Peter worked hard in tough conditions, yet she made her house welcoming with whitewashed walls and a stencilled border. Two children soon followed. Yet always Canada beckoned. Mika convinced Peter that the opportunities for their children would be better in Canada and, already pregnant with a third child, they arrived in Winnipeg in December, 1955. Three more children arrived at five-year intervals.
Mika’s two greatest gifts, hospitality and storytelling, were valued in the Mennonite community and church, which she served faithfully. She loved this quiet life of service and tried to raise her daughters to follow her. Her daughters, however, had dreams of higher education that collided directly with the life she thought was ideal.
Mika and Peter often sponsored and supported refugees and new immigrants. Mika was always saying “yes." When Peter died in 2015, Mika lived her last years in a seniors home. Her gift of hospitality never left her. When new residents arrived, Mika was always there to welcome them.
Her first 25 years were great material for her stories, but it was the next 60 years that were her joy, where she and Peter could live in peace and watch the family grow to 14 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. She was always grateful that Canada gave her the life she had always wanted.
Elvira Regier Smid is Mika’s daughter.
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