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Wanda Emelie RegerCourtesy of family

Wanda Emelie Reger: Sports fan. Storyteller. Mother. Chef. Born May 2, 1925, in Wola-Korybutowa, Poland; died July 6, 2022, in Huntsville, Ont., of natural causes; aged 97.

Wanda Lockstadt truly believed hard work would bring her success and happiness. It was a lesson she learned as the youngest of seven children growing up on a farm in Poland to parents of German heritage. By age 9, she was instructed to go into the barnyard, catch, kill, pluck and cook a chicken then make a pot of chicken soup for her ailing mother. In later years, when her horrified grandchildren would ask how she could do such a thing, Wanda replied, “I just did it like it was nothing.”

Wanda’s teenage years changed dramatically when it was interrupted by the Second World War. She was forced to flee her village in Poland with her mother when German and Russian troops approached from different directions. All they took was a feather blanket and a cooking pot.

In 1945, she fled from east Germany before there were tight border restrictions. Wanda settled near Munich close to her brother and met his friend, Erich Reger. Wanda and Erich both loved to dance and although men were in high demand after the war, he always chose Wanda as his dance partner.

With her usual gusto, Wanda decided to immigrate to Canada to escape postwar Germany. She arrived in Windsor, Ont., in 1949 while Erich stayed behind to finish his training as a tool and die maker. Wanda worked three jobs, attended night school to learn English and she became a Canadian Citizen the moment her English was proficient enough to pass the test. Erich eventually joined her and they married in 1952. They welcomed four children, Walter, Ingrid and twins Erin and Eric, before moving to Oakville, Ont., where they both worked for Ford Canada.

Wanda was a working mother and held her children to a high standard. Education was her No. 1 priority. When Walter refused to eat borscht, she told him that he would never have to eat it again if he came home with straight A’s. So he did. Wanda’s children were forever grateful for the five summers she worked as a cook at a camp in Muskoka since they got to attend overnight camp for free.

The couple bought a farm in Huntsville, Ont., and moved in for their retirement years. Wanda’s hobby farm was overflowing with every edible form of livestock and fowl.

Oma loved life’s small pleasures: a roaring fire, her beloved Leafs winning a game, a Blue Jays home run. She baked cakes and fried bacon on her woodstove. She used a wringer washer and clothesline. She had a rotary dial phone until Bell cut off her service. In her 97th year, she still pushed around the lawnmower and chopped firewood.

The farm had constant visitors and became a hub for family and friends. Oma was famous for her cooking and baking. Butter tarts, apple pie, streusel kuchen, potato salad, rouladen. Everything was prepared by memory and taste. She tried to teach her family, but with no written recipes, they were never able to recreate her creations.

In 1985 Wanda became a grandmother. After this, she was known as Oma to everyone. She loved to play the card game SkipBo with her grandchildren, and she’d also ask two of them to stand back to back and see who was taller. But instead of measuring, she’d bonk their heads together – hard – and laugh hysterically every time.

Oma took pleasure in a glass of vodka which she called “white water” and was a stickler for details when telling stories. She’d constantly correct people on what year something occurred.

For her funeral, she left explicit instructions, too: her dress, her shoes, which hymns to sing, which Psalms to read. A 1976 Ann Landers column defining a grandmother was to be read at her funeral. (She’d confidently saved it for 12 years before she became Oma.)

Oma would have loved her service. It went perfectly.

Heather Sinclair is Wanda’s granddaughter.

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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide