Faces in the Crowd- Just Returning The Favour

Posted on May 12, 2016 under Faces in the Crowd with 2 comments



Willemina MacDonald

Photo courtesy of Bernice MacDonald Photography


On aging.  “I spend my days the same way I used to. Everything just takes me twice as long.”

Meet Willemina Hendriske MacDonald

She was born in Zutphen, Holland but spent most of her childhood in ‘s-Gravenzande. Her home birth, with the assistance of a midwife, was filled with drama. At a crucial point in a tricky delivery, her father fainted. With no one else in the house, the midwife was busy attending to the mother and father of the newborn! A doctor was beckoned. He didn’t think the baby would survive. “I surprised the doctors back then and I have been surprising them ever since.”

Her brothers remember her as “a quiet girl playing with dolls, knitting embroidering and roller skating”. Their father died when Willemina was only 13. Growing up without a father was difficult on the family. As a teenager she filled her hours learning how to play the piano and was also an avid tennis player. Other sports included swimming, dancing and field hockey.

Most teenagers find it distracting when it comes to study time. When she was 14, the war broke out and it was very difficult to study at night with bomber aircrafts flying overhead. The Germans occupied their town and they were forced to move farther north.

She decided to learn Esperanto and quickly picked up French, German and English. Asked about her fluency in French, Willemina said, “It wasn’t the best but I wouldn’t starve in France.” After completing grade 12, she took a secretarial course in The Hague and gained employment in Hagen. The Germans entered the Municipal offices where she worked, one day, in search of the registration lists of all the male citizens that they planned to utilize for the war industry in Germany. Risking life, she and fellow workers carted off all the records to a safe home. After the war, this deed was recognized as an act of heroism.

She was forced to flee once again. She remembers this as a time of constant fear. “The last year was hellish. I was frightened all the time until the liberation.” When the Canadians showed up in their town, any available room had to be used to house the soldiers. Jim MacDonald from Nova Scotia stayed in their house. He endeared himself immediately to her family, bringing fresh raisin bread which was all but extinct during the war years.

They decided that they were meant for each other, but she was a Protestant and he was a Catholic. By the time she finished studying how to become a Catholic, she knew more about Catholicism than she had discovered about her future husband.

She travelled to North America with their first-born, who was six months old at the time. The ride across the Atlantic was nausea inducing. She landed in New York and then went by train to Saint John, New Brunswick where she rejoined Jim. They settled on the Dunmore Road in Antigonish County. For the first time in years, Willemina had found tranquility.

When she was only 45, and with seven children at home, Jim passed away. In short order she got her driver’s license and a job with the Municipality of the County of Antigonish where she worked until retirement. She was a tireless volunteer for many, many organizations including 4H and Club 60, to mention but a few.

Willemina is a professed political junkie. When asked about the possibility of Donald Trump becoming President of the U.S., she glared and said, “ He needs a good swift kick in the ass.”

She has a keen sense of humour. She suggested that one of the keys to a long life is surviving two heart attacks!

Reflecting on a long life well lived, she opined, “I loved my family and I loved my community. I tried to do my very best. I also felt it was important to give something back after Canada liberated Holland.

It would appear that the debt has been paid in full.


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