Durksen family reunites in light of bravery award

John Peter Durksen, 1925

The family of John Peter Durksen gathered Sat. Mar. 30 at Points West Living in Stettler, Ab. to celebrate and honour his memory and legacy.

In June of 1935, Durksen selflessly gave his life in an attempt to save two of his neighbours in the tiny hamlet of Sedalia, Ab., south of Consort, Ab.

Through the efforts of granddaughter Brenda (Durksen) Reesor and her husband Dale, the Royal Canadian Humane Association (RCHA) graciously bestowed on Durksen the Silver Medal for Bravery posthumously.

According to the bylaws of RCHA, the incident in question should not exceed past 18 months.

Never having had such a request made concerning an event so long ago, the board had to meet to discuss the events of June 1935.

Moved by the sincerity of the request, the bravery of Durksen, and the impact on the community at the time, the decision to grant the medal was made.

When you look at the certificate it says King George V bestowed the honour, for it was he who reigned in June 1935.

There were 34 family members on hand with all four of his children’s families being represented.

On hand were his two surviving children, Anne (Thulien) and Walter Durksen, with their families, along with the families of Helen (Wiltse) and Vernon Durksen.

Also present was Durksen’s nephew, Bill Kroker, who grew up on the farm where the accident occurred.

Dale Reesor, married to John’s grand-daughter and Walter’s daughter, Brenda, gave a speech regarding the heroic act Durksen did but also the sadness of not knowing how life would have been with their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

“Today we gather to reflect on and celebrate a life of a father, grandfather, great-grandfather most of us have never met. So we too imagine. We imagine a life so well-lived but a life lived so short, a life that concluded its journey on the afternoon of Fri. June 28, 1935 at Sedalia.

“We imagine a man named John Peter Durksen,” said Reesor.

Durksen family photo just before leaving Russia in 1925.

Durksen arrived in Canada in 1925 with his young wife and a few other family members as they landed in Quebec City, like many Mennonites who left Europe at that time.

They settled a half mile north of Sedalia, a hamlet that was likely much like the Mennonite enclave of Marienthal in the Molotschna Colony of south central Ukraine.

Durksen and his wife, Helen, had four children; Helen, Anne, Walter, and Vernon. From the time of arriving in Canada to his death 10 years later, Durksen became the successful proprietor of the local garage and was a well-respected member of the community.

On that fateful day in late June, Durksen heard cries for help from a nearby farm where a couple of neighbours were attempting to repair a frost plug line in a septic well.

John Dahl, 66, went in first before having effects from carbon monoxide which occupied the space.

His son, Norris Dahl, 22, followed him in to help him out before also being distressed by the noxious gas.

Durksen heard the calls and quickly came to their aid.

A doctor from a nearby community came to the scene to resuscitate them but it was too late. Death certificates state the cause of death as carbon monoxide poisoning.

John Peter Durksen, a prairie pioneer and beloved family man, brought together his successors for a special family reunion in Stettler, Ab. on Sat. March 30 at Points West Living. Walter Durksen, son of John, and Anne Thulien, daughter of John, hold up the framed Medal of Bravery and accompanying certificate at the event after Durksen risked his life to save others in June 1935. ECA Review/Submitted

No Greater Love

The theme of the gathering was “No Greater Love” which was displayed on the cake the family shared.

Reesor concluded his speech with, “Years ago a radio announcer used to tell stories and after a brief interlude, he would return with the finish to the tale told. Paul Harvey’s monologue concluded with him saying, ‘and now the rest of the story.’ It was  a punctuation mark at the end of his telling.”

“Today, after almost 85 year’s, 30,591 days in the telling, we too have our own rest of the story. It is our own punctuation mark. Imagine. John Peter Durksen: A life lived, a husband lost, a father loved, a man imagined. There is no greater love.”

 

ECA Review

Yvonne Thulien

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