Shady Grove in Abbotsford was the ideal setting for a portion of our 3 day 55 year class reunion. We had all attended the Mennonite Educational Institute (MEI) in what was commonly known as Clearbrook, then part of Matsqui Municipality (now Abbotsford). The teaching and atmosphere of the school very much reflected the faith, culture, thinking and values that Mennonites had brought with them from Russia and several other European countries. Most of us had grown up with some version of the German language.
Mennonites were invited to emigrate to the Ukraine region in 1763 by Russian Czarina, Catherine the Great. She valued their agricultural experience and ability. Her promise of freedom of religion and military exemption was highly attractive to them. Many accepted her offer. In Russia they pretty much lived apart from the rest of the population. They established their own villages and although some became fluent in Russian, they retained German as their primary language of communication with each other. A considerable emigration to Canada, the U.S. and South America occurred in the 1880’s after the government’s military policy toward them changed. That exodus continued in ensuing decades. In many cases, they left behind virtually all their earthly belongings for the sake of their beliefs. Some did elect to remain in Russia.
My own connections with the Mennonite community and culture have become somewhat tenuous over the years, so these reunions every 5 years are highly valued events. One of the memories that I will hide deep within my psyche came as we were waiting at the entrance to the 50’s Diner, where we would have lunch. Instead of a formal spoken “thanks” to God for the food, the group sang “Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow.” Not being much of a singer, I mostly listened with a sense of awe at the wonderful 4 part harmony of many gifted, reverent voices.
Lunch consisted of traditional Mennonite “faspa”. Zwieback (buns), potato salad, farmers sausage, piroshki, platz, etc.
While eating lunch I looked around at my former classmates. Like myself, they had added many years. The dominant thought within me was “these are people of good character, people of great integrity.” Listening to some of them talk about their past, I realized that many had made a significant contribution to their community, some to their country, and at least a few had given their lives and talents to serving less fortunate people in other countries.
Shady Grove does not reflect the Mennonite heritage but it is reminiscent of the time when we were at MEI together. The owners, Abe and Elaine Suderman, have put together a phenomenal collection of classic and vintage cars, plus memorabilia from that period. It was an ideal setting for our reunion because it reminded us of the time when we were young and in high school.
Rather than write further at this time, my next post will consist of photos of former classmates and Shady Grove cars, along with comments.