Howdy Neighbour

An interview with Myrtle Doerksen.

Written by Sarah Faerman.

August 2000

How long have you lived at Winona? 
Almost four years.


Where were you born?
I was born in Kansas in the U.S. in the middle of a dust storm. My uncles battled the storm to locate a doctor who could come to the house to deliver me. I was born with congenital cataracts, which, was considered legally blind. (To be legally blind means 10% or less vision in the best eye).


Tell me about your family.
I was born in the middle of the depression. Times were very bad—the wheat didn't grow, there was no work. As my parents were both Canadian, they moved back to rural Manitoba. I was the oldest of 10 children, 5 brothers and 4 sisters. As the oldest girl I was a big help to my mother and I remember thinking: "I'm really looking forward to the time when I won't have to run when I hear a baby crying."

What was important in your Family?
As Mennonites, we lived in a Mennonite community in a village called Blumenort. Church attendance and strong morals were important characteristics of the community. Our schools were part of the church but higher education was frowned upon, which was hard on me as I loved learning.


What language did you speak?
German was spoken in the church and a Dutch dialect was spoken at home.


What schooling did you have?
The CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) wanted me to go to a special school but my parents didn't want me to leave home. The local teachers helped me up to grade 8 and then my mother needed me at home to help her.


I so badly wanted to continue my education that I took grade 9 by correspondence. I even underwent eye surgery to enable me to see better for studying but it only helped a little. Eventually I did leave home to take grade 12 in Steinbach, Manitoba and then to bible school. When the CNIB offered me a typing course in Toronto, I decided to take it but after completing the course and working as a typist, I decided that my heart wasn't really in it. Because I always has a thirst for knowledge and loved study and academics I decided to enroll at the University of Toronto.

What work did you do?
After I graduated with a master's degree in Social Work, I worked in several hospitals and for the CNIB. A highlight for me was supervising social work students. I was also active on committees and on several boards. More recently I worked as a volunteer for the Multiple Sclerosis Society as a leader of a counseling group for individuals with M.S. I've also volunteered for St. Clair West's Services for Seniors.

What is your favourite leisure activity?
I like the social aspects. I had shared a house for 28 years with a very good friend, also of Mennonite background. We lived just down the street on Atlas Ave. Unfortunately, she became ill and died. It was a big Ioss. When I moved into Winona, people were friendly and helpful which made things easier. When I broke my shoulder, Nora took care of my cat and Narda and Penny, my plants. Other neighbours have also been very helpful. Another plus is that here I am allowed to have my cat, Ebony, with me.