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The Storekeeper's Daughter: A Memoir

Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota

Wiebe, Katie Funk. The Storekeeper’s Daughter: A Memoir. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1997.


Katie Funk Wiebe was born in Canada to parents who had come from Chortitza and Rosenthal, South Russia about 1923. These villages had been the headquarters of Nestor Makhno, the bandit who raided and murdered at will for several years before the communists consolidated their power. Katie tells of growing up as a child in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, where her father Jacob Johann Funk managed his own grocery store, the OK Economy Store, and her mother ran a good home on limited means. Blaine Lake was an ethnically mixed community, and Mr. Funk could speak in Russian with other recent immigrants. Eagerly-awaited letters arrived, but many contained stories of hardship and death in her maternal grandmother's family, the Janzens, whom they left behind in Russia.

Wiebe alternates the events of her childhood with the stories she heard of life in Russia from her parents. There was a strong tradition of storytelling in her family, but one of the most significant events--the story of Mr. Funk's arrest for siding with the wrong revolutionaries and wartime service helping with the care of horrendously wounded young men--she heard only once. She also tells how her father showed amazing courage and stamina in his rescue of the Janzens from a situation in which they endured incredible poverty.

The Funks had been landless in Russia. Though Mr. Funk's father owned a flour mill before the revolution, landlessness assigned them a kind of second-class citizenship. Left-handed and therefore branded as stubborn at school, Katie's father was apprenticed to the local grocer. The description of the grocery store in which he worked in Russia is so rare that it alone, for its historical value, makes the book worth its price.

Katie recalls the depression which struck Canada in the 1930s. The hungry people who appeared at their door reminded her parents of the homeless who wandered the steppes in revolutionary times in Russia. Her mother cooked many an extra meal and served it with grace, using linen and their best china.

Katie reflects on her spiritual journey, coming of age, and becoming culturally Canadian. In Canada, they attended the Mennonite Church, with which her parents had a fierce affinity that Katie strained to understand. But going there required a ferry ride across a river, so they also attended the United Church of Canada, where the rules (and the sense of connectedness) were more relaxed. Katie Funk Wiebe graduated from Tabor College in Kansas and holds an M.A. degree from Wichita State University. She taught English at the college level. She has written hundreds of articles and columns and has written and/or edited fourteen books, most recently focusing on aging. She is a world traveler and member of the Peace Education Commission, sponsored by agencies of the Mennonite Brethren Church. She has four children and five grandchildren.

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