The information from the first part of this eulogy was gathered from Mom’s autobiography, which she wrote about her family life in Mramorak both before and after the war. Her cousin David Kemle was key in encouraging Mom to write her story, and we are grateful to David for that. Mom’s book is a treasure that conveys the resiliency of the human spirit and how goodness and gratitude surpasses suffering.
Mom was born on March 21, 1927 in Mramorak, Yugoslavia (now known as Banat Serbia) into a family of six children. She had two older brothers, Peter and John, two younger sisters, Margaret and Katie, and a sixth sibling who passed away at birth. Mom’s brother, Peter, died at 17 from blood poisoning from a sliver in his toe.
Living in a town with a population of 4,000, Mom’s parents, like most people (although poor) enjoyed a wonderful family life. People were decent, honest, helpful, clean and hardworking. Every house, including the Kemle home, was whitewashed, included a barn, cows for milking, horses for fieldwork, pigs, chickens, a garden and a few small fruit trees. Most residents had small parcels of land to farm.
Extra income came from raising silkworms, something mom and family enjoyed once the vineyards were looked after and spring work was done.
Extra income also came from having a spot at the Belgrad market place. Mom always enjoyed hearing stories that her Dad shared after his travels of selling and buying goods.
Mom attended four years of school, which was compulsory. She then tended to younger siblings Margaret and Katie and looked after small household chores while her parents worked in the fields.
Attending Church every Sunday was an important tradition in Swabian life. Opa sang in the choir while Mom enjoyed singing duets with her sister, Margaret, or quartets with brothers Peter and John.
Nationalities lived harmoniously together, and different cultures admired and respected one another. Families, friends and neighbours worked, prayed and celebrated together. But things were about to change.
In 1941, when mom was 14, the arrival of German soldiers was the beginning. The regime supported segregation and discrimination between nationalities, which was disturbing for Mom and families.
Two months after occupation, men aged 18 to 60 were drafted by the German army, including Mom’s brother, John.
For those left behind, life was not easy. Fields needing to be cut down now depended on women, old men, young boys and the few men left behind with disabilities, like Mom’s Dad, born with an elbow abnormality.
In 1942, Mom and family started to notice men wandering through their forests. They were unground fighters, known as Partisans whose aim was to sabotage the German Army.
In May 1944, German solders came into Mramorak warning German people to evacuate. Mom’s family, like many other families choose to stay, thinking they’d be safe.
Only two months later, the Russians and Partisans came into Mramorak with all of their might. They beat, plundered, raped and tortured, and within hours of their occupation, picked up 48 innocent German townsmen. The 48 men were imprisoned and tortured beyond recognition. As the oldest daughter, Mom had the daunting task of bringing food to her brutalized father; a task her emotionally fraught mother just couldn’t do.
One evening, Mom’s Serbian neighbour knocked frantically on their door. She came to warn the family of the Russians’ plans to take German girls and woman between 16 and 35. Mom, 17 at the time, hid in her attic for two days. The first night, Partisan guards swarmed the town rounding up screaming women for transport to Siberia. The second night, she hid for fear they’d return.
In March 1945, Partisans stormed mom’s house and ordered the family to gather a few belongings. Townsfolk were herded like cattle onto the street and taken to a vacated section of town where 50 or 60 were jammed into one house.
Daily food rations consisted of a piece of corn bread and coffee. Mom and others old enough to work were organized into work groups. Their job was to teach the Bosnian people who had moved into their homes how to farm.
This camp lasted until everyone was moved to Karlsdorph, where 3,000 townsfolk were packed into an ex-German airplane hanger. It was an unbearable camp, but as bad as things were, mom and her family were still somehow fortunate. They were healthy enough to work, which meant leaving the airplane hanger for the day and finding food.
Mom and family moved camp a third and last time. This time closer to the Hungarian border to an ex-German town called Gakova. The town surrounded by barbed-wire fence and guarded gates had no wood for burning. With winter soon approaching, escape was now or never.
One foggy autumn night, after digging a hole underneath the barbed-wire fence, mom and family took a huge leap of faith and crawled under.
Once out and away from camp, they walked through corn and sugar beet fields. They bartered their quilts and pillows (their last possession) in exchange for help to cross the Hungarian border.
Once in Hungry, they worked for a good-hearted famer and his wife, making enough money to travel by train to the Austrian border.
When they finally arrived at the Red Cross Camp in Austria in October 1947, they knew, for the first time in 30 months, they were safe.
Mom enjoyed two fun-filled years in the beautiful country of Austria. She loved the people and the lifestyle, attended Garden festivals, a modern dance school and even learned the fox trot and tango. She danced to beautiful Straus waltzes, polkas and joined a choir proudly travelling by bus all over Austria. But Austria was overpopulated with refugees and mom’s brother, John, who they reunited with, wanted to farm in Canada.
October 8, 1949, Mom and family immigrated to Canada. They landed in Halifax and travelled seven days via rail to Abbotsford, B.C., where mom’s Uncle Phillip Kemle lived.
Three years later, at a local dance in Chilliwack, Mom met Arnold, the love of her life. The two wrote back and forth for a bit, but our guess, knowing dad’s writing skills, was that it probably was mostly x’s and o’s.
In June of 1953, Arnold and Susie married and settled together in Hay Lakes. A short while later, they bought property in Edmonton. Dad still worked for CN Railway and mom worked in a restaurant.
Over the next 10 years, together they built and sold three south Edmonton homes and had three children. Here is a snapshot of how hard mom must have worked at that time. She had a small baby, Chris, two sons, Emil and Gary, Dad, and three borders all living under the same roof. Mom made their lunches with freshly baked goods, cooked meals for the three adult men, plus Dad…. and all of us, washed and hung out to dry everyone’s clothes (and not with the washers we have today), ironed, and like all of her German neighbours, perfectly pressed everything, including the sheets and pillow cases.
In 1964, with two rambunctious boys (aka Emil), they thought it best to trade their city home for a farm in New Sarepta. It was definitely roughing it for the first year. It was an old farmhouse with no electricity or running water, a wood burning stove, one bedroom, an old attic, an outhouse, a barn and old buildings everywhere.
During the nine years we lived on the farm, we raised chickens, milked, fed pigs and farmed. While Dad worked full-time at Stelco Steel, Mom and Dad built a three-bedroom home, garage, barn, built white fences, demolished buildings, and….. mom had a big garden and flower bed on the side. Needless to say, Mom and Dad were hard workers. But they loved farm life and they loved socializing and entertaining even more, whether with friends or in-laws who lived close by, they always had time for everyone.
In 1973, mom and dad sold the farm and purchased Lamont Hotel. Over the years, mom and dad purchased several more hotels, living in some, managing others. No matter how busy mom was, she always had time to pass around deer sausage or make two or three extra plates of food at lunch to feed some of the old-timers who lived alone and frequented the hotel daily. She loved the business and the people and enjoyed socializing with everyone. Everyone in town knew Susie.
In 1991, mom and dad reluctantly retired from hotel business and moved to a Sherwood Park acreage. For some reason, mom believed she could not survive life without being busy and having a hotel. That thought was far from the truth—once she settled, she realized there were more grandchildren to enjoy, old friends and German neighbours to re-unite with, trees to plant, flowers to grow, birds to feed, and applesauce to make. Plus for the first time ever, mom had the chance to take care of herself—and for her, that came through yoga and all of the dear and wonderful friends she’d make.
During this time, Mom tended to her aging mother. Oma Elizabeth lived with them for a time on the acreage and then transitioned to the Sherwood Park Lodge and Nursing home. Mom was a committed and caring daughter and companioned her mother until her passing in 2001.
January 2003, two years later, Dad had a heart attack at home. It was a huge life change for mom. October of the same year, Chris moved into their acreage and mom transitioned into Sherwood Park. After being married for 50 years, grieving was hard for mom.
Her solace came from her cherished grandchildren and family, her beautiful garden and flowers, the German singing group, the yoga studio and from her genuine love and appreciation for people.
Everyone in the Nottingham neighborhood knew when mom moved in. Maybe it was because she never missed an opportunity to say a friendly word or chat to anyone. Mom shared garden fresh spinach, spring lettuce, home made pyrogys, canned jams or lafeteria flower seed with anyone who wanted. Mom was particularly grateful for newfound friend and neighbor, Biljana. Born from the same Banat region, the two shared many a lengthy discussion, had much in common and stayed closely connected until mom’s passing.
After dad’s heart attack, yoga became an even bigger part of mom’s life. She especially found solace in her connection with Gerda Krebs, whose husband also recently passed away. They shared in the German language and companioned one another through a difficult time.
Mom loved the studio, her yoga and the people who came to classes. In Gerda’s classes, Mom was often called up to show the side plank. Chris recalls stopping by Mom’s home while Mom was hosting lunch for her longtime German friends. There was mom enthused; excitedly showing off to her friends how well she could do the shoulderstand and plough pose.
At the yoga studio, if your mat was next to mom’s, whether you were new to the studio or old, mom was there to welcome, support, converse and laugh with. Many a yogini were invited to share lunch at mom’s house. Home baked goodies were freshly baked for chair yoga or kids’ yoga classes and fresh cut flowers filled the studio from May until October. Whether painting at the studio, folding laundry or sewing or fixing a curtain, Mom was right there enjoying every moment.
Life was full and rich for five wonderful years, and Mom slowly did find her wings after dad’s passing.
In October 2008, Mom’s life overnight changed. Getting home around 12 midnight after a late-night card game, she had a massive stroke. When mom missed her morning yoga class, Chris went to her home only to find her lying on her bedroom floor for 11 hours.
Mom remained strong and committed and she was determined to walk again. She struggled and struggled, eventually walking short distances with the assistance of caregivers or family and walker. Age and arthritis battled against Mom and her mobility did slowly decrease.
But she still had a great zest and zeal for life and during her stroke years loved attending monthly German singing groups with long time friend Emily. Emil or Gary always enjoyed bringing Mom and it was especially gratifying because she loved so much to go. Mom also loved going to church and would have wanted to go much more. Her community in New Sarepta was especially dear and she enjoyed seeing old-time church members.
Mobility may have ceased for mom, but she still had a heart and mind that loved life and knew and appreciated her grandchildren and family.
About six months ago, mom was told she was going to be a great grandmother. For years, she kept asking her grandchildren when they were having a baby, even asking 14 year-old Kerra. She desperately wanted to hold a baby and that wish did finally come true. Mom lived long enough to hold great grandchild, Clarke Emma Erdmann born on March 8, 2017.
Throughout her stroke years, mom remained active and enlivened in her mind. When we walked in her room, she happily shared how she just baked “spatzul”, gardened, planted her roses or canned peaches. Her strong and positive personality never changed even when it seemed from the outside like life was more limiting.
Even without her physical mobility, mom was engaged and plugged into life. And there were sweet moments too like when the HGTV channel was left on her TV with a renovation show and Mom would say, “Chris, you need to make lunch for them…. they are working so hard”.
No matter what….. Mom always cared.
And if we accidentally left Channel 2 on a Sunday morning and Operation Smile happened to be showing, we’d find Mom weeping in bed, torn and heartbroken for the children she was witnessing with mutilated smiles. She was deeply affected by suffering and she always, always wanted to help. We soon recognized we needed to be very careful with what we left on TV.
Mom lived with Chris for nine wonderful years and it was a blessing for Chris and caregivers to companion her in this new legacy of her life. She was appreciative, positive, funny, dynamic, and real in each and every moment. Mom was always grateful for the little things that either Chris or caregivers did for her. She was understanding, kind and a pleasure to support. She loved her caregivers and, especially as her health began to transition, relied and appreciated Amy and Michelle even more. Amy stayed with our family and cared for mom for five years. She loved mom like her own Grandmother and the two had a very special bond. Mom would always call out for Amy, whether night or day, and since Mom’s passing, she visited Amy twice. The first night after mom’s passing, asking for her teeth and the second night saying how happy she was and that she was now with her mom …..and….that she needed her blue hair brush…..
Mom had a wonderful Doctor who cared for her above and beyond, especially the last two months as her health shifted. Dr. Ribeiro was available to our family, came to visit mom at home and was always kind and caring. Mom and all of us appreciated her ongoing support.
On April 3, the morning of Mom’s passing, Chris woke up at 4:00 am to find her breathing unusually rapid. Mom was conscious alert and carried on a conversation even with her quick breathing. She loved the massages Chris gave and for her brief last massage said how wonderful it felt. It was always nice to hear when something felt wonderful.
During those last two hours of mom’s life, she shared how much she loved people ……and how much she cared for people. She expressed being ready to lie beside Dad…. …she was ready to go. Her neck hurt so badly from holding it up. And then……. when she released her head back into the support of the pillow, something happened……. Her breathing slowed, deepened, became quieter and more settled. Chris asked if she remembered the song that she so often sang and with that prompt Mom started to sing, “so nimm den meine Hande” – which translates into take my hand dear lord. Her voice audible at first and then growing quieter and quieter, until her song became only a breath and her breath became another breath and then no breath. Chris turned to look at the clock and as she was turning back, Mom took her last and final breath. Thirty seconds later, mom’s bird clock chirped its song. It was 6:00 a.m.
Mom was a beautiful woman who touched many people’s lives. She cared deeply about everything and everyone.
She loved the great country she lived in and she appreciated the Kemle family for helping her get here. She loved her grandchildren and children dearly, her siblings, her in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, caregivers and the many dear and cherished friends who filled her life. She was grateful for everything and everybody and always seen and believed in the good in everyone.
She was a beautiful mother and human being and it has been a special privilege to share her life story with all of you.