Sunday, May 06, 2007


Riverton Loses "One Of It's Finest", and "God Welcomes A Chosen One Home"

Just 47 Hours to Love

A black bucket hat with CANADA emblazoned across the front crowned young Hazel's head as she carried a bouquet of wildflowers she had picked that morning. She carefully placed them on a table already laden with flowers from other children. Just the day before Hazel had picked a similar bouquet of flowers for Dennis Kroeker, which he cheerfully took in exchange for his black hat.

The occasion now was much sadder -- a memorial service held for Dennis, one held not in his hometown of Arborg, but in the dining hall of a Nicaraguan orphanage.

He had been in Nicaragua just 47 hours.

Yet the memorial service, with some 100 attendees, sprang up almost spontaneously the morning after his sudden death, with an outpouring of love and grief befitting lifetime friendship, rather than recent acquaintances.

Dennis had gone to Diriamba, Nicaragua, in March as part of a missions work team, connected to the Evangelical Mennonite Conference, to help build a dormitory and paint the kitchen/dining room at Gethsemane Orphanage.

He threw himself into the orphanage work, cutting grooves in the cement walls for the electrical conduit and plumbing and painting the dining room walls in terra cotta and cream. On Saturday, March 17, after finishing the painting, Dennis explored the town with his Spanish phrase sheet while the other six team members, also from Manitoba, headed to the Pacific Ocean for a swim.

Upon joining them, Dennis decided to go for a quick swim. He had a healthy respect for water, but his swimming ability was no match for the strong undertow in the Pacific that evening. Dennis struggled against the current and waves while a team member ran for help, but by the time help arrived, he had drowned.

Dennis, 58, left behind his wife Janice (who had stayed behind in Manitoba), three children, Nathan (and wife Geneviève), Merle (and wife Lorna) and Karla (and husband Harri), along with six grandchildren.

Dennis was born Sept. 1, 1948 in Morris, but he grew up in the Riverton area, and spent most of his life farming there with his brothers. He approached life and its adventures with an equal measure of enthusiasm and commitment. When he was 21, he bought a combine and managed a custom-combining crew as it harvested from the southern U.S. up through the Midwest. When he wasn't farming, Dennis plied Manitoba's winter roads, hauling freight to northern communities, and could spin countless yarns of near misses and icy hijinks.

He and Janice moved to Arborg in recent years where he worked for Manitoba Crop Insurance as an adjuster. He also served on the board of directors of the Puratone Corporation. And he could regularly be found socializing at Chicken Chef in Arborg or stopping his pickup truck to visit with people he met on the road.

He had a strong, quiet Christian faith that he demonstrated in practical ways, in the work he did and the relationships he built.

Hammering nails, helping friends and family prepare for and recover from the 1997 flood, playing dice games with children and generally making everyone he met feel truly important was how he showed his love for God.

It was his heart for children that first drew Janice, his wife of 35 years, to him. It was 1967 and they were both teaching Vacation Bible School to children in the Winnipeg Beach area. She remembers clearly a toddler who repeatedly wet his pants. The other volunteers avoided him, but Dennis held him and played with him. With barely a word of Spanish, he also left an indelible mark on those he met in Nicaragua -- especially the children. Within hours of arriving he had persuaded the children at the orphanage to bring him their slingshots, which he then used to fling candy into the air for them.

Dennis loved playing games. His current favourite was a simple pocket game played with six dice. On the day before his death, Dennis had convinced a baker, Tito, whose mother was housing the work team, to drive him around Diriamba.

Dennis and Tito chatted amiably in English and a smattering of German as they methodically checked every store in town for dice. The work team members were puzzled by Dennis's quest, but when the story reached Manitoba, Dennis's family understood immediately. Dennis wanted to teach the children his favourite game. It made perfect sense.

At the Nicaraguan memorial service, Nicolas Sequeida Mendoza, an orphanage board member, struggled with his composure as he read a poem, entitled 47 Hours to Love.

It concluded (in Spanish): "You my friend were to be with God, but here in our hearts you left so much love. We will continue loving you and we will always remember you."

-by Carol Thiessen

(Carol Thiessen is Dennis Kroeker's niece.)


Dennis Kroeker swapping hat for flowers, with Hazel and her sister Maria.

I take comfort in the fact that Dennis sits by God holding children killed in "Man's petty worldwide conflicts" on his knee.

"Rest In Peace", Dennis.

Nice Write Up,
Too Bad about the Death of Another Global Canadian Volunteer who probably bring more Good Will to Canada than CIDA. We've experienced the under Tow Off Costa Rico one night with a friend about the same time period as you mention. She & I were Good Swimmers & still got a Little Scared as we worked with the Under tow to get back to shore which we finally did quite a distance down the Beach from entry.
Yes, Dennis was "one of a kind", I first met him in the mid-1980s. A "straight-forward, moral, ethical, God-fearing man". A "terrible loss" for all, but he now "enjoys his reward".

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