Gordon Unrau

UNRAU, Gordon

 1932 – 2018


It’s strange to think that, from now on, all our stories about this larger-than-life man will be told in the past tense. And who doesn’t have a story about Gord? He touched many lives with his humour, kindness and spontaneity.

Gordon grew up in a tiny cabin in Northern Pine, the oldest of five kids (Sue, Abe, Bill, and George). He worked hard from a very young age, ice fishing and logging. Maybe that’s why he could whistle and laugh through even the toughest jobs for the rest of his life. He missed out on school, though – so at the age of 21, he went to Swift Current Bible Institute hoping to learn to read. He didn’t know he’d find the whip smart beauty there who’d steal his heart. He and Phyllis Toews were married in Swift Current, and she’d be with him ever after, through adventures and misadventures, from the gravel pits to Disneyland to long term care.

He was determined to further his education, so he went to high school at Rosthern Junior College at the age of 26. Still the hardest-working guy in the room, he’d carry a little dictionary in his shirt pocket to help him keep up with the new vocabulary he was hearing around him. At night, his little brother Bill would tutor him in math.

At Teacher’s College, he learned to pass that education along. He would go on to teach in Wymark, and in Martensville, where he also served as principal. Children were drawn to his playfulness – his many nieces and nephews can vouch for this as well. But Gordon wasn’t just an educator.

If we told you everything else he did in his working life, you wouldn’t believe it. But his ventures were a rich variety, including ice fishing, politics, lumberjacking, septic pumping, trucking, car sales, entrepreneurship, bison farming, and gravel hauling. With Phyllis, he established several successful businesses including a general store and an insurance agency that is still in operation.

For Gordon, an attaché case was for keys, wieners, car parts, grease rags, papers – anything that might be needed for the venture of the day.

Rather than pay a ticket of any kind, he would employ his powers of persuasion to write an irresistible letter in his own defense, most often successful – but not always. The Town of Martensville had no patience for Sally, the pet goat kept in town and allowed to cavort on the roof of the shed (much to the delight of passersby). Many decades later, the Town would recognize his brilliance by naming a park for him. This unconventional approach to life was passed on to all three of his children – Grant (Janelle), Elaine and Lisa (Hamish) - and his grandchildren, Beth and Nigel.   

Gord liked going for a Sunday drive with his family, often conveniently swinging by the industrial area. Much to Phyllis’s dismay, he thought nothing of climbing around on the greasy heavy equipment in his suit and tie. Any boredom or dismay was quickly dispelled on the next leg of the drive, which would end up at the A&W drive-in, laughing over root beer and onion rings. 

He was hospitable and generous to a fault. Having grown up in poverty, he understood the importance of preserving someone’s dignity. At his highway gas bar, he’d help out troubled travellers by accepting almost anything in payment for a tank of fuel – a bomber jacket, records, books, two rats in a cage, and once, an original painting from a weary traveller who would turn out to be noted artist Allen Sapp (unfortunately consigned to the burning barrel before that revelation occurred).

Gordon was a prankster. Once, Phyllis told him his marmalade habit was out of control and the current jar would be his last. She was increasingly confounded as he continued to heap it onto his toast each morning, but the jar’s level stayed constant. The kids were delighted co-conspirators, keeping the secret of Gordon’s economy-sized supply of marmalade stashed in the garage.

Gordon’s rumbling baritone was put to good use in choirs, family road trips, the bathroom and just about everywhere else he went. He was a natural with an axe, building many a fire with nothing but damp sticks and his imagination. He had an uncanny rapport with animals and an endless curiosity about the natural world.

He was a gentleman and genuinely loved people; if you ever shook his giant hand, you already know this. He was a beloved teacher, respected community leader, and trusted friend.

In lieu of flowers, consider a donation to Mennonite Central Committee (600 – 45th St. W, Saskatoon, SK S7L 5W9) or your favourite charity.  A Memorial Service will be held at 3:00 p.m. on September 23rd, 2018 at at Nutana Park Mennonite Church (1701 Ruth Street East, Saskatoon).  Arrangements are in care of David Schurr – Mourning Glory Funeral Service (306) 978-5200.

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