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Barb Klages

Rhody Family Funeral Home

On May 10, 1949, Camiel “Oscar” and Marie Mildred (Kohl) DeVisscher had a big surprise – Barbara Helen was born to them!  They had married in 1936, lived in Larder Lake where Oscar worked in the gold mine, came south to help Marie’s father on his farm in the Delhi area and bought their own farm in the Brownsville, Ontario area.  In 1942 they had adopted Clara, a cousin of Marie’s who needed a family, and she was delighted with the baby!!

An interesting family story is of how the DeVisscher family arrived at the docks, to sail from Liverpool to New York, only to find out the ship was filled to capacity, and they had no room even though they had tickets. Instead, the family proceeded to sail on the RMS Lusitania. The family arrived in New York on March 18, 1912. The ship’s name they were originally scheduled to take was the RMS Titanic. (Imagine!) For quite a while the DeVisscher family back home thought all eight family members were dead.

The first few years on the farm, they had dairy cattle and grew black-leaf tobacco. Deciding neither was their preference, the family sold the sandy part of the farm on the other side of the railroad tracks to tobacco farmers and changed their operation to hogs and the crops to sustain them plus some hay to sell and tomatoes (14 acres was the largest acreage of tomatoes they ever had).  Barb and her Mom used the profits from the tomatoes and cucumbers to purchase a family piano and a washing machine. Money earned was also used to provide for piano lessons, 4-H clubs, rides and the use of the family wheels. In the following years, the money was also set aside for Barb’s “education fund”.  For a few years after most of the dairy herd was sold, they kept one milk cow while raising a Holstein-Hereford cross calf for the freezer every year. The DeVisschers had a large garden and an orchard with a great variety of apples and pears. Lots to be preserved!

The girls attended Brownsville Public School and graduated from Glendale High School in Tillsonburg. After graduation, Clara left home for a job in London and was married shortly after to Harold Dennis, whose wife had died, leaving four children (3 girls and one boy).  Over time, the two added six more girls to the family. Two of the nieces and one nephew were actually older than Barb, thus becoming closer to Barb than Barb was to Clara.

It was in Grade 7 that Barb decided to be a County Home Economist with the Ontario Department of Agriculture, and that meant 4 years of university.  Besides selling cukes and tomatoes, Barb worked picking strawberries, in tobacco fields, at a factory, a shoe store, slinging beer and other tasks at a motor hotel. Mission accomplished! Along with student loans, Barb graduated from the University of Guelph in 1972 with a Bachelor of Applied Science. After graduation, she went back to slinging beer until offered a job with the Department of Agriculture and Food (OMAF).

Barb was hired provincially and placed where she was most needed in the province, yet with a chance to express her wishes. Barb asked for Northern Ontario but was sent to Bruce County, much to Barb’s chagrin. She decided “Fine. I’ll stay here until I get the chance to apply for a transfer to Northern districts.” Walkerton became Barb’s new home along with five single girls as co-workers. As a Home Economist Barb was a leadership specialist. By the time a transfer did come up, Bruce County had become rooted in Barb’s blood and so she stayed! (Thank goodness!)

All the while, Barb was employed with the same terrific people – working with the volunteer leaders and members all over the county and beyond.  She learnt A LOT being involved with leader workshops, achievement days, summary days, leadership camps, fun days, exchange trips, annual meetings, consumer questions, writing courses to be used across the province, etc.  And to think that Barb was even paid for her part in it all the while loving what she was doing! With the lifelong friends Barb made, a lot of travelling was done – to the Canadian East Coast, the Canadian West Coast and the Arctic via the Dempster Hwy. They always tented, of course, and did so mostly in July. Barb was also fortunate enough to travel to Colorado twice with her parents, as her oldest paternal uncle Andrew had settled there.

At a Chatsworth Fall Fair dance, Barb met John David Klages and, even though marriage and kids were definitely NOT in her plans, the two were wed on October 2, 1982 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Walkerton.  Their witnesses were William “Bill” Daniel Kingston and Helen Mary Gutscher. Officiating over their nuptials was The Rev. Ernest Lootsma. Barb and Dave made their home in Brant Township, first renting at Lot 24 Concession 6 and then buying about 5 acres of Lot 22 Concession 7.  Barb and Dave’s family began to expand with the birth of Gord on May 2, 1983, Andy on February 5, 1987 and Amy on October 22, 1990.  Even though marriage and children were always the last things on Barb’s mind she was eternally grateful that her life plans changed to include her family.

Of course, their family continue to grow as Gord married Patricia Sannuto, September 6th, 2014 and are now raising two boys, Zack and Sam. Andy and Amanda Scott were married the year before on October 5, 2013 and they have two children, Tristan and Natalie.  Amy now lives in her own home in Wiarton and works in a local restaurant. Her busy-ness does not allow much time to get into trouble!

Shortly after Andy was born, Barb resigned from her position after 17 years as the job started to take an unimpressive direction. Gord was starting school and Andy was another young life in their care. Needing something to keep her mind busy, Barb started Silk ‘n Such, creating silk scarves etc,  for about 3 years.  She also joined Malcolm W.I. and never had any regrets at doing so. With other WI members around the county, they developed the Lug-a-Line products – items to make it easier to carry their own eating and drinking things instead of using disposables, which were on the WI radar at the time.

At about that time, Barb and another Home Economist, Maxine Innes-Holbrough, who had retired from OMAF at the same time as Barb had and for similar reasons, were approached about developing, teaching and delivering courses similar to the former adult courses offered to WIs and other groups through OMAF.  The two women believed strongly in the importance of extension education and the tool it gave groups to reach out to non-members in their communities, so formed Pass It On business.  The business took a number of different courses – Landscaping Your Home, Entertain with a Flair, Baking Bread, Décor Accents, Accessories with a Flair and they travelled around Ontario passing them on to leaders.  After some 6 years, the business was not viable as their only income was generated from course fees and member book sales. Again, Barb was able to meet and know terrific people and visit some wonderful Ontario places.

However, many jobs kept Barb busy and helped the family’s cash flow – cooking in many different establishments (including Marj’s in Elmwood and Walkerton Golf and Country Club), catering along with Fern-E Abell (a joke between Barb and Fern-E) starting from 1989, acting as a clerk at Becker’s 10-4 junction, sewing for an upholsterer, working at a nursery and landscape centre, at Energizer in Walkerton, and finally working for Canada Post as a Rural and Suburban Mail Carrier, doing Elmwood and Cargill routes.

As Barb was always a real go-getter, she volunteered all the while working for pay. She played the organ and piano part-time at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Brant and other churches as was given the chance, and training 4H leaders. As if all that wasn’t enough, Barb served as an Advocacy Chair and volunteered with Big Sisters. In 2011, the Tommy Cooper award was given to Barb. It is presented annually by Bayshore Broadcasting and The Sun Times to the person making the greatest contribution to agriculture and rural living in Grey and Bruce Counties. The cutest story is told of when the winner was announced, Barb started clapping along with all the others gathered. It took a bit before she realized that it was her name that had been called out. Barb had not written an acceptance speech as she felt for sure that she would not win. Barb felt she didn’t deserve it because much of what she did wasn’t anything special-‘it just needed doing’. The accolade is also a lifetime achievement award and she felt she was ‘far from done’.

In the nearly 30 – 35 years the Klages family has lived at their present location they did numerous renovations and added a deck/patio, major additions and a garage, which like numerous homes is too full to ever house a car!  Over the years the family has planted hundreds of trees, many of them tiny seedlings which have grown to major trees.  Barb and Dave also had a pond dug to replace the boggy spot which was always feared to be the cause of death for one of the “young’uns.” This gratefully did not happen! The Klages family have enjoyed living in a terrific neighbourhood and having great neighbours.

When time allowed, Barb loved to play Scrabble, Euchre, Solo, Cribbage as well as do crossword puzzles. She loved to cook, sew and garden flowers. Winter was her favourite season but she didn’t mind summer either. Red was Barb’s favourite colour and she loved to read anything she could get her hands on. Although, her favourite writers were Bodie and Brock Thoene, Christian authors of more than 65 works of historical fiction. Being a musician Barb also loved to listen to classical music as well as country-western. Of course, watching the news on TV was also a highlight for Barb. Believe it or not, Barb once wrote that she enjoyed just doing nothing!! (Really?)

In May of 2014, Barb turned 65 but had no plans to retire. However, there were MANY things she still wanted to do and places she wanted to go. Newfoundland and Nunavut were the only two provinces/territories she had not yet visited yet at the same time she also wanted to do a more thorough visit of the rest of the provinces and territories.  However, Barb also recognized that it would take quite a bit of dynamite to get Dave and her out of Bruce County!

Sadly, in the Fall of 2016 Barb began to experience neurological deficits that formed from serious infections. Eventually, the neuropathy put her into a wheelchair and in 2021 Barb transitioned into Lee Manor, Owen Sound. No matter what though, Barb was able to keep that beautiful huge smile and positive attitude. When people apologized to Barb for not visiting enough she would kindly respond with her smile, “That’s okay, I haven’t visited you either” Barb’s specialist knew of only 9 others with the same disorder, including Ann Hurn whom Barb was fortunate enough to be able to speak with regularly.

Barb most admired a positive attitude, honesty and trustworthiness in others and it is to this scribe’s mind that those traits describe Barb to a “T”. She had little time for those who gossiped or were self-centred. The best piece of advice she ever received was from her Mom who said, “If you don’t like something, you check it out, look for ways to improve it, or you shut up!” Barb considered herself to be so lucky in that her parents, her Dad’s father, the WI and St. Peter’s were most influential in her life.

Released from the tethers of her physical life, Barb died the morning of February 8th, truly surrounded by her family and their love, at Lee Manor, Owen Sound. She was 72 years of age. Although not able to, “go gentle into that good night, raving at the close of day and raging against the dying of the light” (paraphrasing Dylan Thomas) Barb was gifted her freedom. To God, we give thanks for this!

(Much of this ‘short’ biography was written by Barb herself! Thanks, Barb!)

Beloved wife of David. Cherished mother of Gord (Patricia) of Port Elgin, Andy (Amanda) of Chesley and Amy Klages of Wiarton, and grandmother of Tristan, Zack, Natalie, and Sam. Barb will be fondly remembered by her nieces, Sharon (Bill), Bonnie (Germain), Terry (Ken), Debbie (Randy), Diana (Doug), Darlene (Rick), Denise (John), Dale, Donna (Jeff) and their families as well as the entire Klages family and her many friends. She was predeceased by her sister Clara (Harold) Dennis, nephew Bob, and her parents Oscar and Marie (Kohl) DeVisscher.

An informal public gathering honouring Barb’s life will be held in the lower level of the Elmwood Community Centre on Saturday, March 12, 2022, from 2 – 5 p.m. Masks will be required, and all applicable COVID-19 restrictions will be followed. Spring inurnment in St. Peter’s Lutheran Cemetery, Brant Township.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations to the Residential Hospice of Grey Bruce, Saugeen Hospice Inc., a local food bank or a local charity of your choice would be appreciated by Barb’s family.

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