It’s one of the most marvelous adventures anyone can have.”
As a librarian and an avid reader, Iris often encouraged both young and old to pick up a good book and experience the pleasures of reading. Not only can one learn something new when reading, but we also experience that adventure through someone else’s narrative and eyes. Rarely will you be disappointed!
Iris Irene was born on Tuesday, April 23, 1940, in Deloraine, Manitoba to a proud mother, Ellen Isabel Smith. Iris was an only child and when she was quite young, she and her mother, a teacher, moved across the prairies and out to southern Alberta as teaching jobs were hard to find. In 1951, the women relocated to Elmwood, as Iris’ maternal uncle lived in the area. Iris soon enrolled at John Diefenbaker Secondary School in Hanover. It was during this time period, that Iris attended a dance in Elmwood, and was introduced to a young man four years her senior by the name of Gerald Milton Gateman. A man we knew by various nicknames from “Joe and Joey” in the earliest of years to “Jerry”.
On Friday, February 6, 1959, Iris and Jerry eloped and were married in Toronto. Together they soon called the 2nd Concession of Elderslie home, purchasing the 100-acre farm for $7,000. They welcomed their daughter, Cathy later that year. Life was tough in those early years as the farmhouse initially had no running water or hydro. Snow filled the kitchen where they slept that first winter with their baby girl. The newlyweds made the best of a difficult situation and soon welcomed sons Paul in 1961 and Barry in 1962. In addition to her young offspring, Iris cared for her ailing mother before her passing in 1962. It was around this time that her grandmother moved into the family home until the children began school. During the late 1960’s Iris also watched over her young nephew Gary during the summers when Eleanor, his mother, took on extra accreditations at teacher’s college in Toronto. Gary recently recalled his Aunt Iris preparing brown sugar sandwiches for the four youngsters before bedtime!
Iris was a smart, self-taught and self-reliant woman. She became an avid, beautiful sewer, making much of the family clothing for many years. Paul recalls his bunny and devil costumes winning school prizes. Unbelievably, she did not know how to cook when she married but she quickly learned her way around the kitchen and excelled at cooking and baking. She was known to make “the best” barley soup. Her desserts were quickly spotted by us all whether following a harvest meal or at the Gateman Picnic. Throughout these years of working and raising her family, she supported Jerry in the decisions made on the farm. We can recall the late nights she spent pulling out the bookwork after the supper dishes were done.
Throughout it all, there was lots of fun. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Gatemans enjoyed playing progressive euchre with their neighbours. These card games were followed by a large midnight “lunch”. Perhaps this is why Barry loves those little sandwiches so much! In the late 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, when able, Jerry and Iris enjoyed travelling to Alberta, Nassau, Nashville, and then Florida several times. Oftentimes, Bud and Muriel Rier, close family friends, were their travelling companions. Together, they also enjoyed many fishing trips on Manitoulin Island. Jerry and Iris attended many community functions and were a staple in the community through these years. They looked as though they were floating on air when they danced together. Iris especially loved the old country music by Charley Pride, Johnny Cash and Anne Murray.
In 1976, Iris returned to the workforce at the Chesley Library. Iris thoroughly enjoyed her time at the library as she loved working with Dorothy Glasser, cataloguing books and helping school children with their book reports/projects. It did not seem at all like a job when Iris spent time helping people pick out a good book! She remained in this position until her retirement in 2006.
One of Iris’ greatest joys was caring for her young grandchildren in the early 1990’s. She looked forward to that precious time spent. She was extremely proud of her grandchildren’s successes. And happy for the lives they’ve created in their adulthood. Iris made a warm and welcoming home and anticipated family and friends coming together under one roof. Her plans to create special Christmas memories for her family began in early Fall. She enjoyed gardening when she could, creating beautiful beds. It should be no surprise that roses and (of course) Irises were some of her favourites.
Selling the farm following Jerry’s stroke was one of the most difficult decisions Jerry and Iris had to make. Building on a cleared bush lot at the back of the farm had always been Jerry’s dream. Together, and with Iris’ drive, it came to fruition. Iris spent ten years as Jerry’s caregiver at their new home. When his condition worsened in 2005, Iris moved to Hanover to be closer to Jerry at Hanover Care Centre. Losing Jerry less than a year later was gut wrenching. She remained in her apartment before her move to The Village in December 2016 following 2 surgeries in 3 days. In the last six years, the staff and PSW’s at The Village have become an extension of Iris’ family, often describing her smile and kindness with fondness. Iris often remarked on how lucky she felt to be under the care of such a compassionate team.
Iris enjoyed collecting anything that was pretty and was known to amass a variety of figurines, especially angels. In the Y2K years, Iris became passionate about scrapbooking and spent countless hours creating beautiful, lasting memories, one album at a time. It should be no surprise that Iris enjoyed reading in her free time. She liked to read the likes of Tom Clancy and Nora Roberts with thrillers, fiction, and legal novels being her favourite. If she was to treat herself to something delicious, it was often ice cream.
Throughout the years, Iris especially enjoyed spending time with the Gateman family, and honestly fit in more like a sister than a sister-in-law. She had lasting adventures, love and much laughter with her Gateman siblings and the very large family that followed. Iris was always able to make quick connections with people and her kind, caring personality also helped build these relationships. She was hardworking, hospitable, honest, and patient, and always looking out for others.
It is remarkable to think how Iris persevered through so many years with so many health issues. The past several years became increasingly difficult as she struggled even more. In recent weeks, her health declined further, and Iris passed away at Huron Shores Hospice, in the loving presence of her family, on Sunday, January 15, 2023, in her 83rd year.
Loving mother of Cathy (Bob) Slesser of Tiverton, Paul (Sandra) of Port Elgin, and Barry (Janice Reay) of Hanover. Grandmother of Derek (Lisa), Scott (Sarah), Lisa, and Jody (Brett), and great-grandmother of Henry, Eddy, and Zane. Iris will be lovingly remembered by Gerald’s siblings Carol Calhoun, Ruth Beckenhauer, Don (Doreen) Gateman, Glenna McMillan, and Jim (Anne) Gateman as well as many nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her husband Gerald “Jerry” (2006), sisters-in-law Eleanor McCaslin, and Janice Gateman, brothers-in-law Jack Calhoun, Bruce McMillan, Buck Pederson, Murray Edwards, and her mother Ellen Smith.
A memorial service honouring Iris’ life will be held at Rhody Family Funeral Home, Chesley on Tuesday, February 7, 2023, at 11 a.m. Spring inurnment in St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery, Elmwood.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations to the Huron Shores Hospice or a charity of your choice would be appreciated as expressions of sympathy.