Grietje “Greta” was born Monday, April 15, 1929 in Harlingen, Friesland, Holland (The Netherlands) to Jannes and Trijntje (Vellinga) van Nimwegen. She was one of three children along with Franskje “Frances” (born June 17, 1923 in Midlum, Friesland) and Andries (born July 17, 1924 also in Midlum). Sadly, one child was stillborn on June 11, 1938.
It was a quiet day in world news when Greta was born. However, author J. M. Barrie donated, in perpetuity, the copyright fee of his Peter Pan works to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. In addition, it was budget day in the United Kingdom, and a month ahead of a general election, when Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill announced the abolition of the 325-year-old duty on tea, cutting its price. Overall though, taxes were still higher than the previous year. In sweet addition, Greta shared her birthday with British confectionery manufacturer (Cadbury) and rower, Adrian Cadbury. Mmmmm. Greta managed to outlive him by four years.
Greta’s father, Jannes was born August 31, 1893 in Achtkarspelen, Province of Friesland. His mother’s name was Grietje and likely Greta was named in honour of her. Greta’s mother, Trijntje, was born June 24, 1897 in Franekeradeel, Friesland. They were married June 3, 1922 in Franekeradeel. Jannes was 28 years old and Trijntje was 24. Jannes died and Trijntje died.
Greta was schooled in the Netherlands, survived the Second World War and managed while her soon to be husband, Teake, served in Indonesia (East Indies) for three years until 1949. Rose tells the story of how Frances and Greta took their bike apart each night and slipped the parts under their bed mattress to hide it from the Nazi’s. She also tells the story of how Andries was given to another family and hidden “underground” so that he too did not have to serve.
The war ended and Teake took a slow boat to Canada to begin a new life. He went directly to Brantford to work at an abattoir there, Witteveen’s Meats. Having opened its doors in 1951 this business is still in existence and has three locations, St. George, Brantford and Toronto. They have served five generations of customers. Teake, greatly disappointed with his sail over to his new home did not wish the same experience for the love of his life, Greta. So, he encouraged her to fly over to Canada and that she did on Thursday, May 17, 1956.
After a five year separation, they were married later that May in Sydenham Street United Church. According to a newspaper clipping, it was a small, simple wedding with Greta (aged 23) wearing a teal blue suit, with white accessories. Apparently, Teake (aged 31) wore the happy glow that had not dimmed since his bride stepped off the plane at Malton airport. Mr. and Mrs. Earl Totten were their witnesses and the happy couple honeymooned in Niagara Falls. They first lived in an apartment Teake had readied for Greta’s arrival and then on a homestead in the St. Mary’s / Brantford area.
Teake was a carpenter and bricklayer by trade and as he built each new house, he and Greta moved into it. Thus, as a result the young couple moved around quite a bit. Like most European immigrants, both Teake and Greta had an incredible work ethic. Greta often worked right alongside Teake building or, in time, running The Lighthouse Variety Store in Point Clark. Greta could never say no to Teake and tried to teach Rose to know her limits. Nonetheless, Rose too worked hard alongside her Dad. Months were spent in Dyers Bay, learning the tricks of the trade, so to speak. In truth though, Rose would have much preferred to work outside than inside, anyways! Their work ethics have now been passed on down to Sydney as she comes into her own.
Each place they lived, Greta found work. She worked in the kitchen at W. Ross Macdonald School, which coincidently is where Megan attends school. She also worked at Campbells Soup and Harding Carpets. As an aside, August 23, 1956 saw a strike begin at Harding’s plant on Morrell Street and it lasted for 91 days. In 1959, Harding Carpets announced a major expansion to its Holmedale plant.
Prior to Rose being born, Teake was offered the opportunity to purchase a parcel of land on the Bruce Peninsula. Both he and Greta knew a good deal when they saw it and they purchased it for $500. Teake built an A-Frame house on the land. They would ski in during the winter and hike in during the summer. It was beautifully rustic, with an outhouse and water pumped in from Lake Huron. In time better amenities were procured. In addition, the cottage was lifted up and another floor built underneath it as well as an addition put on. When they retired, this is where they retired to and it became their home. Teake had his workshop there, building strong and functional furniture. Greta was right in there with Teake, often acting as bill collector. They sold the property in 2001.
Having suffered two miscarriages, losing three sons, at the age of 39 Greta was able to carry to full term, and give birth to, a beautiful baby girl on December 25, 1967. A Christmas miracle in the town of St. Mary’s! Wanting to call her Rosalind the woman in the next hospital bed to Greta convinced her the baby needed to have a name associated with Christmas. Thus, Rosemary Frances was named!
By 1971, Greta, Teake and Rose had moved into Point Clark to live and run the Lighthouse Variety Store. This was a hectic business venture as it encompassed a motel, convenience store, restaurant and gas pumps. Stories are told how the family were often called from their private time to pump gas or to fire up the deep fryer in order to serve hungry and demanding customers. They stayed there for three years until moving to Lion’s Head in 1974. It was there the Witteveen family had full-time residence. Rose went to school for three years.
And then it was yet another move, this time to Wiarton. Rose completed both public and high school there. While in Wiarton, Greta again worked a number of jobs. She worked for Schneider’s promoting their products at Colter’s as well as at Cheshire’s Clothing. She was a top-notch salesperson and seldom missed a sale. Of course, this made her co-workers a little envious yet gave them something to strive towards!
Greta and Teake loved to travel back to Europe and did so numerous times. It was important for them to stay in touch with family and to show Rose the beautiful countryside and cultures of Austria, Switzerland and, of course, The Netherlands. Teake and Greta also enjoyed card playing parties and get-togethers and Rose was always in tow.
Greta enjoyed having a rock and flower gardens. They also had a current patch and then a vegetable garden when they were in Wiarton. As there are no immediate benefits while picking currents Rose did enjoy the delayed benefit of her Mom’s Black Current Jam! Mmmmm. Greta was a fantastic cook producing incredible meat and potato meals. Holidays or special days were always observed with a big turkey dinner. Greta was a great planner and like her husband, was an anticipator, knowing actions well in advance.
Her family’s favourite though? Monkey Nut Cake. What is it you ask? Well, Emmett could probably tell you the best description. In fact, all of the family could give the best description as they all loved it! Okay….. here is a hint. It involved angel food cake, lemon pudding and canned tangerine slices. Mmmmm. Emmett also remembers Oma talking a lot! Sydney remembers being babysat by Oma and Megan remembers sleep-overs at Oma’s. All of Greta’s grandchildren recall how she was such a great storyteller, entertaining them with lots of, especially, war stories. And of course, there was all the knitting. Afghans, sweaters and socks, lots of socks! Then there were the fingerless gloves for Rose. What lovely memories! Greta was a good grandmother!
Greta had experienced too much pain and sorrow of the war and three miscarriages to whine or complain. In her later years, she also had a triple bypass as well a knee and hip replacement. However, she was a straight shooter and strong-willed. Thankfully one always knew where they stood with Greta and thus there was no game playing. On her own, Greta gave up her driver’s license at the age of 80. She was far too level headed to wait until she had an accident to give up driving. She has passed onto her family the gifts of independence, survival, hard work, the importance of respect and the need to also have some fun! Greta was always in her family’s corner, having their backs!
In the summer of 2000, Greta and Teake moved down to Chesley where Rose and her family were living at that time. They moved into the Islay House and sadly, Teake lived for just over a year there, dying in December of 2001. Greta lived in Islay House until she moved into Parkview Manor in November of 2018. Playing cards, doing jigsaw puzzles and going downtown for coffee filled Greta’s sometimes empty days once Teake was gone.
Greta Witteveen of Chesley, passed away with her daughter by her side, at Parkview Manor on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 in her 91st year.
Loving mother of Rose Witteveen of Paisley. Cherished Oma of Sydney, Megan and Emmett Myers. Greta was predeceased by her husband Teake, siblings Andries VanNimwegen, Frances Visser, granddaughter Sadie Myers and her parents Jannes and Trijntje (Vellinga) VanNimwegen.
A memorial service celebrating Greta’s life will be held at Rhody Family Funeral Home, Chesley on Saturday, July 20, 2019 at 11 a.m.
Memorial donations to C.N.I.B. Foundation would be appreciated as expressions of sympathy.Send to friend