John Kassenaar, devoted husband and father, laker, traveler, athlete, helping hand and so much more passed away on December 13, 2023. He was 94. He died of old age.
John arrived in Winnipeg in 1957, a Dutch immigrant and junior employee at Dominion Malting Ltd. He rose to run the company, modernized the plant on Dugald Road with innovative new systems, and developed Canada’s reach in the malting industry with sales to Japan, Australia and elsewhere. He was a leader, a mentor and a trusted businessman.
He was also an enthusiastic Winnipegger. He co-chaired the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in 1971, was president of the Winnipeg Art Gallery and an early member of the University of Manitoba’s Associates committee. He joyfully supported Junior Jackrabbits and loved to ski in LaBarriere and Birds Hill parks. He played squash at the Winnipeg Winter Club and, in retirement, joined the Granite Curling Club. With his wife, Johanna, he attended hundreds of Manitoba Theater Center, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Prairie Theater Exchange performances. They were also long drawn to Inuit art, a pursuit that connected them deeply to each other, to the arts in Winnipeg and to their beloved Canada.
He was an avid reader, an energetic gardener and a gifted builder of model sailboats. At age 61, John trekked to Everest Base Camp despite learning en route that he had terrible vertigo. He was a man of tremendous resourcefulness and courage.
Johann Dietrich Christian Kassenaar was born Oct. 18, 1929, in Arnhem, Holland, the youngest of three children. His parents called him Jo, and he was a sprightly boy who always remembered the stories and songs of his youth. His birth a week before the stock market crash of ‘29 meant the coming Depression and turmoil of European politics before World War II. Still, the family had some means, and they holidayed at the seashore, boating, swimming and playing games.
He was a conscientious student who never stopped muttering numbers in Dutch when he did calculations later in life. He walked to school in Arnhem with a gang of friends, including a skinny girl named Audrey Hepburn, whose mother made them pancakes in the afternoons.
The Kassenaars were swept into the war when the Nazis entered Holland in 1940. He could help his father work with the Dutch Resistance in part because, as a young teenager, he was still allowed a bicycle. When tires ran out, he wrapped garden hose around his wheels and bumped along over the bulky joint. After the Battle of Arnhem, which he witnessed from a rooftop, the family evacuated north to an old farm house. When they returned, his Boy Scout troop escorted Allied soldiers around the damaged city. His photo saluting Queen Wilhelmina appeared in the Knickerbocker News.
Jo headed to college in Deventer in 1947 to study tropical agriculture, planning to move to Indonesia. But with post-war shifts in Asia, he chose Canada instead. In 1951, at 21, he boarded a freighter to Montreal with two duffel bags and $175, and then made his way to the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College.
At a fundraiser for Dutch flood relief in 1954, he encountered an intelligent, beautiful fellow student named Johanna Judith Bartelink. They’d grown up just 25 kilometers apart. They married in June 1956 and, by then, were known as ‘John’ and ‘Jan’, names that marked them settling into a new culture. They moved to Winnipeg, had three children in seven years, and affectionately committed to the ups and downs of a busy family life.
John adored Lake of the Woods, a gathering place for more than 50 years. He flew the Canadian and Dutch flags together on a tall white pole, managed construction projects, waxed boats, and lugged in extra soil for the flowers. He grew shiitake mushrooms in an oak log after seeing the technique in Japan. He puttered at the dock, sipping coffee in the sunrise as he cast his line into the still water. He swam, sailed, and admired the beavers and the loons. He loved bonfires with sing-songs, boat trips to distant bays, and was once commodore of the ZigZag Yacht Club. He knew the lake so well that he could steer home in the dark guided by silhouettes against the starry sky.
John was a friend to many, with a cheerful welcome, plenty of advice, and funny one-liners that got right to the point. He’s been remembered in past weeks as a strong character and a gracious man. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Johanna; his children, Anne Judith, Dirk and Lisa; their spouses, Albert, Cathy and Ted; and his grandchildren, Julia, Max, Sarah, John, Anna, Hannah and Charlotte. We go forth carrying his baton.
Thank you to the wonderful staffs at Deer Lodge and VGH who cared for Dad, especially Dr. Galit Hasdan. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Lake of the Wood Water Sustainability Foundation (lowwsf.com/donate) in his name.
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