Mary Unger

Mary Unger (Janzen)

Saturday, November 24th, 1928 - Thursday, December 10th, 2020
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Mary left this world for heaven on Thursday, December 10th at 3:30 am CST at Bethania Mennonite Home. She is finally free from the confusion that marked her last years and the physical pain that made her world difficult.
Mary was born on November 24, 1928 in Osterwick (now Arnaud), Manitoba, where her father worked as a cheesemaker for what would become the New Bothwell Cheese factory, after the family emigrated from Russia to Canada. She was the 3rd daughter of Henry and Margaret Janzen, a family that included 2 older sisters, 2 older brothers and 2 younger sisters. Her father then got a job working for General Motors, leading to a move to St. Catherines, Ontario.
Mary left school after grade 8 to start her work career to help the family financially. She worked as a teller for the Royal Bank of Canada, and was quickly promoted to head teller.
By age 18 Mary was concerned about using her talents and skills in serving others. This led to a volunteer assignment working for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Akron PA. Ironically, her tasks included assisting in welcoming hundreds of Mennonite immigrants to the US. The majority of those coming were from Germany and Russia and spoke little to no English, so when she welcomed them by speaking German (her First Language), she experienced tired faces lighting up with joy as they realized they would be able to communicate.
In 1953 Mary moved to Kitchener, Waterloo to work as the secretary in the MCC office.
John Unger was a student at Waterloo Lutheran College, now Wilfred Laurier University. Living near the MCC office, he grabbed his housecoat and walked over to the office to get some information for one of his classes. Expecting to see an elderly volunteer running the office, he was surprised to meet Mary, definitely NOT an elderly volunteer. He was quite impressed and proceeded to spend as much time with her as possible, at Sunday School, church outings and bible studies.
After their wedding in September 1954, their initial plans were to go to serve in Ethiopia. However, when the opportunity in Ethiopia fell through, John and Mary accepted a church planting position with the Ontario Mennonite Brethren Home Missions board in Hamilton, Ontario.
Mary and John connected with a couple who were missionaries in Japan, and Mary donated her wedding dress to them. It was used by many young Japanese brides who could not afford one.
In September 1955, they began their family with the birth of Daniel Bruce. Two and a half years later, Gerald Wayne joined the family. While John was visiting church attendees and preaching weekly, Mary helped him by organizing materials and assisting him with Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. In August 1961, after working to gather a new congregation, which later became the Stoney Creek Mennonite Brethren Church, the family moved to Goshen, Indiana for Dad to work on his Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Religious Studies degrees at Goshen College.
Mary then became the major breadwinner and excelled as the Administrative Secretary to the President of Goshen College. Her excellent skills were quickly recognized, and she was invited to write college entrance exams despite not having a high school diploma. She aced the exams and proudly became a part-time college student, building on her administrative and accounting skills. Following the completion of John’s degrees, the family moved to Carman, Manitoba in 1964 where John served as the pastor of the Gospel Light Mennonite Brethren church. Mary presented John with a special graduation gift with the birth of their 3rd son, John Paul.
In 1967, John was invited to serve as the Minister of Christian Education at the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church in Hillsboro, Kansas. Mary then became the administrative secretary for the Executive Secretary of the US Mission Board. While there, Mary & John applied to be foster parents and provided love and care to 8 infants, and 2 children aged 5 and 7.
John and Mary next moved to Ft Worth, TX in 1971 so John could obtain his Doctorate of Education degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mary again became the breadwinner working as the Administrative Secretary for an independent food broker. In that position, her boss often told her to take some cans from the sample room to feed her 3 hungry and growing boys. She also made time to help type up hundreds of term papers for Southwestern students, which required that each page had no errors or corrections.
With doctoral degree in hand, the next move was to Winnipeg, MB in 1974, where John became the Executive Secretary of Christian Education for the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference. Mary once again found a place to serve, as the Administrative Secretary for Camp Arnes. After several years serving the Camp Association, she moved on to the position of Administrative Secretary to the president of Palliser Furniture. The first and last house they ever owned was in Winnipeg. One day when doing some renovations Mary missed a nail and put her hammer right through the wall, then began laughing like crazy because she didn’t have to confess it to the landlord.
The next move was to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA in 1982, where John had a one-year position as Minister to Ministers. Then in 1983, it was time to drive back across the country to Toronto Ontario, where John taught at Ontario Bible College. Mary was invited to serve as the Administrative Secretary at Ontario Theological Seminary, which shared a campus with Ontario Bible College. They served in Toronto until John’s mandatory retirement at age 65 (1992). Mary was always recognized in the work arena as an exceptional, skilled, and trusted assistant to top level management in every organization.
The next opportunity was a one-year position as interim pastor at the Port Rowan Mennonite Brethren Church in southern Ontario, where Mary was able to take some time to start reading and working on various projects she had planned for over the years.
Their last big move was to Winnipeg MB, to be near son Paul and his family, reconnect with relatives and friends, and watch two of their six grandchildren grow.
Mary was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1997 and recovered but was left with lingering health issues.
Mary had a sense of adventure. Together with John, Mary travelled to almost every state and province. While living in Texas she took a turn on the “bucking barrel”and we have the picture to prove it! She helped John lead two Holy Land tours and while there even rode a camel! After retirement, Mary enjoyed winters in Florida, beach-combing, exploring flea markets and visiting with friends and family.
Just as Mary volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee and Camp Arnes, her sons also worked and volunteered with many Christian organizations as staff, speakers and board members, carrying on Mary and John’s emphasis of giving one’s life in service to others!
Mary spent the last almost 6 years of her life, as a resident of Bethania Personal Care Home. As a family we would like to thank all the wonderful staff of Bethania, who provided Mom with such excellent and personal care during these difficult years. We appreciate you all very much.
Mary was “mom” or “grandma” to many beyond her 3 sons, 10 foster children, 6 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. Mary connected with hundreds of people as she helped them with projects, moves, feedback and advice, in her gentle way. Her patient listening ear is one of the things we have heard her described as having by many. She was used to having friends drop in for a meal, a night, or even a month or more. The family has special memories of these ‘adopted’ siblings and are challenged to remember them all but would like to highlight some of those who we know will miss Mary too: Ev Wedel; Anne Dyck; Carl & Ming Voth and their children; Cheyenne; Tessa; and Stephanie; Leith & Miles White; Marlin Unger; Glenda Robinson; Judy Willems; Anne Klassen; Nathan Sawatzky; Rod Quiring; and Steve Huebner; to name a few.
Mary always had room in her house and heart for one more.
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