Maria (Rietje, Ricky) Wojdak

Ricky Wojdak (1920-2013)

Maria (Rietje, Ricky) was born on April 23, 1920 in Amsterdam, the fifth of six Versteeg children in the close, working class family. She told many stories of the laughter and rivalries growing up with four sisters and one brother in a 4-room apartment. Her life was difficult during the Occupation in WW2. With all of her older siblings married and with young families of their own, Ricky did much to support her family.

Ricky immigrated to England in 1946 in search of a better life, with Canada as the ultimate goal. There, she met Pawel (Paul) Wojdak, a Polish soldier serving in the British Army. Paul had a tragic and largely buried history. Though Polish, he was likely born in central Russia in 1912, a few years later he was orphaned in Siberia and then saved as a child refugee in Japan. Eventually he was brought to Poland where, instead of contributing to a renewed country, he was caught up in another war. Ricky and Paul had a son (also named Paul). Paul Senior would have been content to stay in England but Ricky was determined to begin a new life in Canada and so in 1952 the family immigrated.

In Canada, Ricky and her family lived on a 27-acre wooded estate near the Credit River west of Toronto. The home and grounds belonged to a Member of Parliament, an old Canadian family. Ricky and Paul provided domestic service. They adjusted quickly to life in Canada. Two proud events occurred in 1956 and 1958, purchase of a new house of their own and acquisition of Canadian citizenship.

The new home was located in Streetsville (now part of Mississauga). Ricky immediately found a job. She would work in several of the town’s manufacturing plants in accounting and payroll functions. When she retired in 1984, Ricky was office manager of a small law office in Port Credit, responsible for the funds involved in real estate and inheritance. These were enjoyable years; family camping holidays in Algonquin Park or Temagami and later there was a summer cottage in Muskoka. There were Grey Cup parties with good friends and visits to and from her sisters in Holland and brother in Australia. Her leisure time always included solving the weekly cryptic crossword from the Globe & Mail. Ricky and her husband shared too little time in retirement together because Paul died of lymphoma in late 1984.

Never one to linger over a decision, Ricky quickly determined to wind up her life in Ontario and move to British Columbia to be close to her son Paul and wife Robin and their family. Ricky settled in White Rock soon made many new friends, immersed herself in bridge and lawn bowling clubs, and especially enjoyed her grandchildren, Rebecca, Rachel and Graham. In her sporty Mustang she drove to concerts in Vancouver and with her friend Rollie drove to Pasadena to see the Rose Bowl parade, an event she had long admired from afar. She became Chair of her Strata Association but that did not go well. Like many other Vancouver area condos, the brand new building began to leak. After a lengthy period of conjecture, major repairs were undertaken. The glow was off condominium life; in 2003 Ricky relocated again, this time to Smithers, again closer to her son and wife Estelle and youngest granddaughter, Carmen.

Of course Ricky quickly made new friends in Smithers and at Pioneer Place in particular. And she found a new bridge club. Her grandson Graham moved to Terrace and became a teacher. She was always ready for a road-trip to see his house, and his latest renovation project. Rachel visited from her new home in England, bringing Ricky’s two great-grandsons, to her great delight. Ricky’s last trip to Vancouver was to see the condo bought by her granddaughter Rebecca.

Recently, Ricky took up poetry for self-expression. “From Pioneer Place with Love” is about the challenges of aging. She was a regular blood donor for some 40 years and in White Rock received recognition for giving 50 pints of blood. She continued to donate blood but eventually her age precluded further donations. Instead she gave money to numerous medical charities, many of which held special significance to her. Difficult end-of-life events among her family and friends led her to a strong conviction in the right for people to die by choice and with dignity. She was active for many years with like-minded people to advocate for those rights. We are grateful to all the Home Care professionals, care-givers, Hospice volunteers and friends who helped Ricky toward those goals.

Ricky resisted strongly being told what to do or think, and would quote her father who said, “Think for yourself!” Ricky’s great sense of humor continued until her final days. This, and her outgoing personality led to enduring friendships. Many people will remember her lovingly and this was her mantra:

Count your blessings, not your troubles,

Count your age by friends, not years.

Friends are the flowers that bloom in Life’s garden.

Ricky is predeceased by all her siblings; Nellie, Toni, Wim, Annie and Jopie. She is survived by: her son Paul (Robin, Estelle), grandchildren Rebecca, Rachel (Antal), Graham and Carmen, and great-grandchildren Zoltan and Benedek.

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