Name: Neil Thiessen
Family: Wife Shirley, 3 boys - Dale, Matthew and Jordan, two daughters in law, and 6 grandkids.
Profession: Retired Teacher/Principal
Years in Grenfell: 23
What is one thing you do every single day, without fail?
That's an easy one... you know. This had changed over the years. But it's my devotions (reading the Bible and reflecting on it/praying). I do that everyday, and it's become really important to me. I do them in the evening. I can't do them in the morning, I get distracted, thinking about the things I have to do that day. In the evening, my day is done, and I can concentrate. I use an app called InTouch, with Andy Stanley. When Ernie Urschel was alive he told me about this devotion that he did. So I looked at it, and I really enjoy it. It's got bible verses, and a topic for the day.
What's the first movie you saw in the theatre?
I don't know if it was the first movie - I grew up on the farm, so we never went to the theatre. We went to hockey games and things like that. I grew up north of Humbolt, in Pilger. What comes to mind for this question, is Shirley and I had just started dating, and the first movie we went to was The Exorcist. We were in university at the time. We stood in line, and it was in March, and it was cold. I looked at the floor more than her, and then I slept that night with the lights on. It was awful. Terrible! I've seen parts of it since, when it's been on t.v. and it's just stupid and corny. But at the time, it was pretty scary, back in the 70s.
What do you appreciate about Grenfell as a town?
I think just knowing most of the people. We've always lived in small towns, and love it. Sometimes it becomes a bit of a fishbowl - everyone knows your business. But it's nice to be able to know everyone and go visit with your neighbor. Brian and Gloria have just moved next door, and if you're out on your deck and they're out working, you talk. It's going downtown and knowing the people you see, although there are more people now that I don't know. It's also easy to make friends in this town. Good friends. And I can't get away from the pharmacy, because Tyler and I get talking about baseball.
Have you ever done anything dangerous?
Actually ya, I just about died. When we were living up in Loon Lake, we were out at Silver Birch Bible Camp. The lake was frozen over and it was a beautiful day. We had gone to church, and there was another guy that had been at church with his family. We didn't know they were going out further on the lake, and we always stayed closer to the shore. They went way across to skate though. There was no snow. It was just like glass. They went across the lake, and then coming back, there was a bit of a point. It was later in the afternoon, and we were getting ready to go home. Shirley told me to go get Dale, because he had gone with that group. As I was skating out there, I was thinking that it didn't look thick, not really good. I could see where the beaver had been swimming under the water. I was just getting to the point, and I could hear screaming. I was thinking "oh you guys. Someone is going to think something is wrong". But it was the wife of the guy from church. He had fallen through and disappeared. She was screaming, and so I got out there, and Dale started telling me me what happened, and told me not to come any closer. No sooner had he said that, and he went down through the ice. So I was standing there, not knowing what to do, because I don't swim. Not at all. So I just stood there looking at the hole - he was 10 years old. Then he came back up, and was trying to crawl out. He was wearing these brand new hockey gloves - we had just bought them the day before in Lloydminister. He kept slipping though, so I told him to take his gloves off and use your hands. So I got down on my belly and started wiggling towards him, and the ice is cracking the whole time. He got ahold of my hockey stick, and he wiggled up, and I wiggled back and he finally got out. I got physically sick to my stomach after he it was all over. Meanwhile this other guy, he never came back up again. At first his brother-in-law came over to the edge of the ice. His wife was on the other side. I was trying to hold him, and wrestle him up, and he kept falling through the ice. But in his panic, and his adrenaline, he kept coming back up to the surface. I can remember him laying at the hole, hollering. People then came with the canoes, trying to poke through the ice to find the other man. But they couldn't. The next day divers found him, and when he had fallen in, he had banged his head, so he knocked himself out. It was the most awful thing. We took them all over to our house after, and the brother-in-law made the phone calls to tell the family what had happened. I don't talk about it much, because I would get too emotional. It took a long time to be able to sleep through the night, years really. But I got the medal of bravery actually. I don't know who told anyone about it. I got a letter in the mail from Ottawa. I opened it up, and it was a letter telling me I'd won the medal. The next June we went to Ottawa to accept it. Another man got it as well, because he got the wife out. The three were skating toward open water and didn't even know, because the ice had frozen so perfectly and shiny at that point. People who knew the lake knew not to go there, but they didn't unfortunately.
When you hear the word Canada, what do you think of?
It's a good question. This may not sound patriotic, but I think of Canada's hockey games. I'm not a Crosby fan, but when he plays for Canada, I'll cheer for him. He's Canadian. I think of Gold medals, and sports. Even my own neice Brianne (Neil's brother's granddaughter is an Olympic champion in heptathlon). I think of her competing for Canada, wearing that maple leaf. It's different when it's someone you know. I'm a sports fanatic, so when Canada is competing, you want them to win. It's pretty exciting to watch. When Brianne competed in Rio, she didn't do well the first day, and she had been favoured to win the Gold in hepthathlon. She was in 6th at first. She ended up getting Bronze. She was disappointed at first, but then she realized what she had done and was good with it. I also think of kindness, especially when we compare ourselves to Americans.
What does happiness mean to you?
Probably family. I'm the happiest when I'm around my grandkids. We had a friend who wanted me to take a vice principalship up in Haines Junction in the Yukon, and the thought crossed my mind, mostly for financial reasons. I'd be getting the pension here, and the salary there, but I thought nope. I can't. Too far away. I want to be able to see my grandkids, my family. When we're together, I'm happiest. It's really hard getting everyone together. Christmas is hard. Some can come this day, others can come other days. We've never been able to have them all together. Happiness is when my family is happy.
How would your friends describe you?
I don't know. I hope they'd think of loyalty. I hope they think of me as a good friend, someone that they can call if they need something. I like when people call and ask me to help. I like to be someone they can count on, and that they're not afraid to approach. You want to be there for people.
What is the first job you had as a kid?
I didn't have a job until my first year of university. I just worked on the farm. I worked on construction the summer after my first year of university. I remember the things we did, because it was a bunch of us kids working together. One time we had just put the picture window in the house, and we had a load that had come from the yard to the house. There was a big plank in the back of the truck. I wasn't driving, it was another kid. He backed up and put the plank right through the picture window. We all started laughing, but the boss was just irrate. He was swearing, and we ran around the other side of the house, because we got the giggles and were laughing so hard. Thank goodness it wasn't me driving the truck. Things like that, all summer. There was one thing after another. One guy actually fell off the peak of the house. He had taken the chalk line and backed up, and went right over the edge. He popped his shoulder out, tore muscles in his back. His back folded as he landed. So that was my first job as a kid. There's lots of stories I could tell about that. We drove our boss absolutely crazy. But by the end of that summer, we could have put a house together, us kids. One of the first things he had us do is tear down a shop. He had these hooks that grabbed the nail, and pulled them out. He wouldn't let us use gloves. It sounds cruel, but it was a smart thing. For the first ten days, I was just crying. I'd go play ball and try to hang on to the bat, and be cringing in pain. Yet by the end of the summer, we had man hands. When the first load of cement came, we loaded it by hand. It was dusty and we were sweaty and I thought I was going to die. My lungs were so full of that cement dust, and I was so tired. But by the end of that summer we were throwing those cement bags around like nothing.
Talk about a friend that you admire.
I have to say Shirley. She always just seems to know what to do. She always knows where things are. Literally. I leave my keys somewhere, and I can't find them. She'll say "well did you check on the counter in the bathroom?" and I'll say I looked there. Then I'll go back and check, and there they are. I admire how she's able to talk to people. I don't have that skill as much. I'm more reserved. Just who she is. She does thing for me every day, even though we've been married for 43 years. And I don't tell her often enough how much I appreciate her. She's the best friend I have. We do a lot of things together. I like to go for coffee with her, not the men. We go to football games together. I like that.
Have you ever had a serious illness?
I had the bypass surgery in 1999. It seems like yesterday. It was a 5 bypass. When I was a kid I had scarlett fever. I was in grade 1. I had everything. Scarlett fever, measles, mumps, my tonsils. I missed so much school that year. I've come through it all! I spent a lot of time in the hospital and I hated it. I remember fighting the nurses. It was about the fourth time that year that I had to go to the hospital, and I wasn't going to stay.. then all of a sudden I saw my dad in the doorway, and I figured I'd better stop fighting her. I had the heart surgery when I was 46. I was a runner. I jogged every night and did five miles. Then when we moved here, I was so busy being the principal that I stopped. I finally decided I needed to get back to running, so I went out, but I couldn't shake the tightness in my arms. But I thought if I got in shape it would go away. Walking to school one day, I had to keep shaking my arms, because they were aching so bad. I went to see Dr. Kirkman and he said it sounded like angina. He made an appointment with Dr. Wojak. He told me if I didn't hear back in two weeks to let him know, because we needed to get going on this. So I got a call about ten days later to come in. He didn't actually think it was a big deal. He just thought I needed to get a stint. I went in at 8:00 am to get the stint, and then he started looking at it and finding blockages. When they went in and did the surgery, they found more and it ended up being five blockages. So I went in that morning and didn't come out of the hospital for two weeks, and with a 5 bypass surgery. One thing that has happened though - I went in this spring because they thought I had one more blockage. When they were going to put the stint in, they realized my heart has produced other arteries around the stint. He told me I am a very lucky man. This is really good that my heart is producing arteries, so I didn't have to get the stint. Shirley said I'm a miracle, and I kind of feel that way!