Gerda Emma Schroeder
Our beloved mother and Grandmother, Gerda Emma Schroeder nee Hetzner (Oma) passed away peacefully surrounded by family in her home on the morning of April 24th 2021. Oma had just celebrated her 83rd birthday.
As her children we would like to honor this wonderful woman we called Oma.
Oma was born on March 22nd, 1938, in Nuremberg, Germany. Her father Ernst, was a tailor, and she was looked after by her mother Marie. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to the village of Dittenheim in Franconia to avoid the big city during the war. Dittenheim is where our family has resided, since the late 1300’s. Her earliest childhood memories from living in that little village were pleasant.
Sadly, in the later part of her childhood, the Second World War began. Oma told us of being constantly afraid during much of her childhood. She remembered always staying close to her mother. Her family, along with her Aunt Lotte’s family and her beloved cousin Rosemarie, had to live together in her paternal grandmother’s stables in Dittenheim. She developed an extraordinarily close bond with Rosemarie, and they treated each other as sisters throughout their lives. They had to share what little of food and necessities that they had. Oma and her family were always hungry. Every Christmas she received the same doll with which she played for a day, then it was put away for another year. These were hard years. She heard the bombings and was strafed by a fighter plane once. All her life she would tense up and be afraid at the sound of a propeller aircraft. During this time of deprivation and fear, her beloved brother Herbert came into the world in January, 1941. Herbert’s arrival brought happiness and joy into her world. Her experiences in the war shaped her outlook of the world and fostered her life-long passion for conservation and pacifism.
After the war, Germany was devastated, and the family set about rebuilding their lives. To rebuild the town, each family had to contribute one person to dig waterlines. As Oma’s father did not return from the war for several months, in which they did not know if he would ever come home. Her mother Marie had to help the men of the town dig in the hard clay. The example of seeing her mother work hard alongside the men of the town instilled in Oma a sense of equality long before it became fashionable. Upon his return, Oma’s father started work again as a tailor. However, the bleak economic conditions and the introduction of mass produced clothing made her father’s job untenable. A friend said that Canada was taking skilled immigrants. They decided to apply for a new life in Canada.
In 1954, after a long sea journey aboard the ship Columbia where Oma was terribly sea-sick and secluded to her small, overcrowded cabin, they finally docked in Montreal. They then boarded a train with their two trunks containing all their belongings, destined for their new home, Toronto.
Upon arriving in Toronto, they were met by the Fisher family, who made the same arduous journey from Germany a year earlier. The Fisher’s arranged a place for her family to live. On her second day in Toronto, Oma started working as a maid and babysitter. Her father got a job working as a tailor on Spadina Avenue making high end suits. Without any knowledge of the English language or of Canada, Oma was expected to take care of her client’s four children. She was expected to work, hand over her pay checks to her father, and learn English. Within the first year in Canada, she enrolled in the Marvel School of Hairdressing. Around this time, Oma’s cousin Rosemarie and her brother Roland, whom Oma grew very close to over the years and loved deeply, immigrated to Canada.
With her hairdressing certificate in hand, she started working at a beauty salon in Toronto. The normal work week, at the time, was Monday through Saturday, with Sunday as a day of rest. On one of these Sundays, while on a family stroll on Sunnyside beach, she met her future husband, Joseph. Her father, at first, did not approve of this relationship, as he expected his daughter to contribute her income for the benefit of the family. On October 27, 1956, less than two years after arriving in Canada, Oma and Joseph were married in the Toronto First Lutheran Church.
Around two years after marrying Joseph, at the age of 20, Oma opened her beauty salon: the Peach Petal Beauty Salon. At the time, she was too young to sign the lease papers on her own and had to have her husband sign for her.
In October, 1966, Oma gave birth to her first-born, Eugene. She worked until the birth of her second child, Laura, in August, 1968. Her third child, Kenneth, was born in June, 1970. She started raising her family in the Lakeshore area in Toronto. As she left her working life, she was fully committed to raising her children, growing vegetables in the garden for her kids and cooking for the family. Following in her father’s tailoring footsteps, she learned to sew and made most of her children’s clothing. She did everything she could to make sure her children were raised in a warm and loving environment.
Unfortunately, the marriage between Joseph and Oma came to an end, though they remained lifelong friends. Oma further became friends with Joseph’s future wife, Linda. Oma at this time also met her second husband, Hans. They married on June 10th, 1978.
On September 1st, 1982, Oma, her parents and her family moved to the idyllic countryside outside Alliston. One of her fondest memories was with her mother, Marie, attending the wedding of her beloved brother Herbert to his wife Donna. Herbert and Donna had two children, Andrea and Kenny. Sadly though, Marie, who was an inspiration to Oma throughout her entire life, passed in 1985. The loss devastated her.
In 1988, Oma was diagnosed with breast cancer. This diagnosis would shape a large part of her later life. She took this insidious disease head-on and learned all she could about it. She underwent radiation treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital where she stayed at the Lodge with other women with the same ailments. She formed lifelong friendships with these women during this stay. After she prevailed against cancer, she became the head of the Cancer Support Group in the Alliston area, a position she held for the next 25 years.
Alongside her leadership role at the local cancer support group, Oma and Hans were very active members of the Alliston Horticultural Society. Her support and participation of the Horticultural Society complemented her lifelong love of gardening. She was a frequent participant in the Horticultural Society’s competitions and won numerous awards including Best Red Rose six times.
Another momentous and joyful occasion for her was when her daughter Laura starting her own family after marrying Eric in 1991. Her first grandson, Emerson, was born in February 1995, followed by her second grandson, Nicholas, in August 1996. She was always very proud of her two grandsons and loved them dearly.
Oma’s son Eugene also started a family with his wife Tracy in 1994, who already had a son, RJ. Eugene and family moved to Alliston in 1998, and Oma was happy to have them close by, thinking of Tracy more as a daughter than as a daughter-in-law. In 2015 Freya, Oma’s great granddaughter was born. She brought great joy to Oma who thought of her as “magical” when she would use her pendulum. Shortly before Oma’s passing another great granddaughter Abbigale was born.
In 2005, Oma and Hans moved to a new home from Lisle to Alliston. Soon after moving in the new house, Hans was diagnosed with liver cancer. After a long and difficult battle, her beloved Hans passed away on August 3rd, 2006. For the first time in her life, at the age of 68, Oma found herself living alone, and was able to pick the colour of the first new car she bought, a blue Honda.
Oma was diagnosed with breast cancer again in 2008 this she believed was directly related to the radiation treatments she had received years earlier. Oma successfully underwent a mastectomy, and with the love and support of her family and Cancer Support Group she prevailed over cancer for the second time in her life.
Oma’s youngest son, Kenneth, also started a family of his own after he married his wife, Zohe, in 2010. This was a momentous occasion for the whole family, as everyone travelled to Colombia for the wedding. She was overjoyed when her first granddaughter, Monika, was born in 2013. Zohe gave birth to Oma’s last grandchild, Martin, in 2018.
In October 2018, Oma self-published a book chronicling the story of her family and her life that her family will forever cherish.
Throughout her life, as a daughter, sister, wife, mother and Oma, she was a kind and lovely soul. She will be deeply missed by all of her family.
Our Oma has now crossed the border between time and eternity but will forever be in our hearts.
Love your Children and their families,
Eugene, Laura and Ken
Memorial donations can be made through the Drury Funeral Home in Alliston to the Alliston Horticultural Society