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In our Memories


Swan River will miss out on having the Ten Thousand Villages (TTV) marketplace visit this holiday season, but not for lack of interest. Longtime TTV volunteer and organizer Lena Friesen passed away on July 21 at age of 75, leaving a hard-to-fill hole in the volunteer community.
TTV has been running a brief, annual sale in Swan River since 1998, first in the house of Karen Peters, who originally organized the initiative to bring it to the area. Over the years, as it expanded in popularity, it was held in larger venues, eventually making its way to Super 8 where it was hosted most recently during last year’s Christmas sale.
“When life started to get a little busier because I was working full-time, I turned to a lady that had been helping me out with the sale, Lena Friesen,” said Karen. “Lena, together with her sister Gladys, came on board about 15 years ago.
“Lena willingly took over organizing the sale about five years ago. I was so thankful that I had a dependable and capable person to take over that job. Over the years, she has faithfully arranged the sale, unpacked and packed up, coordinated all the volunteers including her family to help out.”
TTV is a bit of a one-stop shop for internationally handcrafted gifts, clothing and various items. The intent is to support fair trade with artisans in developing economies. With volunteers running the local stores, the profits made on the items are benefiting the original crafters. Karen noted that the gifts at TTV are the gifts that give twice, once for the recipient and once for the person who benefits from the sale.
“My mom thought it was a really good thing because we’ve always been interested in helping people that need a hand up,” said Lena’s son Lowell Friesen. “This was just one more easy step where (my mom and dad) could help Karen and eventually take over the reins once Karen had trained mom. My mom was always like that and wanted to help out where she could.”
Lowell pointed out that his mother always lived her life in service of others.
“Mom and Dad brought back two families of refugees when we were younger,” he said. “They were blessed and they blessed others. That was their philosophy.”
Lena was also involved in Steeprock Bay Bible Camp for decades, cooking every summer in their kitchen to support their ministry. She worked in the Birch River Thrift Store as well, among many other acts of volunteer service during her life.
“Her faith in God was most important to her,” said Lowell. “Then her family, church family as well, was really important to her. Those around her that had a need also became her family.
“I remember I would have friends who were going through difficult times and she would bring them over for a meal. She found her joy in helping others as an extension of her faith.
“She loved working at TTV,” Lowell continued. “For her, it was like Christmas to open up the boxes and see what other people had made with their hands. It wasn’t made in a factory, and (these people) don’t have the resources that maybe other people would have, but they are able to make the most incredible things.
“And, then to see people from the community take that as a gift for somebody else. It was a unique gift that people could give to others that had some sentimental value behind it.”
Her sense of humour was also noteworthy, with Lowell remembering the jokes she would share.
“I can hardly believe this strong, fearless and loving woman has left us,” said Karen. “This year, I decided to bow out (with TTV) for a time to reflect on how she made a difference in bringing TTV to Swan River.”
Karen and Lowell both would like to see TTV return to Swan River in the future, provided that someone with the time and the passion in organizing it can be found.
“TTV did well and it grew every year,” said Karen. “In that first year, I sold about $2,000 worth of stuff, and then it grew up to $16-18,000.”
Lowell also showed his appreciation for how the community embraced the three-day, annual sale, which was indicative of the value that people felt that it brought.

Jeremy Bergen