Day 22 – Grand Forks

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Although I woke up at 5 am, as usual, I decided to go back to sleep until 6:30.   I found Ben, Egon and Eric were packing their belongings into Ben’s truck in preparation for their drive back home to Abbotsford.   Before they left, they boiled some water for their morning ‘ Mate ‘ that they would be taking with them.

After they left, Ike and I had a simple breakfast, while I finished editing my journal for the previous day.

I packed a few things to take with me and left shortly after 8 am.  The temperature was 11 C ( 52 F ) when I left Grand Forks and it didn’t get above 13 C ( 5 F ) until I reached Chiliwack, where the temperature slowly increased to the high 20’s C ( high 70’s F ).

The drive to Surrey winds it’s way through the Rocky Mountains with many switch backs, some of which change direction by 180 degrees and have a recommended speed of 20 kph ( 12 mph ).

At first the mountains were heavily forested, mainly with evergreens, but as I neared Osoyoos, their were scattered trees among the rocky mountainsides. Osoyoos is a beautiful resort town in a lush valley with a huge lake that has become a popular resort town.   The fertile ground in the valleys are ideal for berries, grapes and tender fruits ( peaches, plums, etc ).    I noticed that the apples in the valleys are commonly grown on the vine, like grapes.


As I got closer to Surrey, the mountains were covered with trees, similar to the Grand Forks area, except they are much taller, some reaching the clouds.

I arrived in Surrey at 2:30 pm and had a wonderful visit with Tim, Shannon and the boys.   The boys played, while Tim, Shannon and I sat outside and discussed many different subjects, particularly about our latest experiences.   Before we went inside for supper,  we took a picture together to remember the day.


Shortly after we finished eating, Shannon’s father, George, came to the house and we had dessert while we visited with him.   After George left, we talked a little bit longer before going to bed.




Day 21 – Grand Forks

Friday, July 19, 2019

After our typical breakfast and devotions, we returned to our respective job sites.

Donna was at the house when I arrived and she was eager to talk so we had a lengthy conversation.   She described to me that she had lost her sight while the tandem truck of scrap metal that she was driving was being unloaded.  She was standing outside of the cab ( as she had been instructed to do ), when small metal, steel and miscellaneous debris from the magnet lifting the scrap, showered down on her.  She tried to cover her head to protect herself, but the debris got into her eyes and she instinctively rubbed her them but her sight was immediately gone.  She had been wearing her safety glasses with side shields  but the debris still got into her eyes.    Now she can’t see anything and very bright light causes her pain, so she wears sun glasses all of the time.

She is a very talented lady.   She told me that she had drawn illustrations for children’s books before the accident.   She used to do wood carving with a scroll saw and she showed me one of the pieces that she had made that was hanging on one of her walls.

She also told me about her family, many of her experiences, as well as, the trials and tribulations that she had encountered after her accident.   She a good conversationalist and I listened to her stories while trying to tile her bathroom.   By 3 pm I was able to lay out the tile grid and glue tile around the shower, at which time we were supposed to return to the camp to clean the vehicles, rooms, kitchen and showers.

I didn’t have much information on what the others had completed, but I do know that Radek’s house was completed by Valter, before he went to Kirk Walter’s house to work with Ingried, Justin, Bethany and Ernie.

Before I finished, several volunteers stopped at Donna’s house and toured her garden.

From left to right: Bethany, Donna, Deniese, Yolanda and Sharon

I had driven my car to Donna’s house and when I returned to camp the vehicles and rooms had already been cleaned.  Ingried and Yolanda were thoroughly cleaning the showers and later helped clean the kitchen floors.   Eileen had prepared Watermelon and ” Roll Kuchen ” as a treat before supper.

After supper, several of us drove to the US border which was on the south side of Carson road, 4.3  km south of the River Valley Community Church where we were staying.    The small white sign on the south side of the road is a warning that you are at the United States Border.

On the way back we stopped at a Dairy Queen for some dessert.

From left to right: Ernie, Aaron, myself, Valter, Delbert, Ike and Egon.

When we returned to camp, we spent some time telling jokes and trying to figure out puzzles that Eric had brought.

Around the table starting from Valter, who has his back turned to the camera: Egon, Eric, Aaron, Ben, Delbert, myself, Yolanda and Ike.

Several of the volunteers were leaving very early in the morning so we said our goodbyes, before we went to bed .

My plans are to visit my nephew Tim, his wife Shannon and their two children, Warren and Kevin, on the weekend, so I will be driving through Chiliwack and Abbotsford, where several of the this week’s short term volunteers live.

Day 20 – Grand Forks

Thursday, July 18, 2019

We had our normal routine in the morning and then set out to our job sites.

Valter, Ingried and Ernie went back to Radek’s house, however, I went to Donna Lester’s house to start working on her bathroom renovation.

When I arrived at the house, I met Donna, checked the status of the bathroom and took time to talk to her ( after I had received my obligatory hug ).   She told me that she had lost her sight about 5 years ago.   The first three years after the loss of her sight were very hard for her.  She was depressed and didn’t know how to cope with the loss of her sight, but 2 years ago she changed her attitude and she is doing very well now.   She also told me that she always looked for a ray of sunshine when things weren’t going well and now MDS workers are her ray of sunshine.

Ike met me at Donna’s house shortly after 9 and we discussed the location for her standalone bathtub and the area she wanted to have tiled.

We took measurements of her bathtub and marked it on the bathroom floor to get an idea of how it would fit.  I laid out the tiles to determine the area I would be tiling behind the tub.

After verifying my measurements, I went back to the storage trailers to cut the tile edging.  While I was there,  I saw two young fawns running across the lawn of one of the houses.

When I returned to the house, I connected the shutoff valves for the vanity and the toilet and then prepared the edging around the shower for tiles, which took longer than expected.  I didn’t finish until 5:30 pm, but I was enjoying my time and the song ‘ Man of Sorrows ‘ came to mind.   I find the lyrics very poignant and inspirational.

On my way home I couldn’t help but notice the picturesque view of the mountains that surround the town of Grand Forks so I had to stop and take a picture.

I finally arrived back at camp just in time to change for supper.

The volunteers at the Redding house completed most of the drywall installation.    This house has designed by the owners and has a unique shed-style ceiling that is 8 feet high at the entrance and about 12 feet high at the back of the house so it has presented the team with some interesting opportunities.   Valter, Ingried and Ernie finished everything except for two minor items that required material.  Justin and Bethany finished most of the painting and trim work at the Walter house, while Sharon, Deniese, Mark and Jonathan made good progress on the painting at Barbara McClelland’s house.  Yolanda and Egon mudded the drywall at Kent’s house.

Barbara McClelland joined us for supper and she talked about her experiences during and after the flood.   Her experience was very similar to the stories told by the other homeowners.   She had also been interviewed by Global News after the flood, but I couldn’t find the link to it.    A common theme with all of the homeowners, is the fact that they were all caught unaware of the potential flooding that had occurred.

We spent the rest of the evening socializing with each other; some around the fire pit; until the volunteers slowly started to fade away.


Day 19 – Grand Forks

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The weather has been very similar each day, starting off in the low 20’s C ( 70’s F ) and by mid-day it’s in the high 20’s  to low 30’s C ( low to mid 80’s  F ).

The morning started out as usual.   I usually wake up at 5 am and Eileen is already up, preparing breakfast.

The dining area is quite large and the food is served buffet-style.

After breakfast and devotions, Valter, Ingried and I returned to the ‘ Radek Grundel ‘ house.

Valter added door knobs, hung doors and ‘ dap’d ‘ the trim and baseboards.

Some of the work required unusual situations and one adjustment required Valter had to make modifications from inside the kitchen cabinets.

Ingried spent the day painting and at one point, she needed to get on the kitchen cupboards to paint the opening on the wall behind the cupboards.

Ernie helped with painting and adjusting some doors.

I spent most of my day completing the tile work in the bathroom.

Most of the ‘ odds and ends ‘ in the Radek’s house have been completed, with only a little painting and minor trimming to be completed.

We didn’t have our own vehicle, so we hitched a ride with Justin to go back to camp.   We left the job site at 4:45, which is a little early, however, Bethany needed to help Eileen prepare the evening meal and we didn’t want to be responsible for supper being late.

Supper consisted of local farmer sausages, salads and potatoes.

After the meal, each team gave and an update of the different jobs they completed, as well as, sharing a few non-job related stories.   Afterwards, Jonathan, Egon and Eric  cleaned up the dishes, while the rest of the volunteers relaxed in different ways.   Justin played Jonathan’s home-made guitar in the lounge area at the back of the dining hall while Eileen and Bethany prepared some food for the next day and some of the volunteers relaxed in their rooms or sat outside, around a gas fire pit.   I opted to sit around the fire for a lively discussion, unfortunately some was at Ben’s expense.   By 10 pm, Mark and I were the only ones left sitting around the fire, so we shut it off and went to bed.

Day 18 – Grand Forks

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

I both got up at 5 am and headed to the kitchen to make the coffee and set up a few things for Eileen.   Shortly afterwards, Delbert came to the kitchen and boiled some hot water for his morning Mate.   At 6 am Sharon started to get the lunch food ready for us, while Bethany assisted Eileen with preparing breakfast.

After breakfast Mark Rempel led devotions and then we were given our job assignments for the day.   Most of us returned to the job sites where we had finished on Monday, however, Sam, Delbert and Yolanda went to the ‘ Redding ‘ house to make the recommended insulation changes that the inspector had required.

Valter, Ingried and I went to Radek’s house where we completed most of the trim work, installed shelves, filled holes, sanded and ‘ dap’d ‘ the baseboards and trim, as well as, grouted half of the shower tile.

The other groups continued to drywall, mud, trim, insulate and complete numerous odd jobs at their sites.

When we returned to camp as usual, the River Valley church ladies had prepared a full meal for us.  Afterward supper, Cole, Mark and I were on kitchen patrol, so we cleaned the dishes before relaxing.

During the day, Ingried and I met the lady next door, who was watering her flowers in the back yard.   I had seen no one at the house in the last 2 weeks and she explained that she and her husband have been staying at a motel.   They had insurance to cover the flood damage to their basement, but they still hadn’t received an answer from them regarding  a resolution.    They hadn’t lived in their house since the flood and they were told that if they lived in their house, it would affect their settlement and it might be much less if they stayed there, so they have been staying at a motel, waiting for an answer.   She also told us that they were totally unaware that their house could potentially flood on the night that it happened.   At 2 am they woke up to the sound of water running in their basement and found that there was 2 feet of water in it.   They thought it was a water leak so they shut off their water supply but that didn’t help.  When they investigated further, they found that the water was leaking through the foundation.   When they looked outside, they saw their was water around their house and she didn’t want to leave but her husband insisted that they leave.    When they drove towards the town centre to leave Grand Forks, their passage was blocked by water, so they turned around and went south and crossed the river close to where the church is, where we are staying.

All of the people we have talked to, informed us that they were caught unawares.  Radek and his wife had told us that they had gone around the neighbourhood waking up people to warn them of the problem.

One of the experiences of volunteering for MDS is that you get to meet a lot of wonderful people and if you’re willing to sit and listen, you will hear a lot of tragic and inspirational stories, more than I can share in a journal.


Day 17 – Grand Forks

Monday, July 15, 2019

I was up at 5 am, cleaned up and went to the kitchen to make the coffee and help with a few chores before breakfast.   After breakfast and devotions, we headed for our assigned job sites, with a whole new our group of short term volunteers.

Our tool/storage trailers are located next to Kirk Walter’s house.

Valter and his wife Ingried drove with me to the Radek house.  Valter finished trimming the back door, to accommodate the narrower wall width and installed the bathroom cabinet, as well as the kick boards and back splashes in the kitchen.

Ingried spent the day painting the baseboard and trim we had installed last week.

I spent most of the day filling nail holes in the trim and gaps in the baseboard.

We joined two of the other teams at the ‘ Kirk Walter ‘ house for lunch.

The other teams spent their time installing drywall, mudding, painting and making repairs at 3 other houses.

Radek’s big old wolf/shepard dog snuck away in the afternoon and was returned by Cole, after someone noticed him wandering around the house they were working on.  Other than that, there were no unusual occurrences  during the day.

I stopped by the hardware store to pick up some parts on our way back to camp at 5 pm.   After supper, several of the volunteers sat outside drinking Mate and exchanging stories, while Deniese, Bethany, Sharon and Abby played basketball.   Later in the evening, the ladies migrated into the dining hall to play a card game with Sam, while Justin quietly played one of Jonathan Wiebe’s home-made guitars in the casual seating area at the end of the hall.  I started to write my journal and went for a short walk before going to bed.

Day 16 – Grand Forks

Sunday, July 14, 2019

On the weekends, everyone is on their own for meals and activities, however, we have been doing a few things together.     After I got up, I made myself a couple of soft boiled eggs and some ginger tee which I ate while I edited my journal for Saturday.    At 9:15, I was almost finished with my journal, when Cole mentioned to me that he was going to the Baptist church and asked me if I wanted to come along.   Since the service started at 9:30, I stopped what I was doing and went with Cole and Justin to the Baptist church.   A few volunteers went to the River Valley church service and the rest went to the Gospel Chapel.

It was a small baptist church with few members, but the people were very friendly and dedicated to their church.   After church we returned to camp before heading to the Happy 50th diner for lunch with the rest of the group.

When we got back to camp, we had a short meeting and then we had ice cream for dessert.   Some of the volunteers went to a local board game establishment where you each pay $5 and play any of the board games that are available while the rest of us relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon.The 3 young ladies from Pennsylvania had gone to Banff for the weekend and had planned to return in the evening.

At 5:30 we met for supper and by 6 pm all of the short term volunteers had arrived.    Shortly after we had finished our orientation meeting, the ladies returned from their weekend in Banff.

Some of the volunteers were originally from Paraguay and after dinner they sat outside with Ernie and drank Yerba Mate.   They pointed out to me that the Brazilian Mate wasn’t as good as the Paraguayan Mate and I couldn’t argue with them because I don’t drink it.   However, I did suggest to them that they might be addicted to this highly caffeinated drink, but that wasn’t about to stop them from drinking it.

In the evening I received the group picture of the volunteers from the previous week.

The volunteers during last week from left to right are:

Back Row: Sam Dyck, Ike Epp, Ralf Hamm, Cole Unger, John deKleer, Ernie Klassen

Middle Row: Jon Wiebe, Bethany Martin, Erinne Wolfe, Justin Marchand, Abe Friesen, Wilhelmina (Will ) deKleer

Front Row: Abigail ( Abby ) Thompson, Eileen Klassen, Yvette Berube, Deniese Sensenig, Sharon Sauder

Day 15 – Grand Forks

Saturday, July 13, 2019

It was a cool 16 C ( 61 F ) when I got up at 6:30.   I had woken up at 5:30, but I had chosen to be lazy a little while longer.   Ike was in the dining room when I got there and we decided to clean out the one fridges to let it defrost, in order that we could determine the cause of the water leak from it.

At 7:30, I said my goodbyes to Abe and Yvette before walking to the ‘ Wooden Spoon ‘ restaurant, where I had agreed to meet John and Will.   On the way there, they saw me walking as they drove by, so they stopped and picked me up.   We had a very nice breakfast and spent time talking about many different subjects until it was finally time to go.   We said our goodbyes and I walked back to camp.    I have had a wonderful week working with them, however it was time for them to return home.

Shortly after I got back, Ike and I went to Donna’s house to complete some minor jobs, such as filling gaps with foam, securing a drain line and repairing a small patch of concrete.   Donna is a very unique person, always happy and smiling and very appreciative of everything.   Her motto is that no one leaves without a hug.   She is a relatively slight woman, probably in her late 40’s or early 50’s, who used to be a truck driver.   Looking at her, I would never have thought of her being a truck driver.   From what I understand, Donna was involved in an unfortunate work-related accident that left her blind a few years ago, when some glass exploded in the vicinity where she was standing.   I am amazed at how well she gets around her house and how perceptive she is.   We received the mandatory hugs when we arrived and when we left.

We returned to camp at lunch time and my suspicions were confirmed that the problem with the fridge was a plugged water drain line.   After we cleared the line, the fridge was cleaned, plugged in and the food was food was packed back into it.

I spent the afternoon doing laundry and relaxing.   I was sitting outside with Ernie and working on a crossword puzzle in the evening, when Cole asked if we wanted to go for a hike up Observation Mountain, so we decided to accompany him.   We drove to the entrance to the Observation Mountain Trail and started the hike to the top.  Unbeknownst to us, the hike was quite steep with a lot of switchbacks.

As we climbed the mountain, we had a good view of the slag piles from the copper refinery below.

We stopped at a bench that had been placed on a flat area along the trail approximately half of the way up the mountain.   We stayed there a few minutes before continuing up the mountain.

It took us about 30 minutes to get to the top, where we had a good view of Grand Forks.

Cole pointed out where the camp and the work sites were located,

while Ernie sat and admired the view.

We stayed at the top for approximately 30 minutes before we decided to head back down.   There was a very rough access roadway up to the tower on the mountain, so it was suggested that we try this route because it might not be as steep.   I looked on google maps and there were trails marked that showed the roadway indicating that it would bring us back to the start of the trail.   Wrong!!

As we walked down the roadway, being bombarded by hundreds of mosquitos, we discussed the difficulty with which a vehicle would have trying to get up the steep, rough incline.  When we were almost at the bottom of the mountain, I looked closer to Google Maps which showed the trail with the direction we were heading and I noticed that we were getting farther away from our intended destination, instead of closer.   As we started back up the mountain, I finally figured out that the roadway went in the opposite direction.   When we reached the top of the mountain, we headed back down the trail that we had originally taken to get up the mountain.

We were almost at the halfway down, when I noticed that my phone was missing.    While Ernie and Cole continued their trek down the mountain, I rushed back up to the place I thought that I may have dropped it.  I was almost at the top when I found my phone, face up, ringing in the middle of the narrow path.   Cole had been calling my phone to assist me with locating it and as I answered the phone, I suggested that they should continue their descent and I would meet them at the bottom.    It was after 9 pm, with dusk settling in, as I hurried down the mountain again, so when I reached the bench, I quickly took a picture of the full moon above the night lights in Grand Forks.

I reached the bottom to find Ernie and Cole waiting for me.   By the time we returned to camp it was already dark.   We were tired and very dirty from the find dust on the trails, however, we had some ice cream before we took some much needed showers.   I was sure that I would sleep well after the hike, but that would yet remain to be seen.


Day 14 – Grand Forks

Friday, July 12, 2019

The weather during the past 3 days has been very warm and dry, with variations of cloud cover.   The temperatures have been in the low 20’s C ( 70’s  F ) in the morning and up to 31 C ( 88 F ) during the afternoon.

Other than taking a group picture after breakfast, the morning started out as usual.

There have been a lot of odds and ends to finish on each of the houses where we worked, however, a lot of the extra time was required to complete the renovations due to the non-standard conditions of the houses.  This resulted in a lot of modifications to standard materials, such as doors, a number of which had to be cut down in height or width and in some cases both dimensions, because of the non-standard openings.   This makes the work very interesting, but it also results in taking extra time to complete tasks.

Abe, John, Will and I returned to the Radek house before 8 am.   Will finished painting most of the doors.   I finished installing the bathroom tile, John removed the back door and frame and assisted Abe with installing the door.  He also helped Will paint some doors.   Abe also built covers for the electrical panels and glued ends on one of the laminate countertops.

In the morning we had been instructed to stop work and return to camp around 2 pm, unless we needed a little more time to finish a job.   We started packing up shortly after 2 pm and left the job site by 2:30 pm to return to camp and clean up.   The 5 MDS vehicles were washed, vacuumed and inspected, the 5 showers in the shower trailer were cleaned and the floors in the kitchen and dining area were washed.

Ike and I returned to the Radek house at 4 pm and I finished cleaning the house before supper.   Eileen had cooked 12 trout that several of the volunteers had caught a few weeks ago, for supper.   She had also baked some chicken wings and potatoes and prepared a potato salad.

After supper we shared some details of our day.   During the sharing time, Eileen mentioned that several people had thanked her for being here to help rebuild homes in the area after the noticed her MDS shirt.   Also, she had received donations of food, such as bags of potatoes, salads, etc.

The people in Grand Forks have been very appreciative and kind, to the point that it is humbling for me.

I am looking forward to a relaxing weekend to rest for next week.



Day 13 – Grand Forks

Thursday, July 11, 2019

After our usual breakfast and devotions, we left base camp shortly before 8 am to continue the work at the same houses we were at the previous day.

Abe modified a bi-fold door and then built out a few door frames to match the wall thicknesses, so that they could be ‘ trimmed ‘ properly.   He also went to the ‘ Walter ‘ house to install some of the kitchen countertops.  When he returned, he started to build covers for the electrical panels.

John completed the bulk of the trim work and installed a baseboard heater.

His wife, Will ( Wilhelmina ) joined our crew to paint the doors.

I continued the tile work progress around the shower.

Petra, the local case worker for Radek, stopped by the house and joined us for lunch and talked to us about some of the situations in the area since the flood.

Most of the workers had been at the ‘ Redding ‘ house this week, insulating and installing vapour barrier with acoustic sealant in preparation for the insulation inspection.

We returned to camp at the normal time, had our showers, ate supper and reviewed the work at each of the locations, as well as a few stories about things that had happened during the day.   The local residents have been very kind to us.  Ike shared that he had received special service when he went to fill his car at a gas station.   An elderly gentleman mentioned to him that the residents are happy that we are here helping with the rebuilds and want to show their appreciation.

After dessert, we had a crew leader’s meeting and then Ike and I drove to the ‘ Walter ‘ house to check out a few things in preparation for the work on Friday.

Four of the long term volunteers are part of the ‘ Sheep & Goats MDS Service Bursary ‘.  This Bursary is awarded to pre-qualified undergraduate students enrolled in at least 24 credit hours of studies at CMU’s Shaftesbury Campus.  This scholarship opportunity is not limited to only one year but must be applied for each year.   The amount of the Bursary is 100% of the $CDN tuition of qualifying students. One major criteria for receiving this bursary is that the applicants must complete a minimum of 8 weeks of volunteer field work with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).  There are 4 students that are spending 8 weeks at this MDS project in Grand Forks,  in order to complete the requirements for the bursary.   They are Samuel Dyck, Abby Thompson, Justin Marchand and John Wiebe.