(May 26, 1914 – December 2, 2002)
Life Sketch written and presented by her niece Jenell (Eli) Hollett
Memorial Service, Santa Rosa, California
December 15, 2002
Today, we have the privilege of remembering and celebrating the life of Jessie Melnechuk Tkachuk. We remember her as a wife and mother, a grandmother and great-grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a neighbor, an Adventist church member, and a friend. The titles and roles were different, but to each of us she was the embodiment of unconditional love and hospitality. These character traits are the common thread woven through all our memories – Jessie smiling as she welcomed us into her home, her warm hugs, her good food, her genuine interest in us and in our lives. These are the things we will miss the most, because we have all lost someone special to us — a woman who understood the meaning of love.
Jessie was born in Sturgis, Saskatchewan, Canada on May 26, 1914 – her mother’s birthday. She was the third daughter born to Mike and Catherine Melnechuk, wheat farmers on the Canadian prairie. After a brief move to Pennsylvania, her family moved back to Canada and settled in the town of Beauvallon, Alberta. By the time Jessie reached her late teens, her family had grown to include her parents, eight girls and two boys.
Jessie was a happy child, a little blond who worked hard and enjoyed school. During her early childhood, her parents joined the Seventh-day Adventist church through the influence of their neighbors.
When she was a teenager, Jessie began volunteering to bring the cows in from the far pasture. Before long, her family realized she and one of the handsome local boys, Nick Tkachuk, had found this creative way to see each other in the evenings. Jessie and Nick’s love grew and they were married in a moonlit ceremony on December 21, 1930 at Nick’s home. The bride was 16, the groom was 20.
The young couple settled on a farm within a few miles of their families. Their early married years were filled with hard work and pleasant visits from younger sisters, cousins and friends. Jessie and Nick were known for their generous hospitality, a trait that remained strong throughout their lives. Jessie’s sister Annie remembers, “We loved going to Jessie’s place because they were both young and there was time to play and talk. Young people came to their house a lot because it was a fun place to visit.”
Just 11 months after they were married, Jessie and Nick faced the grief of burying their firstborn child. Their baby daughter, Ethel Ruth, was born prematurely on November 9, 1931 and died four days later. She was named after Jessie’s youngest sister, my mother Ruth, who was two years old at the time.
On October 13, 1933, Jessie gave birth to daughter Ellen Grace. Because Jessie and Nick still lived close to their parents’ homes, Ellen spent her early years embraced by aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Jessie’s sister Eva was 10 years old when she began helping the family.
Eva remembers, “I spent two summer living with Jessie and Nick, helping to look after baby Ellen. I loved living with them. They were a fun couple and I enjoyed being given the opportunity to try and do some cooking and baking. They would just laugh if something didn’t turn out as it should have.”
Eva continues, “Throughout her life, Jessie often experienced health problems, yet her indomitable spirit pulled her through. Recently, Jessie and I laughed as she reminisced about a time she was very ill early in her marriage. The local pastor came for a visit. Very solemnly, he shook his head and said, ‘I’m afraid this dear sister will not live to see the green grass this spring.’
“‘Well,’ Jessie said, ‘I guess I showed him, because I have outlived him for nearly twenty years.’ That was Jessie – always a positive attitude, a ready laugh, and a willingness to meet a new challenge.”
In the early 1940’s, the family of three moved to Vancouver Island to work at Rest Haven Sanitarium, where Jessie worked in the dining room and as treatment aide, helping with massage and hydrotherapy. Her dream of becoming a nurse began to take root as she worked with patients. Jessie and Nick lived briefly in Edmonton, Alberta during the Second World War, then relocated to New Brunswick at the invitation of a doctor they knew from Rest Haven. Later, they moved to Ontario, Canada for a few years, where Nick worked as a contractor and Jessie worked as a nurses’ aide.
In 1954, Jessie and Nick moved to Arlington, California, to be near Ellen’s family. Their son-in-law Bob Martin was attending La Sierra College. Nick built a set of duplexes on Megginson Lane, and the two families lived side-by-side until Bob received his first teaching assignment in Victorville. For about 10 years, Ellen and her family lived within a few hours of Jessie and Nick. The two families were very close and shared many special times together. Pictures of the grandchildren, Brenda, Richard and Laurie, decorated the piano and the walls of Jessie’s home, and filled the photo albums. Jessie’s grandchildren knew there was a special drawer at Nana’s house filled with little things for them, so they would race to see what was in the drawer as soon as they arrived.
Jessie was an active grandmother, an adventuresome grandmother. She would ride anything at Disneyland with her grandchildren, even the rides the other adults avoided. She would jump waves at the beach and climb up a ladders to pick fruit.
Later, when her grandchildren married and had children of their own, she relished the pleasures of a new generation. Each of her five great-grandchildren had a special place in her heart as she learned about their personalities, watched them grow, and had the opportunity to be part of their lives.
In the early 1960’s, a few years after their move to California, Nick built a large home behind the duplex. Jessie and Nick often shared their home with college-age relatives attending La Sierra College or Loma Linda University. Their home was a wonderful place filled with music, good food, and many special times with family and friends. Jessie was a willing hostess for Saturday night Rook parties, which often included nephew Mike Slusarenko’s family, Ellen’s family, and sister Ruth’s family. Jessie, her oldest sister Mary and youngest sister Ruth took turns hosting holiday dinners and family gatherings. These were large affairs with sisters and brothers, sisters- and brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, extended family and cherished friends. These gatherings could be as many as 30 people or more, but there was always room for everyone with plenty of good food, laughs and hugs to go around.
During the summers, Jessie, Ellen and Ruth would take day trips or week-long camping excursions to the beach with five children and a few extras cousins or friends in tow. Sister Ruth remembers, “Our husbands were amazed that we could pitch a tent by ourselves and make the campfires to roast potatoes and corn. We had many opportunities to talk during the hours we spent together. Jessie was almost like a mother to me. Many times, she would encourage and counsel me when I needed the advice of someone older and wiser.”
Nick and Jessie’s vacations often included trips to Canada to see their parents and siblings. Daughter Ellen remembers, “When Mom and Dad took vacations to Canada, we usually went with them. One year, when Brenda and Richard were young, Mom sewed matching shirts and dresses for the trip. We were the perfectly matched family that vacation.
“Another year, Dad bought a truck and camper for our trip to Canada. My Auntie Mary and two cousins came along. All together there were 10 of us. At gas stations or rest stops, when we all started piling out of the back of the camper, people would just stop and stare. I’m sure they wondered how so many people could fit into such a small space.”
In the early 1960’s, Jessie fulfilled her lifelong dream when she graduated from Riverside Community College as a registered nurse. Although she especially enjoyed working in delivery room and the newborn nursery, Jessie’s administrative skills opened doors quickly. Within a short time after her graduation, she was named afternoon supervisor of all nursing personnel at Parkview Hospital in Riverside. Jessie was known as a fair, hard-working and efficient administrator. In the 1970’s, Jessie and Nick were co-owners of Canyon Crest Convalescent Hospital, where Nick was the administrator and Jessie was director of nurses. Jessie’s love of people, her kindness and her administrative ability were the hallmarks of her nursing career. She related to patients as a gentle, caring and capable nurse, whether her patients were newborns or the very elderly.
Jessie was a deeply devoted Christian who valued her relationship with God and knew Jesus as her Savior. A lifelong Seventh-day Adventist, she had a deep desire to serve God and her church. She and Nick served as missionaries in Taiwan for one year in 1976, working in the Adventist hospital. Throughout her life, she spent time handing out Christian literature to help others learn of God’s love for them. Even when it was inconvenient or she wasn’t feeling well, Jessie was a person you could count on to help with a potluck, to assist in a visitation, or to open her home. She was very involved in the Tender Loving Care program at the Santa Rosa Church, visiting shut-ins and sharing flowers from her garden.
Jessie and Nick moved to Santa Rosa, California in 1983 to be closer to Ellen. Son-in-law Bob Martin had died of cancer the year before, so they lived with Ellen until Nick bought four acres and built a home just outside of town. Within a few years, he built a home next door for Ellen. Jessie and Ellen had the joy of spending the next 20 years together.
During their retirement years, Jessie and Nick enjoyed living on their acreage in Santa Rosa, close to their daughter and grandchildren. Extended family visited frequently because their home was a place warmed by hospitality and love. Their yard was filled with flowers and trees, their garden overflowing with berry bushes, fruits and vegetables. Just beyond the fence were chickens, sheep and granddaughter Laurie’s horses. Nearly 50 years had passed since they were farmers in Alberta, but they still loved working the land and having family visit. In 1990, Jessie and Nick celebrated their 60th anniversary in the Santa Rosa church, surrounded by a large representation of family and friends.
During a trip to Canada in the summer of 1991, Nick died unexpectedly. When they returned home, Ellen moved in with her mother. Jessie worried that she wouldn’t know how to live alone, because she came from a large family and was always the happiest when there were people around. As Jessie neared her 85th birthday, her health began to deteriorate more rapidly. She found it difficult to read and gradually declined to the point where she needed round-the-clock care. She gently passed to her rest on Monday morning, December 2, at the age of 88.
Jessie is survived by:
Her daughter, Ellen Martin
Her grandchildren: Brenda & Hans Schermann; Richard & Sherilynn Martin;
Laurie Martin & Toby Daly
Five great-grandchildren: Nicholas Schermann; Andrew, James and Michelle Martin;
and Devon Perkins
Four sisters: Annie Tarangle, Eva Proskiw, Caroline Kiehlbauch, and Ruth Eli
Two brothers: John Melnechuk and Bill Melnechuk
And many nieces, nephews, additional family members and friends.
Jessie loved people and lived her life surrounded by those she loved. She was truly an incredible woman who seemed to face each day with this motto — “The pathway of live has many curves, but with God’s hand in mine, I can walk through sunshine and shadow.”
As one of her nieces, I have cherished memories of my Auntie Jessie and the wonderful times we spent together. I’m sure each of you have cherished memories as well. So together we look forward to the day when Jesus will raise Jessie to life eternal, and we will never say goodbye again.