Book Review: Memoirs of Katie Funk Wiebe

Katie Funk Wiebe, author, Mennonite feminist, Professor Emeritus of English at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas, mother, grandmother and mentor. Her writings are for all women and men interested in being creative and contributing individuals in all stages of adulthood. As a person she is of particular interest to Mennonite Women Canada for her unflagging pursuit of encouraging women to use their gifts in the ministries of the church. In articulate, insightful and inspired writing she tells of her struggles and victories. She is the author of many books, the latest being her memoirs. This is a review of those memoirs.

The Storekeeper’s Daughter, in 17 chapters covers the first 18 years of her life living with her family in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. It is a wonderful read of a young girl’s experiences growing up in a small town on the prairies. 

You Never Gave Me a Name has 4 parts plus a Photo Album. Part I covers her time at Mennonite Brethren Bible College (MBBC) in Winnipeg, her marriage, all their moves so husband Walter could have work teaching, the beginning of Katie’s writing, and the death of Walter after only 15 years of marriage. Part II tells of her experience going to work to provide for herself and her 4 children. In Part III we learn how her experiences broaden her faith, more opportunities to write come her way, she discovers the women’s movement outside of the church, and she becomes very involved in this movement. Part IV is about growing old and includes much wisdom on this topic. 

The cover of The Storekeeper’s Daughter has a picture of Katie as a child. Her feet are solidly planted. One gets the feeling that she will hold her ground in life, and she does – as one learns from reading these 2 books.

Book Cover The Storekeeper’s Daughter

Katie’s parents liked to tell stories. On many a cold, winter’s evening they recounted experiences from South Russia, the church, poverty, hunger, terror, loss, the finding of Katie’s mother’s parents who had become displaced, and the trip to Canada. 

Katie’s own stories are of growing up in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, of the Depression, helping her father in their store, of the Mennonite Brethren (MB) church across the river where they went during the summer months and of the longer winter months when they attended the Baptist and United church’s in Blaine Lake. She remembers how different these congregations were from each other.

Growing up in a Russian Mennonite family she shares of the feelings of love and security; life in a small prairie town, the handmade clothes; the dark taupe colored stockings and how great it was to exchange those stockings for socks in spring and feel the wind on her legs.

One story is about Katie learning how to cook. Katie had two older sisters who helped their mother with cooking and baking, and Katie was deemed too young to be capable of that elevated position. She was relegated to help with cleaning, dusting and so on. How then would she learn to cook and bake if not given the opportunity? A government sponsored cooking class came to Blaine Lake when Katie was in Grade 8. Good causes arranged by the Government had to be supported. Who in their family would attend? Well, it would be Katie because she didn’t know how to cook. 

The idea was that what Katie made in cooking class she would make that day for supper for her family. Her first offering to the family was blancmange. Now, didn’t that sound sophisticated? Blancmange is a sweet dessert commonly made with milk or cream and sugar thickened with gelatin or cornstarch – usually white in color, and you can imagine the response from her family.  “Woat es daut?” (what is that?) was what she heard. Well, it was promptly dropped from the potential menu for future meals.

The last chapter of this book made me cry. Katie has graduated from high school, having won the Governor General’s Award for all of Saskatchewan, and is preparing to leave Blaine Lake for Saskatoon to become a stenographer. They have loaded the car with her few belongings and food items from the store. As she is walking out the door, childhood memories come flooding back to her and she doesn’t want to leave her family and her home.

Erna Neufeldt
February 2, 2010

The Storekeeper’s Daughter – Herald Press, 1997. ISBN: 9780585262093