Ruth Zehr believes that everyone has a story worth telling.
A decade ago, Zehr overheard a conversation involving Norma Iutzi, program assistant coordinator at the Nithview Community in New Hamburg, about the many stories she heard when she visited the residents of this Tri-County Mennonite Homes multi-stage facility.
Zehr, a resident in one of the “garden homes” at Nithview, asked if she might take a shot at doing the writing, instead of bringing someone else in to do the work. Having already self-published a series of stories, Embracing the Ordinary, which, she says, “are not an autobiography, though I am the thread which connects them,” she got the job.
In 2008, Everyone Has a Story, which profiled 48 residents of the community, was published. At that time there was no thought of further volumes, but last November Vol. 2 was published, containing the stories of an additional 43 residents, this time including her and her husband Ron’s story.
Over a period of 15 months, pen and paper in hand, Zehr, now 80 and a member of Hillcrest Mennonite Church in New Hamburg, visited Nithview residents and invited them to tell their stories. She felt that a recording device would intimidate them, so she depended on her notes. Most stories went through four to six re-writes, with the subjects being able to add or delete parts of the story.
The volumes include stories of those who lived through the Second World War, and, in the most recent book, all the subjects were all born between 1917 and 1938. Some of the storytellers would have been enemies during the war, but are now neighbours at Nithview.
Vol. 2, with fewer storytellers, is actually longer, and comes with a companion book, Notes of Interest, containing information from the times of the lives of the storytellers, like the Ontario Mennonite Bible School and Institute. By the time the second volume was released, about half of those whose stories are in Vol. 1 had passed away, along with five of those whose stories appear in Vol. 2.
Nithview residents and people in the surrounding community have eagerly purchased the books, seeing in the pages the stories of neighbours, friends and relatives whose lives were either very much like their own, or, like those coming from Europe, very different.
The books are available from Nithview by calling 519-662-2280.