Peggy Jane Unruh Regehr died peacefully on Thursday, September 27, 2018 after a long journey with Alzheimer’s disease.
She is survived by her faithful husband Walter; children, Janet, Keith (Arli), and Gerald (Valerie); grandchildren, Nathan (Renee), Bryan (Cher), Sean (Jenn), Alison (Caleb), and Jennifer (Ellen); and great-grandchildren Ethan, Rachel, Noah, Aleah, Elias, and Asher.
Peggy was born to Abe and Annie Unruh on November 12, 1928 in Winkler, MB. Her three sisters, Kay, Louise, and Helen followed, and their brother Don was born later in India. Peggy’s parents came together in part over their desire to be missionaries in India. In 1935 the family moved to India. That September Peggy, together with her sister Kay, began Grade 2 and grade 1 at Breeks Memorial School, a boarding school in south India. This boarding school experience was a source of enduring pain throughout Peggy’s life. She did remember with fondness though, the school breaks when her parents would leave the heat of the low lands to come up to the hills and the family would be together.
In 1942 the routine of life was upended again. With the threat of a Japanese invasion of India the family returned to Winkler. The next three and a half years in Winkler were largely a happy time for Peggy. She had her family, and she lived in a community where she built friendships and connected with her extended family.
In early 1946 her parents and siblings returned to India, leaving Peggy and Kay at the ages of 17 and 16 to live with others. Peggy recounts this time as being one without a home. After graduating high school later that year, the sisters headed to Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas. Peggy speaks with gratitude for her father’s willingness to send her to college. She also names this as the first time she saw women giving significant leadership in a church institution. Three years later, with a newly minted degree, Peggy returned to Winkler where she taught high school and reconnected with family and high school friends.
During those years she regularly came to Winnipeg to visit her grandparents. One summer of studies in Winnipeg she met Walter Regehr, who was also studying. A long distance relationship ensued and in August of 1951 they were married. Peggy’s three sisters were able to attend as they were now all studying in Canada, but her parents were unable to be there.
Walter had a job teaching in a one room school in southern Manitoba. Peggy felt she finally had what she so desperately was looking for: a home and a family. It was however a time of loneliness, as Walter immersed himself in his early teaching and Peggy struggled to find friendship.
In 1952 Janet was born, and Keith in 1955, and that year Walter got a teaching job in Winnipeg. This led to involvement in larger churches and a wider circle of relationships and friendships. In 1960 Gerald was born.
It was during these years that Peggy began to take on leadership roles connected to women’s groups in their congregation. It was a time when the life of women in the church was deeply circumscribed, so there were no opportunities for Peggy to exercise her leadership skills in the larger church. Within those limits Peggy struggled to find meaning for her life. It was a time of what she calls her compulsions—large collections of plants, large collections of books, and a large collection of recorder music. Later in life she took up weaving with a large collection of looms with enough yarn to stock a small store, and still later, genealogy and a collection of family knowledge.
In 1967 Peggy’s parents retired and moved into an apartment around the corner from the house where Peggy and Walter lived. This created the space for a deeper connection than they had had while living half a world apart.
It was also the time that she discovered the writing of second stage feminism: Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique captured her life. She also discovered some of the earliest feminist theology. She built a fine collection of both kinds of writing.
In the late 1970s Peggy went back to school, taking theology and biblical studies courses at Mennonite Brethren Bible College. This gave her an opportunity to do some writing about feminist theology and to deeply consider the place of women in the biblical narrative and in the church. While she was not seeking another degree, this was a rich time in her life, for herself, and for the many women students she influenced, including both Arli and Valerie.
Out of this academic work came the self confidence to consider employment. Peggy started working at Mennonite Central Committee Canada as their first staff person for Women’s Concerns. This was deeply life-giving work, as she traveled the country meeting with groups of women, giving presentations on a wide range of issues including family violence and sexual abuse, especially the abuse of children.
Early in the 2000s Peggy began to show signs of memory loss, and about 15 years ago she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Here she faced another devastating loss. In 2012 Walter and Peggy moved from their well-loved home on Pleasant Bay into an apartment at Concordia Village. By 2013 her disease had taken so much that she could no longer live without full time care. The move to nursing care was extremely hard for her.
If Peggy’s defining search during her life was to find home, in the end she found her way there in her last two and a half years at Actionmargeurite. All who visited there, all who met the staff there, knew it as a place of deep love and care for those who lived there. As Peggy’s mind slipped away she finally came home. Actionmargeurite was home, a place of sunlight, joy and laughter.
On September 26, 2018 Peggy developed a low-grade fever triggered by pneumonia. Walter spent the morning of September 27 with her. That visit seemed to release Peggy, and just before 6:00 pm that evening she died peacefully.
Funeral will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, October 5, 2018 at River East Church, 755 McLeod Ave, Winnipeg.
Viewing and visitation will be on Thursday, October 4, 2018, at Friends Funeral Service, 2146 Main Street, Winnipeg from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donation may be made in Peggy’s honour to Mennonite Central Committee.