UKRAINIAN BAPTIST HERITAGE CENTRE

       Olga Reczun-Panko,

wife of Rev. Zachar Reczun-Panko

            March 7, 1922 - 2002

This article was written by her daughter, Larissa Panko and was published in THE CHRISTIAN HERALD , Fall/Winter 2002 Issue, Volume 60, Issue 2, page 14-15.

     Olga Reczun-Panko was born March 7, 1922, in Zhitomir, a military city one hour outside of Kiev.  A clerical error in her birth certificate meant we always celebrated her birthday on May 9th, which often fell on Mother’s Day.

     She was the eldest child of Grefoire and Anna Stoyanov and sister to Alexander (Shura) and Valentina (Valya).  Her dreams were to be a paediatrician.  Unfortunately, her studies were cut short when she decided to marry my Father, Zachar on December 19, 1943.  A few days after the ceremony, my Father sensing danger of war ahead, felt it was time to leave Ukraine.  He wanted my Mother’s entire family to leave with them, but my Grandfather had gone out of town to visit a sick relative and my Grandmother would not leave without him.  My parents left on the very last train leaving Zhitomir towards the Polish border, and finally into Germany where they were put into a work camp in Schalksmuhle.  Here my brother Ihor was born September, 1944.  Since he was the only baby in the entire work camp, they gave my parents special dispensation and allowed them to have the luxury of a tiny room to themselves and milk allowance.  They moved onto Ludensheid, Germany to another work camp where my older brother, Slavko was born, June, 1947.

     In 1949 they were invited to come to Canada (Montreal) by the Ukrainian Church there and off they sailed to the other side of the world.  A few years later an invitation to become the Minister of the Ukrainian Baptist Church in Hamilton and then he served as a minister for the Ukrainian Baptist congregation in Toronto.

     Due to the fact that my parents were struggling on a meagre ministerial salary, my Mother decided to go back to work.  She worked at various jobs to make ends meet and then went to school to learn English and further her education.  She found her way back to her passion.  Medicine!  She started working as a secretary in the Pharmacy of St. Joseph’s Hospital, but this too was not enough for her.  Once again, she returned to school to get her degree in Pharmaceuticals.  She accomplished this while still working full time during the day and going to school in the evenings.  Her whole family (including her young grandchildren!) were extremely proud of her amazing accomplishment despite age, finances and time.  She worked at St. Joseph’s until she retired at age 65.

     In 1980, my parents and I had the opportunity to visit the Ukraine.  It was their first time back since their marriage in 1943.  We had sent a letter advising my Grandmother of our arrival (my Grandfather had passed on in the 60s).  Unfortunately, she never received that letter.  And so it was an utter shock to my Grandmother when we arrived on her doorstep with flowers I had bought her at the market in Zhitomir.  My Mother said, “Hello, Mother”.  My Grandmother replied, “Who are you?”  She obviously did not recognize my Mother and much less me, whom she had never met.  However, shortly after my Father appeared and lo and behold, she recognized him.  Because it was the “Brezhnev days”, we had to hire a special car to take us to Zhitomir, and were only allowed 3 hours for the visit.  My Grandmother was in her late eighties then and all she did was cry the entire time.  This was the first and only time that I ever saw any grandparent.  It was also the first and only time my Grandmother, saw any grandchild.  Unfortunately, I never had the luxury of knowing any of my Grandparents.  All too soon we had to leave.  She was buried with the flowers I had brought her, several years later at the ripe age of 92.

     One of my Mother’s hobbies was stamp collecting.  She had many from all around the world.  Sorting, cataloguing and exchanging them with others gave her great enjoyment.  Mother treasured her friends.  Every day she would get out her telephone book and decide who she would call that day.  Of course there were the “regulars” that she would call every day.  I would often hear her uplifting messages and inspirational passages from the Bible or just the words of God coming from her as she cheered up a friend and shared her thoughts.  Every morning she read the New Testament and prayed, and lived and loved by the standards in God’s word.  Complaining about her aches and pains was something she never did.  She always said that there were others worse off than her.  She loved the sermons of Billy Graham and had a collection of his books.

     I would often take my parents for drives and one of their favourite places to visit was the Niagara Parkway (the drive between Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls along the river).  Especially in the Spring and Fall when the colours were at their peak.  Mother and I recently explored the beautiful Niagara Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory and enjoyed a lovely lunch in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  She loved the beauty and simplicity of nature and the purity it offered.  She also developed a love for classical music that I would often play for her in the car and in the house.

     She was a loving, kind and compassionate Mother.  Generous.  Strong and gregarious.  Made the best vareneky and borscht (which her grandchildren begged her to make every time they visited).  She taught me many lessons about life that, although I may not have appreciated at the time, will carry with me and do my best to live up to.  She looked so much younger than her eighty years and had the spirit to match.  I will forever be grateful, for having two of the best, loving, supporting parents who loved me unconditionally and allowed me to be the person I am today with love and understanding.  Despite the burdens and struggles that they both had to endure in life, they offered their children everything within their power.  Today, their strength, love and faith, lives on in me.  I miss them both greatly, but I know they have “gone home” until we meet again.    

     Her last day on this planet earth was spent with a close friend who had lost her daughter only months before.  They had a beautiful day together.  Lunch downtown, a little window shopping and came home glowing and full of joy.  I am forever grateful that she spent her last day with such peace, love and sharing.  The next day she walked out the door and into God’s loving hands.  She was prepared.

     Mother will be greatly missed by her son, Richard (Ihor) Williams, his wife Susan, her grandson, Greg and his wife Jennifer, and her granddaughter, Christa.  And by her many friends and neighbours.  But especially me!  - Larissa Panko

 

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