Sharing Talents and Big Heart to Enrich the Community
Catherine (Cathy) MacKenzie is an example of a person who shared her many talents and big heart to enrich the lives of people surrounding her.
Cathy MacKenzie was born in Swan River, Manitoba, to parents who moved from Czechoslovakia in the late 1930’s. Her father, Karel Marek, was a pastor and met Cathy’s mom, Herma, while studying in the US.
The family moved to Saskatoon when Cathy was 10 years old. She grew up there and graduated from the University of Saskatchewan, where she obtained a Bachelor of Education in History and Music.
While studying, Cathy met her husband, Darwyn MacKenzie, and after a four-year courtship, they got married in 1973. The same year, the young couple bought a farm just outside of Langenburg and for the first 14 years of their marriage they lived between Langenburg and Saskatoon, where Cathy taught History, English, and Social Studies at Bedford Collegiate and Aden Bowman Collegiate. "I was very happy about this opportunity and of course was grateful to Langenburg High School where I did part of my education internship. My experience in Langenburg prepared me well for my first teaching job,” says Cathy. Shortly after she began teaching, Cathy was invited to be the Director of Music, at which is now "Elim Church” in Saskatoon, where she oversaw the music production for special weekly TV programs as well as directing the church choir.
In 1985, when Cathy and her husband finally decided to move to live on the farm year-round, Cathy unexpectedly got a job offer in Toronto, to be an Assistant Music Director at a large church there. She also became the choir pianist. The services were recorded and broadcast on TV. "It was an experience that I will never forget,” remembers Cathy. She worked over the winter season and in the spring of 1985, Cathy and Darwyn finally came back to the farm and fully "dove in” into the new small-town life experience. Langenburg soon become their home, and the whole community their family. Cathy felt a desire to be part of this great place and was happy to be living in such a vibrant community.
She started to teach Social Studies, Art, and English for Grades 7-9 at Langenburg High School. Also, she ran an extra curricular singing activity for student music groups "Images” and "Aria.” In 1987 their daughter Ashley was born and when she turned 2, Cathy decided to quit her teaching job, and spend more time raising their daughter. "We had waited a long time for this child and so I wanted to spend my time with her, see her first steps and hear her first words. I wanted to teach her and to be the one who transmitted to her our values and world view. And when I look back, I have no regrets about that decision. She grew up to be a strong, bright, and talented woman. It was the best 18 years of my life. We were best friends.” – smiles Cathy.
But do not get me wrong, it does not mean that all of those 18 years Cathy was dedicated only to her family. Oh, no - she "opened” herself, her heart, and talents for many people. But everything from the beginning…
The very first Christmas, when they came to Langenburg, local artist Mable Mund, knowing Cathy’s talents, encouraged Cathy to organize and direct a Christmas Community Cantata, where about 50 people were involved in acting and singing. "It was such a successful musical with unconditional support from the community. I was amazed by the people I worked with, and the incredible voices of the members of the choir. It was an unbelievable experience!”, remembers Cathy. After the huge success of the first community musical, in the spring of 1988, Cathy directed an Easter Cantata, the second community musical. Cathy, along with many community volunteers presented two more Christmas cantatas. The last Christmas performance "Heaven Rejoices” was recorded by a CTV production crew with a mobile TV unit that came out from Saskatoon and recorded the entire cantata. The recording was shown on CTV at prime time in December of that year. "I remember it was a very special moment for Langenburg, as it highlighted the extraordinary talent in our area.” – says Cathy.
After almost 20 years in 2019 Cathy was approached again, but this time by Pastor Dennis Elhard and asked if she would consider organizing a Christmas musical again, and she agreed. Last year’s Christmas musical "Christmas Hope” was totally successful. All tickets were sold out for all 3 performances that each lasted about 2 hours. More than 90 volunteers made this event happen. Cathy wrote this musical a while ago, but just last Christmas it came to life with Cathy as the director and producer.
Cathy appreciated the opportunity to sit on the first board of "Family & Friends Community Foundation” and was a member of the Board for a couple of terms. "I think one of the best initiatives was the ‘Little Red Car Fund’ which was made possible by funds left to the Foundation by George Layh. The fund was established to support opportunities for our young people to develop leadership skills and character qualities. I liked the idea of giving "tools” (strategies to build their lives) rather than toys. So, we tried to promote the "40 Developmental Assets” idea that help young people grow up to be healthy, caring, and responsible. We did workshops which promoted and taught the assets,” remembers Cathy.
Cathy also was involved in Kid’s Club and summer Vacation Bible School. One summer with camp kids she and Patti Zerr directed a musical that was performed for the whole community as well. "We prepared it in just one week. It was incredible. The kids did such an awesome job in such a short time."
A few years ago, Cathy, with the help of many people, organized a Christmas performance, "An Old-Fashioned Christmas” at Hoffenthal Church. The money that was collected at the concert, was given towards putting a new roof on the old country church.
Right now, Cathy is involved in ladies’ bible studies. Many years ago, she saw the need for young women to have mentors and has been mentoring many young woman since then. "A mentoring relationship can be a steadying force in a world that is sometimes pretty hard to navigate. I believe that young women appreciate talking to someone who has ‘been there, done that’ and has learned some lessons from their experiences that might help. I really believe that the older generation has much to offer and in turn I learn a lot from the younger women I spend time with.” Her dedication to others explains Cathy. She always finds time for people and is ready to help as much as possible.
When Cathy moved to Langenburg and settled into the community, she was very aware of newcomers who were coming to live in Langenburg and area. She was the one who visited them with a fresh loaf of bread or a piece of pie. She was the one who surprised them with a visit on their birthday when nobody knew about it, she was the one, who invited them to the first Canadian dinner or took newcomers for a small road trip to show surrounding area. Cathy helped many newcomers to feel home here, to feel that someone cares about you. "The empathy and awareness for the difficulties newcomers face by coming to live in another country, I got from my parents. My parents worked with immigrants, refugees from Czechoslovakia. They helped them with clothes, food, household items. My parents invited some of them to live with us. They helped me to understand how challenging it is to move to another country. So, knowing and having that experience I tried to reach out to newcomers in this community and help them as much as I can by inviting them to our home for a meal, or taking them on road trips, remembering their birthdays or connecting them with other community members. We as community need to get involved in their life and help them to be involved in the community. A welcoming community will have a future,’ - says Cathy.
Most recently, Cathy officially joined Langenburg Newcomers Committee, that is made up of mentors who welcome, involve, and connect people in our community and make a big difference in their life.
While communicating with newcomers, Cathy was asked many times about English classes. Also, she noticed that newcomers succeed more and integrate easier if their language skills are good. This is how the idea to offer English Conversational Class came to life. She asked Marlene Desnoyers if she will be willing to donate her expertise and time and in 2016, they both started to teach newcomers English basics at Langenburg Evangelical Fellowship. Later, when more people joined the classes, they invited two more teachers, Natasha Palmar and Cheryl Couet, to join them. Right now, they offer beginners and intermediate English classes free of charge for everyone who needs to learn English and more then 15 newcomers have already benefited from that and successfully integrated into the community.
And finally, when Cathy was asked what she likes about Langenburg, she said: "I moved from the city, I am a city girl and it took me awhile to adjust…but now if I needed to make a choice to live in the country or in the city, I would choose the country. It has many amenities, a thriving arts community, it is safe, people look out for each other, it is a big family for us. Also, Langenburg has strong values, people value honesty, they value hard work, they value integrity, loyalty, kindness, friendships. It is a place where I have an opportunity to use my skills and to help others. My daughter had every possible opportunity here, easy access to pool lessons, snowboarding, horse riding, music, arts, ...everything you want a child to experience is here. Langenburg offers a lot of opportunities for its residents. And there are so many talented people here that you can learn from. This is a great place to live!”