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Obituaries

DOREEN BROWNSTONE O.M.

Doreen Brownstone passed away peacefully at Riverview Health Centre on Friday, December 16, 2022. Doreen was predeceased by her parents, Jessie and Mark Stein, her sister, Laura Hoffman, her sons Michael and Jonny, and her daughter Sheila. She is survived by her grandsons Cole Brownstone and Kyle Reese Wunder, by her special “surrogate daughter” Patricia Hunter and her family—Zaz, Abbie, and Adele Bajon—and by her extensive “theatre family”. Funeral services were held graveside at Shaarey Zedek Cemetery on Sunday, December 18; pallbearers were Susanna Portnoy, John Bluethner, Harry Nelken, Mariam Bernstein, Daniel Thau Eleff and John Myers; honourary pallbearers were Joanie Sheps and Heather Pullan.

Doreen was born in Leeds, England, on September 28, 1922, and had a very happy childhood, describing herself as a tomboy and a show-off. She was no slouch academically, though, and won a scholarship to the prestigious Roundhay School for Girls, which was a great source of pride for her and her family. Doreen’s father was a tailor and was able to save money by making her school uniforms himself, which she wore with pride. As Doreen would often say as she shared her fond memories from her schooldays, “that school changed my life”. At 100 years old, she could still recite poetry she had learned in school, and if you spoke to her in French, she would proudly respond en français. And, importantly, it was there she learned to swim, earning many awards.

At the age of 19, inspired by the words of Winston Churchill (she could still dramatically recite most of his speech), Doreen enlisted in the Royal Air Force. She was very proud of her service and remembered it fondly; it taught her discipline and responsibility and felt like being ‘back at school’.  She was on the RAF Halton swim team, competing with other stations. The RAF was also where she was introduced to acting when the division padre informed her that she had been cast in a play: “The rest is history”.

Doreen met Canadian Billy Brownstone during the war, married him in 1945 and immigrated to Winnipeg in 1946 where their three children were born. In Winnipeg, she joined the YMHA (Theatre) Players and was active in other amateur theatre groups where she first encountered John Hirsch as both drama teacher and director (as Doreen said, “He was our Theatre School”). 

In 1957, when Hirsch and Tom Hendry founded the semi-professional Theatre 77, they included Doreen in the company. In 1958, Theatre 77 merged with Winnipeg Little Theatre, with Hirsch as artistic director and Hendry as business manager, to become the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Hirsch cast Doreen in MTC’s first professional production—A Hatful of Rain opposite Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent—and thus began her 60-year career as a professional actor, working for every professional theatre company in the city and for many across the country. She acted in over 100 plays, including a touring production of Driving Miss Daisy at the age of 83, the role of Yenta in Fiddler on the Roof seven (or was it nine?!) times, the last one a Yiddish production at  the age of 89, and in Vigil at Prairie Theatre Exchange in 2013 at the age of 92 where she shamelessly showed off her agility by energetically doing toe touches on stage. The oldest working actor in Canada, she continued to do play readings and some film work. At 95, she appeared in the television series Channel Zero with actor Rutger Hauer.

Alongside her illustrious acting career, Doreen was also the beloved “Mrs. Brownstone, my swimming teacher”. Doreen maintained a forty-year career as a swimming instructor, teaching two and three generations of families to swim. She was known as Doreen, the actor, and Mrs. Brownstone, the swimming teacher to her legions of fans from both careers. It was impossible to go on an outing with Doreen and not get stopped a good many times by audience members who wanted to tell her how much they enjoyed a particular performance or by generations of kids who proudly recall her teaching them to swim. 

Doreen always expressed how extremely lucky and blessed she was to do the two things she absolutely loved: acting and swimming. Doreen’s passion and vitality on stage and at the pool were a testament to her amazing dedication and creativity. She attributed her lifelong fitness to her years of swimming, and the mental sharpness she maintained up to the age of 100 years to her acting.

Doreen connected with so many and forged lifelong bonds with friends in her Pan card game group, her Taylor Avenue friends, swimming teachers and students alike, and her doting “theatre family”. In later years, these friends and her new Shaftesbury friends would meet at Doreen’s celebrated coffee klatch gatherings on Friday afternoons in the Shaftesbury Coffee Bistro. In winter, many of us came proudly wearing the colourful knitted hats she had made for us. She would hold court, looking classy with one of her signature pashminas draped over her shoulders. 

Doreen always supported her fellow artists in times of joy and was there with a sympathetic ear and loving hugs in difficult times. She was a faithful friend and colleague and always made a point of seeing others’ work, taking special pleasure in their accomplishments.

Doreen was awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from ACTRA, The Canadian Actor’s Equity Association, the Winnipeg Arts Council, and the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. In 2017 she was awarded the Order of Manitoba. She really got a kick out of seeing the letters O.M. after her name! She also received the Nellie McClung Foundation Trailblazer Award in 2021.

Doreen felt each day she was given was a gift. Her faith was a comfort and helped her through her many challenges in life. Doreen’s exuberance, chutzpah, joie de vivre, determination, generosity, and love fuelled and filled her long rich life. She is held in unparalleled esteem by all who knew her.

Doreen Brownstone, the Grande Dame of Winnipeg Theatre, has taken her final curtain call but will continue to be an inspiration to us all.

Doreen’s “theatre family” would like to thank the staff at Shaftesbury Park and at the Riverview Palliative Care Unit for their care and kindness, the Kenaston Superstore Pharmacy team, and a special thanks to her GP Dr. Kristen Creek for her exemplary, attentive care. Thanks also to all the friends and relatives, young and old, who spent time with Doreen. Their love, friendship and conversation meant the world to Our Doreen. Finally, thank you to our extended “theatre family”. There were so many of us who could be called upon to take Doreen to appointments, sit with her during a hospital stay, or just visit, who could be counted on in times of need, or pull together to fête Doreen, decorating the room in her favourite colours of pink and purple, the last time on September 28 for her 100th birthday. It takes a village and we have been so lucky to have ours. Special thanks to Stefanie Wiens and Angus Kohm for going above and beyond, taking care of many of Doreen’s needs. Stefanie’s medical knowledge and caregiving meant that everyone could rest easy knowing she was in capable and loving hands.

“In mind a constant thought, in heart a silent tear.”

Donations in Doreen Brownstone’s memory may be made to Jewish Child and Family Services,

The Actors Fund of Canada, or a charity of your choice.

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Obituaries

GERTRUDE YUSIM

Trudy was born July 29, 1926 in Winnipeg. She grew up in River Heights, attended Mulvey Elementary, continued on to graduate from Gordon Bell High School, and studied at a technical college to become a bookkeeper.

Trudy and Moe Yusim married on June 30, 1952 and raised their family, Alan, Norman, Susan and Robert.

Trudy was smart, beautiful, poised, dignified and elegant. She enjoyed bowling, playing bridge (she was a Life Grand Master who played well into her 90s.)

Moe’s sudden death in 1977 was heartbreaking. and Trudy faced her heartbreak with resolve, determination, strength, and resilience.

Trudy continued to live in the family home for another 35 years. She was an amazing cook and her meals brought the whole family together many times a year and for holiday celebrations. It was hard for her to leave the family home after her health took a turn, but during her 12 years at the Shaftesbury Residence she found continued comfort and a place to be social, to join activities, and a place where she could proudly entertain her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

As a grandmother she was Nanny Trudy. Her love for and interest in everything her grandchildren and great- grandchildren were doing was obvious. She absorbed their interests and made them her own. She celebrated all their accomplishments and achievements, both personal and professional. 
Trudy passed away peacefully on January 8, 2024 at the Simkin Centre. The family is grateful for the tender care she received during her final months.  Trudy leaves behind her four children and their spouses, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her parents Rose and Max Thow and her beloved husband Moe and her great- grandson Leo.
The family would like to thank Rabbi Matthew Leibl for officiating at Trudy’s graveside service. As a long-time family friend his eulogy to Trudy was both personal and poignant.

In conclusion, here are words written by Trudy’s eldest granddaughter: 
“She was the strongest woman, going through the tragedy of losing her beloved husband suddenly and at a young age. Left with 4 children and without the love of her life. She persevered, and became a more independent woman than she ever was before. She still enjoyed life and continued on to live another 47 years with grace and love. She lived a full life of 97 years, with many different chapters. We love her and will miss her always.”

May Trudy Yusim be at peace.

And may her memory be a blessing.

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Obituaries

ANN NOVAK

Anne Novak (née Fink) passed away peacefully in her 100th year on January 24, 2024. She lived a life that spanned three continents and two centuries. Born in Sanok, Poland on March 18, 1923, Anne was the second of five siblings born to an observant Jewish family. Her early years in Poland were happy, but life became bleak when Hitler invaded in 1939. Before long the Fink family fled to their grandparents’ home in the Russian controlled part of Poland seeking safety. Unfortunately, the Russians deported the family to the depths of Siberia where they were resettled in work camps. The war years were filled with hunger and depravation, but ultimately six of the seven family members survived.

When the family was allowed to leave Siberia, they made their way to  Germany and ultimately to Canada.

By the time Anne arrived in Winnipeg in 1948, she had married her beloved husband Oscar Novak and had her first child Carol. Having worked in kindergartens in Russia and Germany, she got a job at the Peretz School as a kindergarten teacher. Like many other immigrants, her husband bought a small grocery store and the young family began to grow and thrive. Two more children, Phil and Allan, completed the Novak family.

Anne’s best times were with family. Her siblings Sally, Sol, and Ruth were an important part of daily life and all lived close by. Last year, they were designated by the Shoah Foundation as the oldest Holocaust survivor siblings in the world. Her son Allan Novak recently made a film about the Fink family which had its world premiere in New York six days before she died.

Anne also took great pride in her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren, delighting in their visits, family celebrations, and accomplishments. 

Anne was a wonderful cook and baker, making legendary tortes and cakes for special occasions. Food was love to her and she showered her family with tasty delicacies until well into her 90s. No visit to her kids in Toronto was complete without a box of food containing homemade treats.

Although she was a quiet and refined person, she also had a great sense of humour and enjoyed the funny side of life. She was always kind to the people around her and was the peacemaker in the family. 

The family would like to thank Dr. Hamedani and the nursing staff at the Grace Hospital for their kind attention in the final weeks of her life. 

She will be sadly missed by her surviving children and their spouses Carol and Brian Sevitt, Allan Novak and Keely Sherman, her grandchildren and their partners Julia Sevitt, David Sevitt and Alexa Abiscott, and Evan and Samantha Novak, and by her great-grandchildren Theo, Zac, Miles, Simone, Matthew and Phil.

In memoriam donations can be made to Jewish Child and Family Services of Winnipeg https://www.jcfswinnipeg.org/donate

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Obituaries

SHERRY CHOCHINOV

Our loving mom and baba, Sherry Chochinov, passed away on January 7, 2024, at the age of 97.

She was predeceased by her husband Ben Chochinov; her parents, Chana and Max Rubinfield; and her sister Naomi Wolfe. She leaves behind her brother Jack Rubinfield; sister Eddy Werier (Lawrence); children, Alecs (Ruth Graham), Cindy (Charles Guberman), Lori (Andy Rafelman), Shale (Sary) and Michelle (Morry Murad); and grandchildren, Janna (Peter), Michael (Nataliia), Matthew, Noah, Ethan, Leah, Adam, Maya, Sydney, Annie, Eden and Jonah.

Sherry was born Sarah Rubinfield in a small town near Mokre, Poland. She immigrated to Canada in 1929, at the age of four. Canada was much safer than Europe in those years for a Jewish family but was also on the threshold of a depression. Her family lived in the back of a small grocery store on Alfred Avenue, across from Isaac Newton, where she went to school. She didn’t know it at the time, but she would grow to have a life of incredible richness, though not in the literal sense.

As a young teen, Sarah wanted a more modern, fashionable name so when her friends nicknamed her Sherry, it stuck. While her younger siblings played tennis and volleyball, socializing was Sherry’s preferred sport. She regaled her kids with stories about her dates as a teenager, but once Ben came into the picture, that was it. They were together for 73 years and she gave up her social life almost entirely, but willingly, for her family.

Mom waited seven years before Alecs was born but by the age of 45 she had five children and a vibrant household, where there was never a quiet moment, only the sounds of children. Those sounds were music to mom’s ears.

Sherry was a beautiful young mother, in every sense of the word. In the early 1960s, her shopping excursions with the kids left indelible memories. Lori and Cindy would watch with rapt attention as she transformed into a model from Vogue magazine, putting on her lipstick, gloves, fancy hat and outfit. A day at The Bay would often end at the Paddlewheel, with chocolate cream pie for all of us, Sherry included. She really seemed like the perfect mom – glamorous, nurturing, gentle, patient and happy.

Later, as teenagers, she’d wait up for us with coffee and cinnamon buns on Friday and Saturday nights, and we’d chat for hours. Mom was eternally curious about the details of our lives and those of our close friends.

Even after the kids left home – each departure a great upheaval and one of the rare times we would see mom cry – she called her daughters every day for years, until they had stable relationships of their own. She just needed to know that her babies were safe, even though the youngest of those babies was already an anesthesiologist in Toronto.

Sherry had an unflinching belief in the ability of her kids to achieve whatever they put their minds to, which gave us the confidence to be independent and successful in our own lives.

She knew who she was, lived life on her terms and didn’t care a whit about what anyone else thought. She was as strong, smart and determined as they came, yet incredibly gentle. Her independence of mind and stubbornness were hallmarks till the end, and her eccentricities will be the stuff of family legend.

Sherry’s home was a haven for her and her brood for her entire life. She is still at home now, in the only lasting home we can ever have, in the hearts and loving memories of her kids and grandkids, where she will remain, smiling, forever.

Mom’s generosity extended to everyone she touched in her life and was especially evident in her relationship with the ladies who cared for her these last eight years, after Ben passed away: Shirley Halpenny, Cresilda Magno, Susan Genido, Lisa Comia and Gloria Laconico. Sherry had a special relationship with each of them, and they clearly loved and took exceptional care of her. Our family will be forever grateful for their devotion and kindness.

Donations can be made to the Sherry and Ben Chochinov Fund at the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba.

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