“It began simply with the idea of a place where women could go to be refreshed and then the idea grew and grew.”
– JOY KLASSEN, WOMEN’S RETREAT FOUNDER
Joy Klassen, a mother and former farmer, has experienced valleys in life and now wants to create a restful place for women who are facing challenges or difficulties. She looks forward to the new year (even though it will probably include moving from her farm which she has called home for 26 years) and opening and operating her new business.
Klassen and her husband began their farm near Anola, Manitoba in 1983. “We had a cow-calf operation and also made hay for our cattle. We farmed while both working full-time jobs in the city. What began with one cow as a hobby expanded into 70 cattle. Then the BSE crisis hit just when we had wanted to get out of farming and the rest is history,” said Klassen. They let friends use their pasture for cattle, summer till fall, and Klassen said, “I’m still walking through cow pies and even chasing calves back into the fence.”
Klassen enjoyed her time farming and will always cherish memories of new life in spring when calves were born. “I am glad that our children got to see creation on a daily basis and remember bringing calves into our mudroom when they were born in winter, and blowing them dry with the blow dryer.” She is grateful that her children learned the value of hard work through assisting with chores on the farm. The children had experiences that many children would only dream about while living in the city.
However, with the sale of the animals, she would not miss the stress of trying to get the hay baled when it rained constantly and not knowing if they would get enough feed to last all winter. Klassen said, “Often, it seemed like as my husband was going into the city for his night shift as a firefighter, there would be a calf about to be born. I wasn’t so happy about the night visits outside to check on progress.” She also recalls the challenges of the long days when they often ate supper together at 10 p. m.
As a mother, Klassen has also experienced events in her life that seem to “make no sense.” She says one of the most challenging times in her life was July 2008 when her grandson Jay Benjamin Klassen was “born silently.”
“He was healthy and alive up until minutes before his entry into the world, and it was the worst of nightmares when he entered the world lifeless, without a heartbeat. The medical team worked hard to try to revive him, but couldn’t.” She said their hearts felt like they were literally blown into a million pieces. Naturally, Klassen had many questions for God as she struggled with grief. Her faith sustained her as she tried viewing this difficult time as a catalyst for growth in her own life. “I believe I learned two things from my grandson’s birth and death: how to care for others and that I needed to move forward with the idea of the women’s retreat home.”
Klassen said, “It began simply with the idea of a place where women could go to be refreshed and then the idea grew and grew.” She felt that it was time to retire from her position as a day-care director at Sugar-N-Spice Kiddie Haven Inc. that she and her father began 20 years earlier. After 25 years in the childcare field, Klassen switched lanes to explore a women’s retreat centre.
A few years after the initial idea in 2000, Klassen penned the vision statement which began, “It will be a home, located near Winnipeg, that women from all walks of life can retreat to – to be renewed through the time away, refuelled through the quietness that the home has to offer, and refreshed in a retreat setting away from full and busy lives.”
Klassen embarked on her dream by first meeting with a real estate agent. Then she filed the article of incorporation which was approved as “Women Refreshed at the Well.” She formulated a business plan and met with a lawyer to work through bylaws. Another important step was applying to become a nonprofi t organization with charitable status in addition to creating a board of directors.
Klassen’s dream simmered on the back burner for seven years while she filled a pastoral role at her church in Winnipeg. She had the opportunity to work with women of all ages, and again saw the need for a women’s retreat home in the province. “I have seen too many women who do not know how beautiful, how precious, how loved and treasured they are in the eyes of the One who made them,” said Klassen. Originally Klassen had envisioned the retreat to be located in the city of Winnipeg close to a bus stop. However, her son suggested creating one building that housed both their personal home and the retreat centre. Klassen remembers him saying, “Mom, people don’t come to your house because of the way you have it decorated. They come because it feels warm here – warm because you live in it! You will never get that feeling in a retreat house that you come and go from as needed!”
Last summer, 19 acres of land were purchased on Henderson Hwy. 13 km north of the Perimeter, in the community of Narol. The 3,700-square-foot home and retreat centre will include five guest rooms, a library, an exercise room, a creative room and space for a counsellor and a massage therapist. The living area will have plenty of room to “sit in your pyjamas and read,” says Klassen, and the grounds will feature prayer paths and gardens. Keeping with their rural roots, the unique barn/shop on the property will primarily house her husband’s tractors, vehicles and tools while the loft over the barn will be designed for large group sessions or parties.
The retreat will be available for women who aren’t necessarily “escaping from reality” but just need a short break. Each woman can book the time that she feels she needs. Klassen said, “Maybe a mom of four children just needs a few hours to sleep,” or to process events or decisions in life. There will be five rooms available for women to stay overnight similar to bed and breakfast arrangements.
Klassen’s husband and adult children are strong support and encouragement in this adventure toward the planning, building and running of the retreat. As she continues to meet with the architect and as they make plans to begin construction of the house in spring 2010, her goal to create a retreat centre that feels warm and inviting is at the forefront of her mind. She aims to offer a place of peace where women can rest from the hustle and bustle and simply “be.”
– Sheila Braun writes from Landmark, Manitoba