A tribute to Joe Leaving a void that is hard to fill
It is with deep sadness that I report the death of our ethics columnist, Joe Nighswander.
In this edition we have the privilege of publishing the last column Joe wrote. In fact he had completed it only hours before passing away. When visiting his wife I found the handwritten document on his desk and I asked Elsie if we could publish it as a final tribute to him. She graciously agreed that it would be the way Joe would have wished.
On the day of his funeral, and for weeks after, I struggled with what I could say about Joe. The blank pages of his memory book stood in the foyer of the church he so dearly loved and yet I could not find myself filling it up with all my thoughts about him. Well now the blank pages of this magazine confront me and I can delay no longer.
When first taking over this publication there was absolutely no doubt in my mind who would be writing an ethics column. Joe fit the bill perfectly.
Joe has been involved in seniors care for almost his entire life. Being born a Mennonite meant that every fibre in his body was nurtured toward helping others. Raised on a farm and caring for aging parents, along with the dairy herd inherited from them, was simply the natural order and way of life.
A keen observer of local politics and societal evolution Joe noticed in the early 60s that the need for the care of the elderly was fast turning toward professional care. No longer could children afford the luxury of caring for aging parents in the family home. With this in mind he and a group of others decided the time was right to build a charitable nursing home in the community to meet the needs of the elderly and their families. They started the Mennonite Home Association York County and in 1965 successfully completed a 109 bed facility called Parkview Home for the Aged in Stouffville, Ontario.
Parkview has grown into a multi-care level seniors organization which includes two rental apartment buildings with 106 apartments, and two “life-lease right-tooccupy” condominium style facilities with a total of 65 units.
Early in Parkview’s history Joe’s concerns for seniors along with his business acumen where recognized and he was invited to become the Director of the nursing home. Joe accepted and in the process gave up the family dairy farm. For the next 20 years he immersed himself in everything that was seniors care. He became the administrator, seniors advocate, political gadfly, mentor and counsellor to many. He also became admired and dearly loved by all who really knew him.
In his long retirement he continued working and advocating for seniors. The path to his door was well worn from those who needed his advice or counsel. He was quick to volunteer his time in any capacity and seldom, if ever, said no to a request.
In 1990 he was approached and quickly accepted an opportunity to write a history book about the organization which he nurtured and dedicated himself to for over 40 years. As could be expected the book, Parkview - Its people, life and times, was directed more toward the people who lived and worked in the facility than the bricks and mortar. As evidenced by this month's column, his enthusiasm for the care of seniors has never flagged.
Days before his passing he was sitting in church when the pastor asked the children - and those who felt like children - to come to the front. Joe, at 82 years of age, briskly walked to the front and sat amongst the little ones to hear a children’s story.
How can any of us measure up to a man of Joe’s stature? Simply put we can’t. Nor should we. Joe would be the first to say that we are all different and we are all blessed with our own unique talents. Our challenge is to recognize them and be willing to share them with anyone who needs them.
I have not touched on Joe's personal life because there is not enough room to describe the many facets of his life. I will supply you here with an excerpt from the eulogy at his funeral service.
"Joseph Martin Nighswander, the beloved husband of Elsie (Drudge). Loving dad of Emily (Kitchener), Helen and her husband Martin (Cobourg), Lisa and her husband Greg (Toronto) and the late David. Proud grandpa of Simon, Natasha and Melanie, Gina, and Jack. Dear brother of Fred Nighswander and Mary Barkey. Son of the late David and Nancy (Lehman) Nighswander.
Joe lived all of his life in the Altona (Ontario) area and was the fifth generation of his family to be born and rasied there. He and Elsie were married June 9, 1948. They farmed for 22 years. During this time, he furthered his education. He became the administrator of Parkview Home for the Aged on January 1, 1971 and continued to work for Parkview Services for Seniors until December 31, 1990. Through the years he served on many boards and committees for his church as well as the local and global community. He and Elsie enjoyed travelling and caring for their 1.5 acre property.
In his retirement years Joe became an accomplished author, writer, and columnist for newsletters, newspapers and a national magazine."
Walking in God’s light was not a challenge for Joe. It was a walk he simply and modestly accepted.