I heard on the radio one day that people who know of someone who made a difference in someone’s life should write about it. So, as a mother, I am writing a true life story about our oldest son Roman Ewanchuk and his school sweetheart wife Liz Koliniak.
As a mother and father we are very proud to write and share the accomplishments these two have made to about 200 (boys) young offenders. Many of these lives have turned out for the better.
Roman was born March 3, 1951, during a very stormy four-day blizzard. Living on a farm 28 miles from North Battleford hospital, I left home to live at my husband’s Uncle and Aunt John and Nettie (Iwanchuk’s) place. Their son Russell drove me to the hospital in a storm that you can hardly see in front of the vehicle. That night at a quarter to eleven, Roman was born. There were four girls and one boy in the nursery.
Next day Dr. Garrioch said, “Well mama, we needed some flavour in the pudding.”
After the storm, all roads in all directions were blocked solid, including our farm at Whitkow.
My baby and I were snowbound in the hospital for 17 days. We came home on a two-passenger airplane and landed just on the field in front of the Whitkow Hotel on about four feet of snow.
Roman grew up on his grandparents’ yard – three miles south of Whitkow on Highway 378, 28 miles northeast of North Battleford. He has two younger brothers and one sister, Evhan, Orest and Erinka Jordan. Roman attended three schools during his school days.
First was Whitkow hamlet, second was Acton (Auntie Stella Ewanchuk drove them) finally when the bus route came by the yard, it was Mayfair Central.
From his very young childhood days, he was an outdoor sportsman. Be it hunting, fishing, trapping or sports like softball, hockey or broomball. Even to this day he still hunts with his son Bohdan many times with a bow and arrow.
At age 15, he heard of a sport called broomball. His dad and other dads formed a broomball team. They called the team the Whitkow Aces.
In 1967 they entered a broomball tournament in Lloydminster. With only six players, this meant no changeoff. They played so well, they ended up in the finals. During the last period the score was 0-0 for both teams. They were left with two players on each side and no goalies. The opposite team shot the ball from behind the net, it bounced off the boards and went straight for the Whitkow net. Roman ran as fast as he could and ended up in the net with the ball. All the spectators cheered for their team’s effort.
While attending Mayfair Central School with his cousin Raymond Ewanchuk, they formed a Ukrainian dance group and performed in many concerts. Many of the girls had never danced before but they sure picked up the steps and did a marvelous job. While being a member to the Ukrainian youth group organization, CYMK, at Whitkow, he won many trophies in drama, dancing and softball. He competed against many local districts including Saskatoon. At age 14 he caught an orange-painted turtle in their creek. It weighed three and a half pounds. The News-Optimist had a picture and a write up.
One day a neighbouring farmer was knocking down bushes. From one of the branches a hawk’s nest flew out. Roman caught a baby hawk and took it home. He trained it to fly around the yard and land on his arm. Many times it would circle over the yard and stoop straight down and steal a mouse from our cat, who was playing with it.
He hated being indoors, such as at school. He used to get blackouts and heavy nosebleeds.
After visiting a specialist doctor in Saskatoon, I, was told “take this boy out of school. I don’t mean tomorrow or next week, I mean yesterday.”
Our principal Mr. Eric Fielding understood and told Roman to come in for his report card. We did as were told. Roman quit school after finishing Grade 10 and got a job at the North Battleford mental hospital. It was here that his future life started. In this hospital he noticed three young First Nation boys sitting in a corner. They looked to be his age, under lock and key and annoyed by staff. Roman makes friends with people of any age and race, and started to talk to them. They were so happy to speak. They told him they are here for two months and no one ever spoke a word to them. The staff treated them like mental patients.
It was at this moment that Roman really made up his mind that something or some place should be organized to help young boys who were in trouble with the law and not to be placed in the mental hospital. One of these boys was Pat. He was falsely accused of an incident in his hometown and was admitted for two months.
In the summer of 1970 Roman married his high school sweetheart Liz Koliniak. He continued working at this hospital but always kept thinking about running a group home for young boys.
One afternoon Roman drove into our yard and was ever so excited. His dad Uhan was doing something in the box of his half-ton truck. Roman started telling his dad about his decision of starting a group home for young boys in Redfield townsite. His dad’s answer was not what Roman was hoping to hear, He said, “Don’t even think that I would agree to that.” He said, “When people have children, it is up to them to raise them. You are too young for a job like that.”
I, on the other hand interrupted saying, “I agree that you should try it because if you don’t, you will always think maybe I should have tried and maybe it would be a success. If it doesn’t work out, you could say you tried. You and Liz are both young and have a lot of time to change your mind for something else.”
In 1972 Roman and a friend borrowed some money from the bank, and bought a vacant building that was a general store owned by William T. Lucyk and wife Lilly in a small country town of Redfield. They renovated this building into bedrooms, bathrooms, laundry room etc. He made bunk beds from lumber and had mattresses from foam.
In order to operate a juvenile rehabilitation home, Roman needed a Grade 12 certificate. He talked to his former schoolteacher, Mr. Mike Mischuk, about it. Mike agreed to help whatever he could. He tutored Roman for a while and, after writing an exam, Roman passed with flying colours. Roman is and always will be grateful to Mr. Mischuk.
Now came another large step. He needed a physiatrist and three clients from the mental hospital, he hired George (a psychiatrist) as his associate. He met this man while he worked at the hospital. He also took this young First Nation boy Pat, one of the three he talked to privately. The second man was a middle-aged Chinese gentleman who did not know how to speak English. The third man was an elderly retired farmer who had a stroke and his family admitted him to the mental hospital. With these four people, Roman and Liz stared the Redfield group home, Weldon #3 for young offenders. Roman read a story about two group homes in the United States for young boys. One was Weldon #1, another Weldon #2, Redfield was called Weldon #3.
The courts would send young boys through Social Services. These boys were very young; some were 13 years old. They were children of homes of alcoholic or drug-using parents. Some were from divorced or separated parents.
These children had never known of curfew and never had any discipline. They were like leaves in the wind. They went where they wanted, anytime, anyplace with whoever they wanted and came home whenever in a day or two or more. No one asked them where they were, who with, what they did or if they ate.
The first year they had eight boys, a son, Bohdan, and two daughters Darcia and Roma. When the community heard of a group home starting at Redfield, they signed petitions to stop them. Some remarks were made that Roman wanted free farm labour. This hurt Roman and Liz as he was a very small farmer.
Later on, many of these same farmers were in need of farm help. So, when Saturday morning came, Redfield group home was like a farm labour office. Boys were taken to fix the fence, pick rocks, clean corrals, stack bales, throw sheaves on racks, brand inoculate and dehorn cattle. When the farmers came to hire these boys, Roman made it clear to them that in no way are they to be mistreated because, if so, they would never get them to help again. Many boys were willing to work but said they have to be taught because they never did those things before.
In the evening the boys came home tired but very happy to count their day’s earning. The boys were paid and the money went into their accounts.
Roman knew that to keep the boys out of mischief; they needed to be kept busy. He started real mixed farming. He raised horses, cattle, hogs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, pheasants, pigeons, and tame rabbits. And of course dogs and cats. No one would ever believe how excited these boys were when spring arrived and so did little baby animals and baby birds. None of these boys ever saw mother animals giving birth to their babies nor did they see baby chicks, turkeys, or geese hatch. This opened a new chapter in their lives.
These boys attended the Mayfair Central school. They were picked up by a school bus in the morning and brought back in the evening. These boys all had their chores to do in the morning. This home needed extra help (staff) so Roman hired his cousin Raymond Ewanchuk and his sister Erinka. On Saturday, Roman would take his family to some broomball tournaments.
He also hired his mother. To these boys she was Baba. Yes, this was me. To me these boys were all children who needed someone to talk to and show them you care for them. Whenever I would arrive in their home, they would ask, “Baba, what can we bake?” One says lemon pie another wants doughnuts or chocolate cake. When I read out the ingredients from the cookbook they were all over the cupboard to get these ingredients down. They were very excited when they beat the egg whites, put it on a lemon pie, put it in the oven and watched through the oven glass door. They screamed when the whites became a dark orange colour called meringue.
Liz and Roman became very good cooks. One year they had 16 boys. Some looked the age of Roman and Liz. The last year they had eight. Every June, ending school term, Roman and Liz put on a large barbecue supper, inviting not only these boys’ families but also neighbours. During this supper, two mothers came up to me, hugged me and thanked me for raising a son who made such a difference in their sons’ lives in just one year. Words can’t express how proud I was that Roman and Liz, being so young themselves, made these mothers so happy.
One year ending school term in June, Roman and Liz were invited to a banquet in North Battleford in their honour with only the group home boys and staff. The “top brass” from Regina were present. I sat opposite them. They made these remarks, I quote, “We have visited other group homes but never did we see young people look so healthy in one year’s time.”
It helped that Liz always had a large garden, producing lots of fresh vegetables, also fresh meat from pigs, poultry and wild birds, too.
One young boy turned his life around so well, he became a foreman in an oil patch. A couple of years later this boy, “J,” gave Roman’s son Bohdan a job. A few years later and today Bohdan is a foreman in the oil patch. “J” told Roman he is paying back for the good he got out of the group home.
My husband Uhan and I brought the Whitkow Hotel in 1973. One evening Bohdan phoned to ask if he could make a stag party for “J” who was getting married. This was a surprise. Roman and Liz supplied the homemade kobassa. I supplied fresh buns and dills etc. This boy “J” came up to me and asked if I remember him. I answered, “No, I don't, should I?” He told me he was a Redfield boy and that I fed him borscht, perogies, cabbage rolls and fresh buns.
He said he always felt just like at home. Other Redfield boys were with him too. He thanked me for raising a son who saved his life.
He said, “Roman made me what I am today. If not for him, I would have been found dead in a ditch. He saved my life and taught me how to work and respect people.”
During Christmas and Easter to this day many of these boys phone and say, “Hello. Ma, Hello Pa,” and tell them about themselves and where they are.
One evening in 1975, Roman and one of his Redfield boys went hunting. One young boy “L,” did not realize his gun was loaded. Walking through the thick willows around the creek, a willow hit the gun and it discharged. The bullet hit Roman in his side, hit his rib cage, bounced off passing the heart cage and ending up in his shoulder where it still is today. The doctor advised not to remove it because it would cut a lot of nerves. His brother Orest drove him to North Battleford. Immediately he was put in the ambulance and taken to Saskatoon. He would not accept any pills. In one week he was home with a brace from his elbow to his wrist.
Roman and Liz folded up the Redfield group home in 1985. Thirteen years was enough, they said.
On Sept. 6, 1985, the Saskatchewan Social Services of North Battleford held a dinner and program in honour of Roman and Liz in a large restaurant in North Battleford. This invitation was sent out by the district director Dr. L. Saiseth. My husband Uhan and I were also invited and very honoured.
After retiring after 13 years, Roman is employed at North Battleford Youth Centre. On March 3, 2017, he was 66 years old. He travels 35 miles to his job.
Roman and Liz both joined and danced with the Ukranian Zoria Dancers. After his hip replacement last year, he gave up dancing. They also belong to the Mayfair Theatre Group where Roman always has the leading roll and Liz is the prompter. They have 11 grandchildren and two great-granddaughters. When their daughter Roma was getting married to Guye Bourelle, Pat gave the toast to the bride. Pat and his wife Rita have three sons. One is named Roman. They also have one daughter.
Roman and Liz have received an honorary certificate from Lorne Calvert for the job as foster parents for 13 years at Redfield. My husband Uhan was so proud he made a remark that nobody has a big heart like Roman to be a foster parent to so many half grown children.