Tuesday, September 25, 2007

We'll miss you, Karna


Karna Lou (Winje) Franche

April 28, 1938 - September 1, 2007

(Left to right), back row: Kenneth Moore, Bonnie (Simmons) Winje, Albert B. (Abbie) Winje, and Dennis W. Johnson; front row: Lori (Winje) Moore, Chery Kinnick, and Karna Franche. Photograph taken at the home of Abbie and Bonnie Winje, Salmo, British Columbia, August 2004.

Only a few months ago, Karna Franche was told she had incurable cancer, and was given a very short time to live.

Is there ever a perfect time to pass the baton? There will always be moments we wish we could steal, however near or far into the future. I'm sure that Karna, who was full of life and always busy, struggled with this. Caught up by a love of organization and planning, she had to try and accept that some of her projects would remain incomplete, and that come next spring, it would not be her own hands around the hoe that would stir the the soil of her garden into awakening. All too soon, her scrapbooks and notebooks would be closed and packed away, and many of her belongings scattered. How we mourn the loss of our tools that define our creativity, our needs, and our identities.

The oldest sibling in a family of five, mother to one, and "Auntie Karna" to others, Karna Franche died at age 69 on September 1st, and was buried at Slocan Cemetery in Slocan, British Columbia, Canada, next to her first husband, Keith Elmes. Her parents, Albert Lien and Agda Feddersen Winje, and grandparents, Edward Theodore and Bess Lien Winje, also rest there. Karna is survived by a daughter, Joanne Elmes, her husband, Roy Franche, a sister, Aloria (Lori) Moore, and three brothers: Albert (Abbie) Brian Winje, Edward Richard Winje, and Eric Dale Winje.

Edward Theodore Winje (1881-1969)

I only met with Karna once, but I shall always remember her energy and infectious enthusiasm for everything, including family history. I contacted the Winjes in British Columbia a few years ago because they are descendants of my great great grandmother, Thibertine Johnson, and her second husband, Eric Larsen Winje. Several family members pointed the way to Karna, who I was told was the keeper of the family mementos and photographs. We wrote long, informative letters back and forth. She was very excited about the family history book I was preparing, and we exchanged quite a lot of family information and materials.

Karna and Roy Franche, early 1990s.

In late August 2004, I went to up to the Kootenays to visit the Winjes, along with a cousin, Dennis Johnson, from Hayden Lake, Idaho. We stopped for a visit with Ken and Lori Moore in Creston, and enjoyed a family get-together at the home of Abbie and Bonnie Winje on their lovely farm in Salmo. We also stayed with Karna and her husband, Roy, and were given the royal treatment. Roy fixed us his special omelets for breakfast, and then he and Karna showed us around every corner of the Slocan area. All the while, Karna told us numerous stories about her father, Albert L. Winje, a one-time bush pilot, and her mother, Agda Fedderson Winje, who was born in Denmark and had served as Slocan's mayor. Agda Winje was mayor during a volatile part of the town's history, and Karna remembered with trepidation how her father and brothers watched for snipers from their windows at night.

After the deaths of Karna's parents, their house was leased out. The renter, while talking with Karna one day, asked who the lady in the pink bathrobe was, claiming she had seen a unfamiliar woman wandering through her kitchen. When she went to take a closer look, the strange woman had vanished. Karna replied that she didn't know anyone who currently fit the description given, but that her mother, Agda Winje, had always worn a pink bathrobe. (Was the Mayor still restless about the state of affairs in Slocan, or was she simply checking on the welfare of the family she left behind?)

Karna's father, Albert Lien Winje, was a colorful character. He and his brother Hugh grew up on the plains of Alberta and Northern Saskatchewan, and "had enough adventures to put Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to shame." [Winje, Albert L. It Happened in My Lifetime, p.7.] As a youth, Albert worked on his father's farm and in local sawmills. In 1946, he bought a war surplus Tiger Moth and taught himself to fly, becoming well known as a daredevil pilot. He made many mercy missions across the skies of the northern prairies, either bringing in medical care or flying people out to hospitals. After moving his family to Slocan, B. C., Albert became an avid collector of guns and farm machinery, and also created unique metal sculptures. His machinery and sculpture display ran for nearly half a mile along the British Columbia highway near his home. A man with a need for self expression, he devoted his last years to writing his memoirs, which were published in "It Happened In My Lifetime."

Winje, Albert L. "It Happened In My Lifetime." Kelvington, Saskatchewan: Kelvington Kronicle, 1995.

Karna had more than a few stories of her own to tell. Her grandfather, Edward Winje, enjoyed hunting and fishing while the family lived in Saskatchewan. Karna and her younger sister, Lori, often went along on the fishing trips because they loved the picnic lunches their Grandma Bess made. Typical teenagers, the girls thought they were really something sitting in the back of the car with their hair blowing in the wind. On one trip, some young fellows passed by in another car smiling widely and making eyes. Feeling smug because of the flirtatiousness of the boys, the girls were later mortified when they discovered Grandpa Winje’s old car was missing a tire. He had been driving on one of the rims all the way home, and that had been the real reason for all of the attention!

Karna Franche's personal legacy continues. Her love of family history, perhaps her greatest tool, has helped to ensure that future generations of Winjes will know something of their origins. Thank you, Karna... we'll miss you.


  1. Chery:

    A beautiful and well written tribute.

    It is sad for us all when the world has one less family historian.


  2. Dear Maven,

    Thank you. Very sad, I know, but I felt it had to be written.

  3. Dear Chery,

    Thank you for the eloquent, thoughtful and accurate tribute to Auntie Karna and my grandparents. I am proud to come from such a strong and colourful cast of characters! Auntie Karna will be missed, particularly for her generosity, kind heart, and love of family.

    I miss those family picnics of long ago when the Winje clan would descend on some provincial park. I miss Grandma Winje's Easter egg hunts and coleslaw and "drawing" classes. And Grandpa Winje with his marvelous stories--I so loved dropping by the white house in Brandon and drinking coffee with Grandpa and peppering him with questions about his adventures.

    Anitra Minette Winje

  4. Hi Minette,

    It's good to hear from you again. I really enjoyed my one visit with your family, and am very saddened at Karna's loss. I hope you will help keep your family stories alive for others to enjoy.