A Monument to “Telephone Klassen”… and Mill Street

There are some pocket parks in Steinbach. I don’t often have time to really stop and read everything that’s on the plaques… but the other day I did take a photo! This pocket park is on Brandt Street, but close to where First Street begins. It’s also near the Greenspace Options triangle that South East Transition Initiative takes care of. Now at least I’ll know what it says, and who this pocket garden is dedicated to. The plaque reads:

The Klassen Family
at 107 Mill Street (now First Street)
Cornelius Unger Klassen 1908-1979 Nettie Reimer Klassen 1913-1995

C.U. Klassen, known as “Telephone Klassen” throughout Southeastern Manitoba, took over as manager of the Steinbach Telephone System in 1948. He is recognized for innovations such as the first drive-in telephone in the province, a homemade switchboard, and the use of insulated “army” wire. During the ice storm of 1954, he hardly slept for three days while he repaired the damage. He is remembered by many telephone operators who worked under his guidance. After retirement from the Manitoba Telephone System 1971, he played a major role in the establishment of the MCC Thrift Shop and the Senior Centre, and volunteered at the Mennonite Heritage Village. He was a longstanding deacon in the Evangelical Mennonite Church.

Nettie Klassen took quiet joy in her family of 13. She was a creative cook and seamstress, often singing while she worked. Gardening was a necessity but also a hobby for her, as seen in the borders of irises, peonies and yellow roses. In her later years, she worked with the Sewing Circle, making items for world relief. She is remembered for her wisdom, faith and selfless love.

I recently learned that because many people had the same name, Mennonites would give each other pragmatic nicknames such as “Telephone Klassen” to indicate which person they were talking about.

I also recently learned that First Street used to be called Mill Street. And that’s really interesting to me because it’s named after the windmill that used to be there on that street! I think at the corner of First and Friesen, where the back of the old Extra Foods building is. I love picturing Steinbach with a functioning windmill right downtown. Though really, that likely wasn’t downtown in those days (the 1870’s). I think there were only houses along the Stony Brook, and the windmill was a tad set back from there, right? Anyway. Mill Street.

I don’t know who the Klassens were. This time around, I have no connection to them. At least, I don’t think so. The plaque doesn’t say so, but I imagine this was erected by the Klassen family. But now you know what the plaque says, if you were wondering. It’s the pocket park that has a little weeping willow by it.