Welcome to “Life in the 80s,” a semi-regular series in which we ask people in their 80s or 90s to share their wisdom.
Margaret Balzer (nee Epp), 82, grew up on a farm near Didsbury, Alberta, and attended Bergthaler Mennonite Church. Following graduation from Rosthern Junior College, she attended nursing school in Calgary. Balzer served with Mennonite Central Committee in Kentucky. She married Elmer Balzer in 1967, and they raised their family on a farm near Langham, Saskatchewan. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is your earliest memory of church?
Going to church in a horse-drawn sleigh with Mom and Dad. I remember being all bundled up in the back of the sleigh, riding over two miles to get there. I was all bundled in blankets and there was plenty of straw.
What is your best memory of church?
Young Peoples. Our group was active, with lots of kids; there were about 30 of us. You had to be 14 or 15 to join. It was a social outlet. We did socials, like parties, circle games, skating on Fishers Lake and bonfires.
What is your most difficult memory of church?
Turmoil in the church. My dad was a Russlander. He was a very solid individual, and spoke his mind. There were two opposing dynamics when I was young: the theology from Three Hills and from [Canadian Mennonite Bible College]. My uncles were our pastors—my mom’s brothers—and they had very big differences of opinion with my dad. Dad believed in higher education, and some didn’t. He had come [to Canada] with [Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)], so was in favor of taking care of the less fortunate. He was always bringing bags of flour to neighbours in need. In spite of all that, it didn’t darken my view of church. I always found a church wherever I went.
Tell us about the people who have influenced you the most.
Who’s my measuring stick? [Laughter.] My sister. She’s 12 years older than I am. I admire her steadfastness. She was with MCC in India for 11 years. She was doing something positive for someone who needed help; she was symbolic. I look up to my brother Ernie, too. I stick with my family. I know there’s a lot of people that I admire in a lot of different areas of my life.
Can you share a favourite book, passage, poem or song?
“Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). That’s been my motto for years. I still believe, again, it stems from my dad. He was helped in Russia, and he could do something for others. Doesn’t have to be big, whatever needs doing.
What do young people not understand about old age?
We’re capable of lots of things! “Oh, she’s old, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about!” Don’t take that credit away from us.
What is the hardest thing about getting old?
Do I find it hard? You slow down. You can’t do the things that you once did. I do things at a different pace. It’s not a bad thing, though.
What is best?
Not having to get up to go to work at 5:30 in the morning! I worked until I was 70.
What do you wish someone would have told you about aging earlier in life?
I worked with seniors for so long. [Balzer served as the director of care and administration at a seniors care home for 28 years.] I saw aging happening in real time. It grew on me; I didn’t see it as a bad thing. I saw it all and knew what could happen.
If you had one chance at a sermon, what would it be about?
Walk each day, each moment, in the Jesus walk. In the little things and the big things. It should just be part of life. I love when a sermon is given and there’s something to follow through on the following week; to practice it.