What people have said about the Mennonite Heritage Cruise:

From the 2010 Pilgrims on the Last Cruise

"Thank you for organizing such a rich voyage! We count ourselves blessed that we could make this final trip with you."
Victor & Marilyn Winter, Leamington, ON

"Thanks for the very emotional experience which the Heritage Cruise gave me. The experience was far more intense than I ever anticipated. It certainly could not have been possible without the many hours of hard effort which you and Walter invested in the cruise. I travelled internationally for some 24 years in my occupation and met numerous officials in the third world. This was by far the best trip I ever made and the team which you assembled was absolutely amazing."
Neal & Shirley Dick, Kingston, ON

"Dear  Marina, Glenn and I are still living in the glow of the wonderful cruise.  For me it was the dream of a life-time fulfilled. We do appreciate your's and Walter's great work in organizing it all.  It far exceeded ourexpectations.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Hertha & Glenn Follis
, Calgary, AB

"Words can't describe the significance of the Mennonite Heritage Tour to me.  I'm still in the midst of putting together the 50+ page journal I wrote, the 2600+ pictures I took, the itinerary of the trip and my memories of the places we went and the people we met.  I tried to sit with different people at each meal and thoroughly enjoyed the stories shared by the many pilgrims I met.  They left a mark on my life.  The staff of the Cruise, from top to bottom, were absolutely wonderful.  I could see your organizational skills in the way the tour unfolded and in the
ways things were managed on a minute-by-minute basis when circumstances, such as the weather, forced changes."
Tim Flaming,  Vista Harmosa, CA

"I am still overwhelmed when I try to remember all the wonderful experiences on the cruise.  I can understand why a person would want to return to reinforce memories. Sincere THANKS  to  you and Walter  for a memorable trip. "
Erma June Goering , Galva  Kansas

"We gained so much more than we ever could have anticipated! The video is well done and represents our time in Ukraine beautifully."
Carolyn & Henry Huisman, Calgary, AB
(Note from the Ungers - if anyone would like a copy of the commemorative two hour 2010 Cruise DVD, please contact Marina Unger,  marinau@vision2000.ca. The price is $50 USD or CAD and the funds are forwarded to our hardworking Ukrainian video team)

From the 2009 Pilgrrim Scholars


"I can not believe that 2 months have already passed since our “Mennonite pilgrimage”, as Walter so fondly refers to it. Without Walter’s soothing daily wake up message I have slept in most days and have no idea where I am or how to dress.


Our family of four, covering three generations, had a wonderful time on the cruise, especially getting to know all of you.  I certainly was not prepared for the sense of camaraderie that was evident from the moment we boarded the ship.  Young Benjamin had a fantastic time and I could not have asked for a better travelling companion.  I am sure he will remember this for years to come and talks about all of you fondly and often.  He gave an awesome power point presentation to his classmates on his first day back to school with detail that amazed everyone.


Both my mom and Corny had a fantastic time and I think it has given them both a sense of closure after 66 years and many terrible former memories.  They can both enjoy their remaining years with much better memories which include all of you.  And in fact my mom admitted that we should have probably done this ten years ago, which was coincidentally when I started asking her to go!

It was such a great experience for us and for that I want to thank all of the organizers of the trip."

Judy Gourley, Rogue River, OR

"Thanks again forthe wonderful cruise! It was everything we had hoped it would be and more!"
Austin and Cathy Gerein, Calgary AB

"Thank you so much for making the cruise a most enjoyable experience."
Annie Janzen, Winnipeg
(Please see repeat passenger Annie's poem  Mensch Du woascht oolt; Man you're getting old, edited and translated by Jack Thiessen)

"Dear Ungers and cruise resource leaders: thanks for leading, organizing and serving as resource staff on our trip. It was great!"
Peter Dick and Virginia Reimer,  Toronto, ON

FYI: Gini and I have organized above 120 slides in Picasa. To view
click on this link


From the 2008 Cruise Faithful

“A very big thank you for the wonderful trip we just experienced. From the calming "CBC" voice of Walter which greeted us each morning to the last note sung at one of the concerts, it was a delight to be aboard for the music alone. The hymns (especially the German ones), the Odessa Opera (those private boxes are something else), the choir at the Kutuzovka church, the robust male choir in Kyiv and the cruise choir, Walter's impeccable musical selections each morning, all made it a great musical feast.

But there was much more. The private and group tours to the villages were well organized and meaningful. The tours of the cities and historical sites were interesting and led by excellent guides.
Marina, your attention to your passengers was indeed remarkable. You watched over us like concerned parents and ensured that all issues were dealt with promptly. Things were indeed well run.

Karin and I are proud to be graduates of the Class of 2008.”
Herb and Karin Suderman, Winnipeg MB

“The memory of our awesome Heritage cruise still warms our hearts and always will. Just to stand in my Grandfather, Dietrich Rempel’s village, Gnadenfeld was so amazing to me, as was Jake’s Kronsgarten experience, his Dad’s birthplace.
Anne and Jake Dyck, Abbotsford, BC

"I have to tell you that I really enjoyed the "education" we all got from all the resource people - you guys were not only fountains of knowledge about your own areas and about the tour and cities and sites and everything else, but were also all obviously having a good time doing it, so that made it extra special for me personally. I'm sure there is also lots of hard and dreary work involved, but it sure looked to me like you were all having some fun!” (note: the 2008 Resource Leaders were (alphabetically) Rudy Baerg (Music) George Dyck (Mennonite Return & Outreach), Rudy Friesen (Architecture),  John Martens (Agriculture). Alan Peters (Genealogy) and Paul Toews-Senior Historian). Arrel Toews,  Carrboro, NC 

“We had a wonderful time and are recommending it highly to everyone who seems even slightly interested! It met and exceeded our expectations”.
Esther and John Willms, Coaldale, AB
   
"I would like to send my appreciation for all the work that you did for us. It was a once in a lifetime experience for me and you all deserve a big thank you. To stand on the roads where my ancestors walked, to touch the land that my Grandfather worked, and to see the place where my mother played as a child was very special to me. It will be forever ingrained in my mind."
Sandi Massie, Chilliwack, BC

“The cruise was great. Our last day in Vienna went really well - we went to the Art Gallery as you suggested and also found that wonderful Schnitzel restaurant. Thank you again for everything. Our time in Tunisia went without any hassle - we had a wonderful time.”
Elmer and Shirley Thiessen, Williams Lake, BC

"This ship sails much better with Mennonites on board."
Captain Dmitri Stelmakh, Kyiv (please note the same surname as the Premier of Alberta)

“Thank you very much for sending me the passengers' comments. I am happy that people enjoyed the cruise. You did a great job, as usual. And I'm pleased that Alexei and I made our little contribution to this cruise. We always enjoy guiding your passengers in Crimea, and this time we had a chance to enjoy the whole cruise. I still remember the fun we had together. I miss you and the whole team. Stay in touch.”
Maya Mamenko, Yalta, Ukraine

From the 2007 Pilgrim s
cholars
"Thank you for your warm post-cruise greeting and information. I went on from Odessa to Lviv and visited sites of another group of Mennonite Pilgrims in former Galicia that were given special privileges by Josef II of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and my wife's cousins in Krakow that we had never met before.It was another rich experience! Thank you for your help in making my extended tour possible. It worked out fine. I never missed a connection. I still marvel that this adventure was possible!  All my best to you and your staff.  What a nice and helpful group!"   Pilgrim Dr. Ray H. Kliewer, graduate of the Floating Mennonite University, Class of 2007, Cromwell CT

"Still glorying in the aftermath of the Cruise - both Henk and I were overwhelmed with what a wonderful journey it was.  Much more than we could have imagined!  All my best, Cidnee".  Cidnee Wind, Calgary, AB  (note from Walter Unger: Cidnee is typical of second generation cruise passengers. Her parents were on the cruise with us and we enjoyed them greatly. In turn Cidnee was a wonderful participant in the 2007 cruise, involving herself in a number of cruise occasions)

"Thank you for a wonderful cruise. I am savoring the memories!  If you're looking for more photos from the 2007 cruise, I've posted some on my website at:" http://pennermi.cmanitoba.com/index_files/Mennonite_Heritage_Cruise_2007.htm
Michael Penner, Richmond, BC

“A huge bouquet of appreciation to you, Marina, and everyone else who made the 2007 Mennonite Heritage tour to the Ukraine possible. I especially appreciated the ease with which the tour proceeded. Also, thanks for making certain that my dietary needs on the "Princess Dnieper" and on the Air Austrian flights were met. I was very pleased with the time and interest that Paul Toews and Olga took with trying to find my great grandfather's house in Rudnerweide.”  Linda Anderson, Westbank, BC

"What a great experience! Also, thank you for showing us some of the tragic experiences this country has gone through. It sure helped me to see them in a more realistic light!"
Clarence Martens,  Kitchener, ON

"Thanks for a great round in Ukraine, for all your care and arrangements there, for your help with hotels and arrangements thereafter.  We had a great time in learning and touring.  Also in enjoying ourselves."
  Paul and Donna Beth Wiebe,  Coralville, IA

"We are so thrilled that we could be a part of the 2007 cruise and university training!! It was an outstanding opportunity for us and we have told so many of the incredible job that you have done in putting this together and caring for us so well. Many thanks to you from us!! "  Rudy and Doreen Raabe, Coquitlam, BC

"My memories of the trip have not begun to fade"  Hertha Warren, Union City, CA

From the 2006 Pilgrims

"Siegi and I want to thank you again for doing such a wonderful job of putting the cruise together. It was far more than we had expected. It will be remembered as one of my favorite trips of all time."  Jim Willems and Siegrid Prey, Cashmere, WA

“I want to thank you, Marina, and the staff again for what indeed has been and will be as they say "a life-changing experience." On our flight from Dulles we sat behind the Victor Martens who came with his son. He told me that this trip would change my life. This seemed a bit extravagant to me at the time but it has proved to be true. It must be gratifying to be in charge of this kind of travel that truly affects your travelers and the people they meet.”   David Jost, Watertown, Maine

“Thanks for a great tour”    Elizabeth and Henry Esau, Chilliwack, BC

“What a pleasure to be on the cruise!. We appreciate all the hard work of organizing and planning for such an interesting project.”  Elsie and Henry Wolfe, Morden, MB

“There are many facets which we especially appreciated: the history, architecture, genealolgy, and the music to tie it all together. The extras - the Black Sea Fleet Revue, the Ukrainian folk ensembles, the Boyan male choir - and especially the Sängerfest - were all special for us.”  Sue and Don Wester, New Hope, Minnesota

From the 2004 passengers

"I just want to add my name to the many who immensely enjoyed the 2004  Mennonite Heritage Cruise, thanks to your detailed and thorough work. Both, my trips to Russia and the Ukraine, were rich in experiences that  contributed to my sense of coming home to the lands of my ancestors. It was also wonderful to actually visit Grossweide and Berdjansk, where much of my story of Heinz Rempel (my book) had taken place. For me, the time away from daily stresses was invigorating and healing, and it was great to meet so many wonderful "relatives". Thank you for all the "behind the scenes" work you did to make my trip so positive and so memorable. Best wishes in your future trip planning!" Hilda Dueck, Tofield, Alberta

"Thank you again for a very worthwhile journey - the resource leaders, tour guides, the planning, etc,.all were excellent, as was the food, and may I also add,.so was  the weather.  How did you manage to arrange it all so well?": Ann (Toews) McIntyre, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
(Note about the weather: we were exceptionally blessed on the 2004 cruise. Sunny early October in Ukraine is often better than rainy late September -Walter Unger)

"Once again we enjoyed the richness of the details of this cruise." Bill and Candyce Martynes, Colorado Springs, Colorado
(Repeat passengers Bill & Candyce Martynes brought their virtuosic clarinet playing daughter Krista - see below - who performed in the Molochna music premiere - Walter Unger)

"I want to thank you and compliment you for the extraordinary experience you have provided for us and for so many others.  The total package was very well balanced and allowed me to explore my roots and my feelings in a leisurely but intense manner. Having the context of others is a great way to enrich the experience.  We also enjoyed meeting both old friends and new. As you know I have covered much of the old and new Soviet Union over the years including the venues of my direct families - but going back to the place where our community was shaped provided new insights into who we all are.  It struck me that the Russian experience has shaped the nature of our community in a way that our Dutch or German or even theological heritage has not."  Art DeFehr, Winnipeg, Manitoba

"We enjoyed the cruise  thoroughly. What wonderful experiences and wonderful travel companions!"  Bill & Helena Born, Bakersfield, California

"Thank you for the privilege of travelling with such fine people. Just a couple of examples of what it is like to travel with Mennonites will suffice. On a bus travelling to a Mennonite village I mentioned to Gayl that I should bring the maps along next time as they would add to the trip. A map appeared from across the aisle. When I finished looking at it I passed it back and the person said: "Keep it for your notes. I made several just in case others might find them useful." In another instance, we had wrapped Gayl's arm to help ease the pain of a sprain she incurred from a fall. This was noticed by the people sitting with us for breakfast. He said he was a doctor but there was a better one and proceeded to walk over to a renowned orthopaedic surgeon who immediately came over, examined and prescribed. With these kind acts, we could now enjoy the rest of the trip without worry about complications.Thank you to you both for conceiving and developing this "pilgrimage." After 60 years of absence (other than occasional family discussion) from my Mennonite upbringing and roots this "floating Mennonite University experience" was exciting, educational, interesting, challenging, satisfying and fulfilling beyond all expectations. Please put our names on the list for next years pilgrimage to the Vistula Delta."  Jim & Gayl Lepp, Edmonton, Alberta (Jim and Gayl indeed joined us for Netherlands-Poland 2005.

"Now that we've been home for awhile and have had a chance to reflect on the trip, we are both surprised at how often we think of the experience and the positive impact it has had on us. The cruise was superbly organized with wonderful content, great resource people and of course quite exhausting! Not surprisingly we have become much more interested in the history of Russia and Ukraine since the trip. It must be because this is a part of our history and this has also resulted in feeling more connected to the global community. Roots has taken on new meaning! Thanks again for a wonderful experience and for the additional information you've just sent." Ev and Bill Neumann, Calgary, Alberta

"Thank you for a very thoroughly planned and organized tour, including the significant contributions of so many experts that only your extensive experience and detailed attention could provide.  We were thoroughly enriched and challenged by our experiences and learnings.  Blessings to you!" Lee and Alice Balzer, Bella Vista, Arizona

"What can we say, the cruise was beyond our expectations!  Walking in the areas where our ancestors had walked, the many concerts, superb musical entertainment by Calvin and Betty, Paul Toews, Rudy Wiebe and Rudy Friesen, delicious food, meeting so many interesting people, and the list goes on.. We are so grateful for the time and effort you and the team put into making this trip exceptional, thank you! How can we best show our appreciation but to tell others about the experience and encourage them to sign up for the 2006 trip!" Abe & Elfrieda Friesen, Edmonton, Alberta

"We are indeed grateful to you for the enlightening, informative and inspiring manner in which you arranged and directed the Molotchna Bicentennial Cruise.  Esther and I are most appreciative for all of the arrangements, and including the resource people that you selected for the historical and ancestral cruise.  We now have more vivid memories of our ancestors' spiritual and agricultural pilgrimages.


Since my vocation has included planning special worship services, including celebrations of church and community anniversary events and thanksgiving and harvest festivals; I was especially and deeply moved with the service in Tokmak. The liturgy, the music, the scripture, the reflections of Rudy Wiebe and Paul Toews were all bound together. We are contacting friends and relatives with the announcement of the 2006 Cruise". Harold & Esther Thieszen, North Newton, Kansas

"Hello from chilly Saskatchewan! We arrived home to freezing temperatures and a few days later, a heavy snowfall. However, inspite of the less than ideal weather conditions here, we were still warmed with the memories of our recent experiences in Ukraine with your tour. The tour certainly met our expectations and we want to compliment you on the excellent resource people you had for us to draw on!  In a real sense it was a pilgrimage for us as we embarked on the quest of finding places that were important in the lives of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Thank you again for a wonderful tour!" Irene and Robert Jantzen, Rosthern

From the 2003 passengers & friends:
"Dear friends, I would like to tell you once again how much I enjoyed this trip and how much I appreciated all aspects of our experience: your thorough organization and attention to detail, all matters relating to our stay on the ship, our many informative and thought provoking seminars and bus trips with very knowledgeable guides and excellent drivers, enjoyable concerts, heartfelt camaraderie among all of us, the many happy and sad times we shared, but in particular my memorable meetings with my relatives, the "Group of 11" and the "Group of 7". As Paul Toews put it: "You really hit the jackpot!" I'll treasure these memories. Best wishes to both of you.  BOLSHOI SPACIBA!"  Val Marten, Surrey, BC.  PS Marina, you took a picture of me with my fur hat. May I please have a copy?

"I'm still basking in the afterglow of the cruise. It was a rich experience in so many ways. Even without the Mennonite connection, the trip is a great experience with Kiev, the Black Sea,  Sevastopol, Yalta, and Odessa as wonderful tourist destinations. Superimpose on that the Mennonite story, with so many on the cruise
who were born there and left with their mothers in 1943 as the Germans retreated now returning to where they were born. Of course I knew about  the Mennonites who came to the prairies of US and Canada in the 1870's  and those who came to Canada in the 1920's. I just had no idea that so many left Ukraine in the mid 1940's as refugees.

Musically, the trip was great. We heard a wonderful male chorus in  Kiev, had several groups performing folk music on the ship, and of  course we sang! I learned "So nimm denn meine Hände" and "Wehrlos und Verlassen" by heart. Several places in homes we sang "Gott ist die Liebe" with old women with tears streaming from their eyes. Knowing German and Russian was a definite plus for me.

The best part, though, was hearing the stories from other travellers (yes, pilgrims).  My images from the first part of the trip are at Ken Sawatsky's web site and more will follow". Fond regards,  John Engle, Waterville, Maine

"First of all, I would  like to thank you for the experience of a lifetime. We really appreciated all your hard work and that of all the resource people.  It was really the most memorable cruise that we have ever been on.  It was a a great view into the lives of our parents and that of the Mennonite people of  Russia."  Judy & Fred Krahn,  Abbotsford, BC

"What an amazing experience we all had!  Thanks so much for organizing these tours that allow so many to revisit their heritage and also learn about the Ukrainian experience. Many thanks."  Walter and Erna Unrau, Waterloo, ON

"Just a brief note to thank you for all your work in organizing the Ukraine tour. Pat and I enjoyed it immensely; we have no complaints, only compliments. THANKYOU.  We are almost over the jet lag and back at work - feels like we hardly left, however the photos are our memories of a great experience, a once in a
lifetime event. We will cherish the memories."  Pat & Herman Driediger, Abbotsford, BC

"Many, many (spasiba bolshoi) thanks to the generous tourists of the 2003 Mennonite Heritage Cruise. They visited the MCtre and left us with the huge but pleasant task of fairly distributing a roomful of clothes, medications, personal care products, school supplies etc. More sports equipment, even baseball gloves and bats, arrived this year. Andre Utkin, youth worker, was elated. And then there was the music. Calvin Dyck and Betty Suderman, cruise musicians, offered their talents in numerous public concerts where the ship docked. Their ‘Golden Violin’ presentations in the Molochansk Music School and in Tokmak (one concert right after the other) were well attended and immensely enjoyed. Calvin got flowers immediately after his down-in-the-audience Czardas rendition and there were tears at the end: ‘please bring them back soon!’ They are great ambassadors for Mennonites and the Mennonite Centre and we are very grateful to them for sharing their talents so willingly and beautifully."   Al & Peggy Hiebert, Directors of the Mennonite Centre, Molochansk/Halbstadt, Ukraine


"I just wanted to say a very big thank-you from the bottom of my Mennonite heart for the wonderful experience I had in Ukraine. My time there has become a treasure trove of memories which I will always cherish.  The highlights for me were definitely the concerts we did for the Ukrainians. Meeting so many wonderfully warm, receptive people and knowing that we truly gave them something unusual in their lives is very special for me. Of course, there were many other highlights for me (and a few low-lights like discovering that I can't tolerate ear-patches for sea-sickness)! Betty Suderman, Abbotsford, BC.

"Dear Cal and Betty,
The Mennonite Heritage Cruise 2003 has quickly become a part of our history. One can not overestimate your contribution to the general success of the cruise. You are wonderful people and great musicians. Marina and Walter called you “the great Mennonite ambassadors”.  All of us agree with this. Once again we would like to thank you for special moments which you gave us during the cruise.
Is it possible for you to join the next cruise? It would be wonderful.
My bonnies lie over the ocean
My bonnies lie over the sea
My bonnies lie over the ocean
Oh bring back my bonnies (Betty and Cal) to me (to us in Ukraine)

Please be aware that several local Zaporozhye newspapers published the following article about your performance:

“The days of Music of October 2003 will remain in the memory of students, teachers and guests of the Zaporozhye State Musical College as magic sounds of the "golden violin". This is how Calvin Dyck, a Canadian musician, teacher and performer, lovingly called his instrument. Manufactured in the late 18th century in Holland the violin was held in the hands of different musicians. On October 2, 2003 its new owner Calvin Dyck presented us with a fascinating travel across cities, epochs, styles and genres. 

We heard the music of Mozart and Schuman, Brahms and Debussy, the well-known Czardas by Monti, and  representative 20th century composers. The talent and virtuoso technique of the violinist was successfully supplemented by theatrical elements, humour, actors’ talent for transformations.  The audience responded with delight to music as well as to the stage accessories: curly wig of the gallant 18th century, costume of impressionist epoch, elements of gypsy costume.  It was a good ensemble, with Canadian pianist Betty Suderman contributing to both the music and the theatrical images.

Both musicians are Canadian Mennonites. Making a tour of Ukraine they offered their concert in Zaporozhye on a free basis as a gift to all lovers of art. The guests were warmly welcomed by Sergey Alexandrovuch Pelyuk, director of  P.I. Maiboroda Zaporozhye State Musical College. Irina Anatolyevna Pankina, Deputy Head of the Culture Department of the Zaporozhye Regional State Administration, was present at the concert.

Enthusiastic audience – students and teachers – did not let the guests off the stage for a long time. There was completely no communication barrier, because they shared one language – the language of MUSIC”.

We’ll be happy to meet you on the 2004 cruise." Larissa Goryacheva, Olga Shmakina and Lyudmila Karyaka. (Intourist Guiding Unit, Zaporozhye, Ukraine)

"Thank you Calvin and Betty. You performed classical music for us in a new and wonderful way. It was magical musical theatre. Please know that the graduate recitals at the Zaporozhye State Musical College will now reflect your influence on us with your inspiring and creative performance."  A flower-bearing student in Zaporozhye.

"Dear Marina and Walter,
Many thanks for all the effort you have put into a most memorable cruise.
Thank you for the programming!
Thank you for the informative lectures from Paul!
Thank you for the music presented by two great Mennonite musicians!
Thank you for bringing our history back into our consciousness and for showing us the Mennonite architect
Thank you for taking us back to our roots - villages, homes, schools, churches...
Thank you for helping find information about 'stolen' or 'verschleppte' family members.
Thank you for showing us the greatness of Mennonite life and business activities.
Thank you for helping with the details of travel arrangement.
MANY THANKS for continuing the Mennonite story into the present Ukraine with gifts, programs, etc.
THANK YOU for keeping the Mennonite legacy alive and building on it.
May God bless you in your continued involvement in my land of birth - Ukraine!"
 Anna Wiens, Toronto & teaching at the University of Eritrea, Africa

From the 2002 passengers:

"For us the trip was more than we expected, fulfilled lifelong dreams of visiting this area and with all of the resources provided gave us additional insight into our background and history"  Rick & Carole Martens, Golden Valley, MN
(Carole has since become a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine. She is a fierce fundraiser for the "Internat" - a large orphanage near Halbstadt/Molochansk)

"To say thank you for a wonderful trip would be totally inadequate. I must say, it was in no sense of the word, a holiday!!! It was much, much more. It was a voyage of discovery, a pilgrimage, a visit to our past, a search for our past. All of those goals were realized...and more. The Ukraine of yesterday and the Ukraine of today - what a contrast, what history!"  Marlene Redekop, Waterloo, ON

"Thank you so much for the email with images, and for the wonderful trip you put together.  You were so right when you said it would be a memorable trip and rather a life-changing, or certainly perspective changing, trip"  June Allison, Yellow Springs, OH

"I was particularly impressed with the sequence of events. Before we immersed ourselves in the history of our ancestors in the Mennonite settlements, we were exposed to the tragic experiences of Jews (Babi Yar) and Ukrainians (Dnipropetrovsk Museum). This created a perspective which counteracted any tendancy we might have had to think that our relatives and ancestors had been particularly mistreated. I especially enjoyed  the lectures by Paul Toews and his ability to portray the social history of the Russian Mennonites in such a balanced way,  while also paying attention to the losses and pain suffered by so many Mennonites. His ability to insert a personal element into his historical accounts without being overly sentimental or pious was much appreciated.  Similarly, I very much enjoyed Alan Peters's many anecdotes and fascinating research into our genealogy.  His energy and optimistic spirit were very appealing.  Rudy Friesen also added  richness with his enthusiasm for architectural research." Hildegard Martens, Toronto, ON

"I commend you for your organizational skills and your sensitivity to the needs of the members on the cruise." Henry and Helen Braun, Regina, SK

From the 2001 passengers:

"I have not had a long time to luxuriate in memories but when I have time to retell part of the trip to my friends or family, I am amazed that it actually happened. Gillian and I both had a wonderful time.  It was not at all as we expected.  It was far more.  And I want to thank you and your team once again for all the work you did behind the scenes.  A trip like that does not happen without somebody having a few sleepless nights."  Annie Caldwell, Calgary, AB (note from the Ungers: mother Annie & daughter Gillian are non-Mennonite ethnic Canadian-Ukrainians and were an absolute delight to have on the cruise)

"It's a trip we will never forget.You all did a great job. Pete & I watched the video yesterday afternoon & it brought back so many memories. The video is great. What a treasure. Have lots of reading to do this winter & doing my album.

We enjoyed our 16 days in Switzerland, Austria & Germany. Had the best weather. Came home last Thurs. very tired but so glad that we had the opportunity to do this trip. We truly are a blessed people." Pete & Marlene Loewen, Calgary AB

"I just wanted to send along my thanks and appreciation for organizing such a wonderful cruise.  I met the most interesting people, heard the most amazing stories, and saw a part of the world I'd only dreamed of.  And most important of all, I was able to meet my brother sister,  nieces, nephews, and many other family members.  How lucky can one person be? I feel very blessed.

Mr. Toew's lectures were very very informative.  I learned so much about my Mennonite heritage. I also enjoyed hearing (and singing) the hymns in German.  It brought back some wonderful memories." Kathy Davis, Winnipeg, MB

"Your insistence on excellence is the sucess of this project and evident on every day of the cruise (and before). Know that your efforts were most appreciated and respected." Candi & Bill Martynes, Colorado Springs, CO

"We had a great time on the cruise this year.  Thanks for everything. We are telling all our friends to go." Linda & Ben Stobbe, Victoria, BC

"Hi there, hope you are all rested and over the jet lag etc.  We sure did enjoy the trip and are slowly processing all those wonderful experiences.  I like to compare it to drinking at a fire hydrant.  It takes a while to get the full benefit!" Jim & Joan Baerg, Kelowna, BC

From the 2000 passengers:

"We have presented our slides to several groups and our introduction about taking them on a three part journey usually has
them misty eyed before they see any pictures. Walter, I hope you don't mind us borrowing from your notes as it works well, and besides we experienced it ourselves. We also (especially  Irene) want to emphasize how much we appreciated the Ukrainian choirs that performed for us in Sevastopol and Kiev,  especially the sacred choir in Kiev. We purchased CD's of both and have played them almost daily since then. Our kids enyoyed them too at first but lately have wondered if our music appreciation has become somewhat narrow. Irene's mother (age 89) can sing along with some of the songs." Fred & Irene Wall, Winnpeg, MB

"It was nice meeting you folks. Thanks for looking after us so well. I have since translated the Taras Shevchenko poem “My Testament” into Low German and offer it to you. When we toured the Shevchenko Museum in Khanev, the tour guide asked me to send him a copy too" (Oct 2001 note: the Plautdietsch poem is now displayed in the museum). - Jacob & Agnes Fehr, Swift Current, SK.  

" I did so much appreciate your style, and that of the local tour directors. In particular I want to thank you for arranging the private trip to Memrik.  The driver was going through new territory for him and he hung in and was not afraid to stop again and again to ask for direction or reassurance.   I need not tell you, because you told us, that we were lucky to have someone of the caliber of Paul Toews to give us insights. I got a lot of information and have done more reading since and have to rethink everything now, with the enlarged picture. With good memories." - Gertrude Warkentin, Ann Arbor, MI.

"Marie and I certainly enjoyed your tour, and appreciate all the effort made to make the whole experience so meaningful. It was amazing to be able to tread the ground and see the sites and sights that Marie's parents had talked about, but had been "forbidden ground" for so long. The thoroughness of the "ethnic cleansing", and the callous cruelty of the Red authorities to all, including their own people, was appalling. The Mennonite ability to forgive and get on with life, needs to be taught world-wide, especially in the Middle East, Northern Ireland, much of Africa, the Balkan states, etc., etc." - Brad Houston, Penticton, BC

(a number of 2000 passengers have commented on this topic - some reflecting deeply on the powerful emotional impact of quietly walking around the "Soviet Inferno" Reparations Room in the Dnepropetrovsk Museum (see also the page on Gerhard Christian Hamm), along with the words accompanying the lighting of the final candle in the Memorial Service a day later, during which Harold Friesen of Calgary invited passengers to rededicate themselves to be messengers of peace and agents of healing)

"Now that I've recovered from that "rigorous " Heritage Cruise, I must let you know how much I enjoyed the cruise. As I've talked to some of my friends on the cruise, they remarked how surprised they were that every event on the cruise was so well attended and nobody wanted to miss anything. Nobody seemed to be too tired to take in just another event. That speaks well
of the cruise. I've had many inquiries to talk about the trip." - Helen Isaak, Waterloo, ON

"Thank you so much for the wonderful trip to Ukraine. Even after the glow of a vacation has faded, we think back with only good memories of the tour and enjoy telling our friends, and anyone else that asks, about it! Some of the highlights were the great concerts, being with good friends for an extended time, and learning through both travel and lectures about a somewhat obscure country, thereby learning more about my heritage. So I thank you again for making it possible."
- Jeannie Klaassen, Edmond, OK

" Marina, I would like to thank you again for all the effort that you personally put into making the Mennonite Heritage Cruise a very meaningful and interesting experience for my wife and I and for my siblings and their spouses. The extra explanations and arrangements that you provided made everything that much more special. Best regards and thank you."
- Peter Voth, Winnipeg, MB

"Just a quick note of thanks for a wonderful cruise experience.  I was extremely impressed with the high quality of the resource people , the organization of the program and the efficiency with which you managed the cruise.  I was also impressed with the balanced view of both Mennonite and Ukrainian religious and cultural history presented. Congratulations on a job well done.
P.S.  Thank-you Walter (and Alan Peters) for the excellent map noting the location of my father's village Sorotschyn, Volhynia.  We found it, even found people who remembered the family, the location of the house(no longer standing) and the Lutheran village church (wooden and still standing).  Thank-you again.  I will remember that experience for a lifetime."
- Hedy Ziesmann, St. Catharines, ON

From the 1999 passengers:

"Welcome home. I hope you have sufficiently recovered from the cruise. I look forward to filling out the evaluation, but I wanted to let you know what a great trip I had. I found the days spent in the Mennonite colonies very meaningful. I also enjoyed seeing a culture in a part of the world I had not yet been.  Your attention to the details of the trip meant we passsengers didn't have to worry about the details. Even in the airport in Odessa, I think the reason we were all patient was that we knew you and Galyna were taking care of us." - Heather Konrad, Vancouver, BC

"Marina, just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed the Mennonite Heritage Cruise. It really out did my expectations. Congratulations. I not only had a very pleasant time, I also learned a great deal. I know enough about the travel business to appreciate what a fine job you, Walter and your team did. Some day I would like to hear how you managed to pull an airplane out of thin air as you did on the final leg!" - Ken Neufeld, Lima, Peru

"Connectedness is of the Essence of All Things of All Types", Alfred North Whitehead.  There were the historical connections (Paul Toews; I am so proud to be an alumnus of the distinguished University of Viktor Glushkov), the genealogical connections (Alan Peters, who established that Lois Gossen Schroeder was the third cousin of the other five of us on the cruise born with the Gossen name!  Thanks, Alan), the architectural connections so ably pointed out by Rudy Friesen.  None of us will forget the distinctive features that characterize a Mennonite structure.  And, the powerful music connections: spontaneous singing before meals; singing at group functions; the choir; singing the wonderful songs of the Blue Book (compiled, I think, by Walter); thank you, Stefanie Martin.  To be wakened to the music of Mozart, Beethoven, The Mennonite Concerto, and to hear on the intercom, "My dear passengers, today the weather is...(Thanks Walter). Connections were made at mealtimes as we rotated daily between tables and dining rooms, meeting friends and catching up with relatives. The writing forum was a very special connection.  And, finally, the experience of connecting to the land where our ancestors were born, and went to church, and possibly walked around the old oak tree in the early 1800's. Walter and Marina, please sign me up for the year 2001, wherever you are going" - Evelyn Gossen Neufeld, San Jose, CA (Evelyn and a big contingent of San Jose folks have reserved space on Holland-Poland 2001)

"Let me thank you for having planned a well-organized trip. I had a good time meeting people and the various evening meetings. The day tours especially in the Zaporozhye area were very meaningful - to finally see the places my parents always talked about." - Marianne Kennel, Harrisonburg, VA

"What a memorable trip the Heritage Cruise was for us, including my two sisters and brother-in-law. I'm still trying to sort out the dream. I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for looking after each one of us with such efficiency (that goes for your staff as well). How you accomplished it is beyond my imagination! May God bless you richly - and don't retire - when my children retire I want them to experience this rich heritage of ours." - Mary Borne, Victoria, BC

"In the three weeks since the end of the cruise, the impact of the experience has not subsided, but rather has become more integrated into not only a look into the past of the ancestors of the Mennonites, but a view of the influence they have had in world events. We have also had the occasion to assess the current situation in Ukraine and to understand the need for reform and support. We came home humbled, yet proud of the heritage passed on to current generations, and concerned for the present and future of that potentially rich but troubled country." - Herman and Thelma Thiessen Flannigin, Albuquerque, NM

We want to thank you again for being such effective organizers,- from the baggage tags with cabin Nbr. and color code to the opera tickets in Odessa - good caretakers - providing for our physical, intellectual and spiritual needs and also for being friends - being available, whenever we could get hold of you, in communication in a friendly, humorous reply on the internet before the trip, during the cruise and afterwards. You had prepared a very balanced program with varied resource persons, including our Mennonite heritage and Ukrainian culture, having fun: - the folksingers, the university certificate, the awards (note: at the Captain's Dinner, Hildegard Lemke was given an award, along with Berny Wiens, for "sparkling  participation in the cruise") - and the intellectual and contemplative content - the lectures and the memorial service. We appreciated you and enjoyed the trip." - Helmut and Hildegard Lemke, Burnaby, BC

Another one of the surprises was on the first evening in the Kiev dining room. We didn't know what the procedure would be and so were just sitting and waiting. One voice started in "Praise God" and by the second bar the whole room was singing in four part harmony in the most powerful and expert rendition of that prayer. It was only one of the moving experiences: the joint church service, the tearful farewell from Zaporozhye, the memorial service, standing at the mass graves in Eichenfeld and yes, Larissa's apology, totally not needed but so moving, I cried. I found it a healing experience to be in Ukraine, to meet the friendly, generous people who had so little but were seemingly oblivious of that." - Bob and Wilma Gossen, Victoria, BC  (note - see Bob Gossen's account of the 1999 cruise)

From the 1998 passengers:

"I've been having a fabulous time telling my friends all about the cruise, framing my "fine Ukrainian art" and going through my hundreds of pictures before I forget what everything is" - Carolyn Fischer, Takoma Park, MD

"Dad and I had a wonderful trip. I would recommend it to anyone. We enjoyed all the tours, the Mennonite villages and
Crimea being the highlights. The expertise of the resource leaders was crucial to our satisfaction. The food was great and the ship was very comfortable. I was very impressed with the intricate travel arrangements and the all the daily events and activities. I think it was wonderful how the stories of each individual were made important. I also appreciate the many opportunities we had to make a difference to local people directly." Beverly Dunne, Vancouver, BC

"It was a very pleasant experience and will never be forgotten." - Robert Balzer, Topeka, KS
"I enjoyed the cruise, I have been on several bus tours but this was orchestrated so that the music was just beautiful!" - Harold Balzer, Buhler, KS

"Having the ship as a hotel and not having to move from place to place saved our energy for the important stuff. The food was wonderful, the staff just super.  Also having the ship just for our group was special. If you had anything to do with the weather we thank you for that as well!!

The resource people helped to give perspective we didn't have prior to the trip...even with all the reading we had done.  Their lectures, as we visited the areas, brought the history to life. I looked forward to the (ship's sound system) music every morning to start the day" - Karen Dreier, Breckenridge, CO (Karen and her sister Kathleen return on the cruise in 2000)

"You deserve gold stars for arranging a wonderful trip. It seemed to us that you thought of everything. How you managed the weather we will never know, although you did let down a little on the Black Sea" - Vern & Jan Hiebert, Monmouth, OR

"Dear Marina - we look back on the cruise with such fond memories. These pictures we took of your dad were so good we thought we should share them with you. His presence on this trip added so much" - John & Betty Wieler, Winnipeg, MB

"I was a part of the 1998 Mennonite Heritage Cruise to Ukraine, one of the best experiences I have ever had. I am not Mennonite and although I have a number of Mennonite friends, the primary purpose of my trip was seeing a part of Europe that I would never travel to alone. I wanted to see what would have been impossible for me just a few  years ago, the naval base of the former Soviet Union at Sevastopol, Crimea. Little did I know that it would become secondary.

Once the excursions to the various Mennonite villages began, my observation of the interplay between the Mennonites on the cruise and the people in the villages became very important. There were three or four different village tours each day. Not being Mennonite, I went on the tours my friends chose. Seeing people discover their roots and actually meet villagers who knew of their forebears was a very powerful experience. I had no idea how much it would affect me emotionally. I can only imagine how it affected those with ancestral ties.

There were some extraordinarily deep moments on the cruise. There were delightfully festive moments too - like the kids entertaining us at the famous Maedchenschule and the Black Sea Fleet Marching Band welcoming us to Crimea. I particularly appreciated the breadth and range of the experience. We had first rate historians along, even via video, to explain the history of an important and fascinating part of the world. The guides everywhere were wonderful. The ship staff was great." - Keith Turner, Julian, CA

"We want to thank you for the tremendous work you people did.  We have all  benefitted much.  It was not only a vacation but a tremendous learning  experience. We are so pleased to have been involved with the medical aid shipment and discussions with the Mennonite doctors in Zaporozhye" - Drs. Art & Marlyce Friesen,  New Westminster, BC (Note: the Friesens have since pioneered medical training conferences in Ukraine. Art is an active member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine, supervising many medical improvement projects.

"The interaction with others and especially with those who had comparatively recent family and personal experiences in the
Ukraine was most rewarding.  The spontaneous worship service on the ship in Odessa that developed because of the bad weather was a highlight for us. The sharing, praying and singing together was a real bonding experience that brought all of the previous experiences into focus for us. We got  home exhausted but with a renewed sense of who we are and what we want to become."  - Leland and Grace Wiens, Fresno, CA

From the 1997 passengers:

"I've just finished labelling the photos in my album. Such a wonderful experience! I believe this is a very important and extremely meaningful thing that you are doing." - Tina Letkemann,Winkler, MB

"I cannot recommend this travel adventure highly enough. Don't think long about it - just sign up."
(at a cruise information meeting in Coaldale, AB) - Peter Letkemann, Pincher Creek, AB

"The cruise and all that went with it was more than we had hoped for - we are highly recommending it to our friends." Anne and Erne Braun, Winnipeg, MB

"Among my memories are the wonderful way Mennonites can sing four part harmony, visiting the birth places of both my grandparents and learning from Mennonite genealogy that I'm probably one-quarter Dutch. My biggest regret is not to have bought Ukrainian decorated eggs "by the gross" as Walter suggested in Kiev. They make such wonderful gifts!"  Mary Quillin, Downey, CA

"The cruise was very meaningful to me. Reading the books helped to bring the whole experience together. I think Rudy's book is a must for each passenger and they should have it in hand when they tour the villages."  Mary Quillin, CA

"The stopover hotel in Frankfurt was great and thank you for a wonderful tour." - Helen & Vern Jantz, N. Newton, KS

"What an excellent trip! We thought we got a real education. Thanks also for the extra help with our extended stay in Paris." - Helen and Peter Goertzen, Saskatoon, SK

"We still can't believe how smooth everything went, considering the part of the world we were traveling. Obviously all your pre-planning and careful attention to detail was the major reason for this rewarding experience." - Lowell and Marlene Ratzlaff, Denver, CO

"We had a great time - beyond all expectations." Alfred and Vera Epp, Henderson, NE

"I watched you often as you dealt with our 157 different personalities. You kept your cool and always made us aware of the significance of our pilgrimage. Thank you." Louise Friesen, Sasktoon, SK

"We were particularly happy to have Paul Toews on some of our bus tours. He is special." - Anne and Harold Rink, White Rock, BC

"Larissa Goryacheva (Zaporozhye Guiding Unit) went out of her way to make sure I could make a visit to a site in Dnepropetrovsk which had enormous meaning to me" - Ernie Neufeld, Leamington, ON

"I don't know of any other major travel project where the travel agent and the organizers are gutsy enough to come along and sort out the problems onstage and backstage. It was impressive." Harry and Martha Janzen, Winnipeg, MB
(Dr. Janzen aided the ship's doctor in an important way)

"The opportunity to experience this journey gave me such an awareness of my history. I feel more connected, more rooted, truly enriched. I read somewhere in your preparatory literature that this would not be the usual cruise or vacation. How true!" - Selma and Virg Umbarger, Yakima, WA

"The cruise was well planned and we especially appreciated the in input of Paul Toews on Mennonite History" - John and Nettie Janzen, Hague, SK

"The experience was all and more than I imagined. For all the love and hard work and joy you gave so graciously, thank you!" Jeryll Klassen, Del Mar, CA

"Thank you very much for a wonderful cruise down the Dnieper River in Ukraine" - Ewald Wall, St. Catharines, ON

"Marina, our additional days in Vienna were delightful, made possible by the location of the hotel you found for us - such nice people - you're nice too" - Del and Frances Schroeder, San Jose, CA

"Much of what we learned from our parents now makes more sense and much of what we are now reading is now falling into a framework. It was good to fellowship with friends, make new friends and learn about the stories others had experienced" - Bill and Nora Janzen, Calgary, AB

From the 1996 passengers:

"Thank you again for a memorable trip to Ukraine and the Crimea" - Helen Kornelsen, Watrous, Sask.

"I am still basking in the afterglow of the wonderful cruise! It really was a spectacular time and I am sure the memories will change those that participated" - Alan Peters, Fresno, CA (Alan and the California genealogists discovered the cruise in 1996. A powerful synergy has developed between the cruise and Mennonite genealogy. Alan has become a much-loved resource person and returned in 1999 for his fourth cruise)

"The work and organization in planning this trip were incredible" - Alan and Loretta Janzen, Winnipeg, MB (Loretta passed away in 1999)

"What really made the trip an experience for everyone was the connection with our roots" - Victor and Helen Huebert, Leamington, ON

"It passed all expectations. Your careful detail work made everything so smooth. The ship's crew were so helpful and so were the Zaporozhye guides" - Jay and Mayme Hubert, San Rafael, CA (Jay is another Mennonite genealogist and would return on the cruise as the genealogist in Sept '97)

"The ship accommodation & food were better than I expected. I was in Russia in 1988 and traveled by bus. This was more relaxing and enjoyable all around" - Helen Wall, Abbotsford, BC

"Now, when I return some day to the Zaporozhye area on my own, and because of this cruise experience, I will know what to expect. The knowledge gained will make getting around infinitely easier and efficient than it would have been without first having gone on this cruise" - Arthur Wiebe, St. Catharines, ON

"I think it was the best vacation experience we've ever had. We felt so positive about the experience that we want to see to it that at least one of our children shall go next year" - Edmund & Mary Janzen, Fresno, CA (the Janzens sent their daugher Rhoda in July 1997. An award winning poet, her contribution to the Memorial Service was memorable)

"Our memories of the trip are vivid and lasting. Putting together an album based on diary entries reinforced this"- Luella & Bob Warkentin, Visalia, CA (Bob is a wine expert and informed us in wonderful detail in Crimea about phylloxera and the Mennonite Phylloxera Brigade - alternative military service in late Czarist times)

"I appreciated the help in getting vehicles & drivers for private tours. My sister and I found the two sites of both of our grandparents through these private arrangements. If I was younger I would do this again. Maybe I will anyway" - Paul Klassen, Elm Creek, MB (Paul passed away in 1998, but not before he published a family history)

"We especially enjoyed the diversity of the group and the exchange of experiences"- Henry and Lenore Sawatsky, Ottawa, ON

"Great to have the genealogists on the cruise! The fact that Alan Peters & Jeff Wall were going was one of the reasons I came" - Tim Janzen, Portland, OR

"The music was wonderful in the worship services. We loved the German songs" - Laverne & Evelyn Hodel, Woodlake, CA

"I AM SO GLAD THAT I WENT!" - Agnes Wieler, St. Catharines ON (Agnes was the first of many Wielers to join the cruise as exemplary participants)

"The knowledge and the experience of the guides helped make the experience wonderful" - Merle and Florence Siebert, Reedley, CA

"The most moving for me were the shared personal stories, especially the eloquent rendering by John Froese of discovering in the KGB files what had happened to his father in 1937. I have so many relatives who suffered a similar fate" - Irwin Friesen, Winnipeg, MB (John and Erna Froese of St. Catharines, ON were on the cruise again in Sept '99 and again in 2001)

"This was an enormous rediscovery for me and four other family members, aided wonderfully by superb experts in Mennonite history and genealogy" - Virginia Regier Paczesniak, Coos Bay, OR

"I'm hooked on the Russian Mennonite story now. My immanent retirement project is to translate Dad's memoirs into English for nieces & nephews who don't read German. Just having been there will make this so much easier" - Irene Thiessen, Toronto, ON (Irene, now retired, is another 1996 passenger who returned on the 1999 cruise. She gave us the idea of mounting a Mennonite youth hiking or biking tour of the Mennonite villages -  a wonderful concept which was finally realized in 2003.)


Links to

Home page of site
Organizers
About the Cruise
Remembering Paul Toews
Cabins and Suites
12 Day Sailing Program
North-American-Team