The recently retired co-owner of Friesen Drillers in Steinbach died doing what he loved, spending time outdoors.
Wednesday morning, January 11, at the age of 73, James Friesen, died while crossing Hwy 12 on his snowmobile, near Friesen Drillers north of Steinbach.
James' brother John, passed away near Maple Creek, Saskatchewan in July 2014, doing what he loved, taking a motorcycle trip with his friends.
James and his brother, John Jr. co-owned Friesen Drillers for many years. But it was always John Jr at the front of the shop and James in the back, according to a cousin of the brothers, Gerry Klassen of Steinbach.
“I'd like to add, the brothers, James and John, were a perfect team. Working together in this way allowed Friesen Drillers to grow as a big successful company for over 125 years now. Yes, we'll dearly miss him. He was a jack-of-all-trades, pretty much.”
Klassen notes that James was a soft-spoken person “who could fix pretty much anything or build anything. He was always busy even after retirement.” Klassen recalls, “One day I was in his brother John's office and James joined us. Friesen’s had just bought a new drilling rig, kind of the latest model on the market, and John suggested that James should maybe go to a workshop to learn more about the rig. But James replied to John, that he’d have it figured out in no time, it wasn't necessary.” And figure it out he did.
James Friesen was known to many across the province. Les Connor, from Brandon Manitoba, says of Friesen. “While James worked his whole life in the drilling industry, I was involved in the industry for 40 years (recently retired) and knew James during that time. On occasion, we worked on projects together. I’ve never known anyone quite like James.”
“It is said that everything in the drilling business is hot, heavy, or hard, or all three. So those who are successful are generally pretty tough characters. James was a formidable human - physically strong and rugged – with the grit to overcome adversity. But that wasn’t his most respected trait.”
“Do you remember when your mother told you to ‘think before you speak’? Do you remember when your mother told you, ‘If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all’?” These were words often quoted by James, says Connor. “I don’t know if that’s where James got it from, but he was a master listener. He didn’t speak often, but when he did you knew he thought first. And he was always kind.”
“I always try to be more like James.”
And the tributes continue to roll in for the family of James Friesen. (The following are from the Birchwood Funeral Chapel website)
“He was a humble, genuine man. I enjoyed our many conversations at church and at various biker and quadding events.”
“James was a gentle giant and the backbone of Friesen Drillers.”
“I have had the privilege of visiting with James often, as well while on a motorcycle ride. It was always a pleasure. Although brief, he could share insight that revealed his mechanical knowledge very clearly. It was always a joy to chat with him. I have known him for many years and I will miss him.”
“I met James a couple of times while I was helping his father at the Buffalo Ranch and from the first hand shake, and the rest of the day I felt the kindness and the commonsense approach this man had from within, I never forgot that. James, you left this mark with me and many others.”
“I marveled at James’ brilliance and insatiable love for creativity. James was the guy who fabricated tools to fabricate machines to fabricate parts that he needed to build his next project. I will miss all the conversations we had about what new idea he had going on in his head. We will miss you, James. Google will never come close to matching your ingenuity. Thank you for showing us that there is always a solution for life’s challenges.”
The Friesen Drillers Management team remains under the leadership and direction of the Friesen family. James’ son, Peter, and John’s children, Kim, Jason, and Michael.
Excerpt from James Friesen’s Obituary:
James lived his entire life in Steinbach where he met his wife, Bertha, in 1970. They married on May 8, 1971, and were blessed with four wonderful children.
James worked in the family business, Friesen Drillers, from when he was a teenager until his retirement in 2015. One of his projects was restoring a cable tool, a turn-of-the-century well-drilling machine, which is now on display at the Friesen Drillers’ Living Museum. Two of his other notable projects are his homemade three-wheeled motorcycle and his 1952 Chevy truck.
James’s passions also included travel.
James was not one to seek out the spotlight, but his patience, strength, and gentle spirit drew people to want to be around him and inspired those who knew him to emulate him.
The funeral service will be held on Thursday, January 19, 2023, at 11:00 a.m. at the Steinbach Evangelical Mennonite Church, 422 Main St, Steinbach, with interment at the Heritage Cemetery, Steinbach, MB, immediately following the service.