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Family patriarch, respected politician dead at 87 0

Jake Froese

Jake Froese

Jake Froese, a former Lord Mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and for a brief time a Member of Parliament representing the riding of Niagara Falls, died suddenly at his home Wednesday, Jan. 16 at the age of 87.

Although he was a public figure who served his community, it was a portrait of the family man, the much-loved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather which was shared with those who filled the sanctuary of Orchard Bible Church for his funeral Monday.

He had been very involved in Cornerstone Community Church, which has a much smaller seating capacity, so the funeral was moved to the larger church to accommodate the crowd of people who knew him and respected his lifetime of service to his family, his community and his church.

He was married to his beloved wife Tina for almost 65 years.

He had worked at Brights Wines before the Second World War, then served overseas with the Hamilton Light Infantry, which took part in the liberation of Holland. He worked as a construction contractor after the war before establishing the family farm on Niven Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which his sons and grandsons continue to operate.

The image that emerged at his funeral was of a man with a large presence, who was loud when he spoke, laughed and sang (which he apparently wasn't very good at), strong in his beliefs, had a smile that brought a twinkle to his eyes and a good sense of humour, and who was devoted to his family.

He became an alderman of Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1968, and Lord Mayor in 1975.

"It was a very busy year for this simple farmer-turned-politician," said his daughter Rebecca van Noppen.

As Lord Mayor, Jake would go on to host world leaders, but the highlight for him, she said, was welcoming Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip when they visited Niagara-on-the-Lake.

He then became the Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake representative for the federal Progressive Conservatives and was successful in the 1979 election, but his stint as a MP was short-lived, along with the Joe Clark government.

He considered himself an uneducated man, and credited his commitment to his faith, which he embraced as a young man in his 20s, as the driving source in his life, said van Noppen.

His son Tom Froese, who followed in his father's footsteps as a politician representing the PC party—he was an MPP during the 90s—said his father set an example for the generations to follow, not just as the patriarch of a large and close-knit family, but as a person committed to giving back to the community he loved.

From a young age, Jake loved playing ball and hockey, but as an adult, hockey became an obsession—one that he became so absorbed in that his son Dave reminisced about watching hockey on TV or hearing stories about his father attending Junior A games in St. Catharines—Jake would become so physically agitated as he imagined himself on the ice, checking, elbowing or punching an opponent, that those sitting on either side of him would often end up bruised.

"It was sometimes more fun watching my father watch the game than watching the game itself," said Dave.

On the night of his death, he was sitting at home "doing what most of us were doing," said van Noppen—he was talking about hockey with his wife Tina, who said she thought hockey games should just begin with the shoot-outs to get the games over with.

"He left the room laughing, that laugh that we all know and love," she said—and then he was gone.

Jake's strong personality sometimes got him into trouble on the ice and off it, but that helped him understand the struggles of others and allowed him to empathize with people in a unique way, said Dave, and it was those qualities that made him a good politician.

"He was a fighter in the best sense of the term. He didn't easily give up. He was a great advocate for the people he represented—if a cage needed to be rattled he was up for it and he usually succeeded. He was a people person. It energized him to be of service to the community."

He leaves his wife Tina and children David, Paul, Tom, Mary Anne, Elizabeth and Rebecca, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He was predeceased by his son James who died 11 years ago in a car accident during the icewine harvest in NOTL, a time of great sorrow in the life of Jake and his family, said his son Tom.

Jake was a volunteer with the Gideon Society, distributing Bibles and visiting school children to talk about the Bible. The family asks that those wishing to make a memorial donation do so at www.gideons.ca.

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