ROCKWOOD – Remembrance Day will be different this year, with many here feeling the absence of a veteran who was central to the day and local ceremony for many years.
Sytske Drijber was a veteran, teacher, reporter, photographer, activist and community influencer.
During the Second World War, Drijber, in her 20s, was stationed in Australia and Indonesia as a Dutch Intelligence mapper.
Her primary reason for joining up, Drijber said in a past interview with the Advertiser, was for adventure.
Drijber moved to Rockwood in 1954 and lived there for almost 70 years – from 1954 until she passed away peacefully on Aug. 16 at 103 years old.
Drijber was mother to six, grandmother to nine, and great-grandmother to seven.
“Everybody knew her – everybody loved her,” Guelph/Eramosa mayor Chris White said in an interview with the Advertiser.
He first met Drijber when he moved to Rockwood in 2007, and “always had a great impression of her.”
Early in their friendship, Drijber gave White old newspapers from her time as a reporter, asking him to bring them to the museum.
This was the first shared initiative of many.
“I live right beside her,” White said. “She was sharp as a tack right up until the end.”
Even when Drijber became less mobile later in life she regularly went into the community on her scooter and was “always engaging, looking for a chat,” White noted.
And Drijber was an “absolutely central figure” in Rockwood on Remembrance Day, making sure to never miss a service.
“She was always part of it,” White said. “Her spirit will be with us for a long time.”
He noted Drijber comes to mind every time he thinks about Remembrance Day.
“She’s going to be sorely missed … I don’t think you can ever fill this gap,” he said.
Drijber’s history of military service was a fundamental part of her identity and Remembrance Day was always important to her.
“It was a big part of her life,” White said. “It surely shaped who she was, and her character.”
He describes Drijber as “always positive and happy,” constantly smiling, and a “real inspiration for everybody.”
White said Drijber was constantly coming up with initiatives in the community.
“In conversation with Mrs. Drijber,” White said the township decided to hold Remembrance Services on Nov. 11 that focused on the children, who walked to the cenotaph from Rockwood Centennial Public School and took turns reading veterans’ names.
“It was really interactive for the kids,” who “could really feel part of the ceremony,” White said.
Drijber was “pivotal in helping us renovate the area around the cenotaph,” White noted, and also helped inspire a booklet with bios of the veterans whose names are listed on the Rockwood cenotaph
The booklet is valuable because “otherwise it’s just a name,” White said, and “as generations pass, things are forgotten.”
These booklets are distributed every Remembrance Day.
Honouring veterans like Drijber is important, White explained, because “these people put everything on the line for this country.
“Many people died, were injured, or suffered mental illness for it.”
Without the sacrifices of veterans through multiple wars, Canadians wouldn’t have “freedom, the right to vote, the right to state your opinion, or the right to be involved,” White said.
“I think a lot of people who grew up in North America don’t really realize what we have here.
“Without these people defending us, things might be a lot different here. If you look around the globe … things are a little messy right now. A lot of nations are suffering – people are suffering.
“I think we have been extremely fortunate here in North America,” White said, and that fortune is thanks to the ultimate sacrifices made by veterans.
People in Rockwood will be honouring those ultimate sacrifices with a parade from the post office to the cenotaph, a service at 10:55am, and light refreshments served at St. John’s Anglican Church.
White noted he is sure in Drijber would be “pleased that we are going to carry on.
“Absolutely, in spirit, she will be there,” he said.