After my recent article on Jewish mayors of the North appeared on the website of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada (www.jhcwc.org), we received a letter informing us that one of these mayors was still alive. This led to a delightful and informative Zoom interview with Frank Dembinsky, who served one term as mayor of Flin Flon, Manitoba, at the same time that his father, Ben, was mayor of the Pas. His oldest daughter, Davilyn, was visiting and helped facilitate the Zoom.
Frank, now almost 101 years old, has lived in San Diego, CA for the last fifty years. He moved, in recent years, to an assisted-living building, but still drives a car, plays bridge and the stock market. His appearance and his memory certainly belie his age.
Frank reminisced about growing up in the Pas, at that time at town of about 3000. He claims he could name almost every household, of which noli three were Jewish. He had little Jewish upbringing, and no bar mitzvah, but at Easter, “that’s when I knew I was a Jew.” The family store would receive a large parcel containing matzo, Passover candy and macaroons. When asked about the existence of antisemitism, the reply was “of course”.
Frank left the Pas in 1940 to serve as a navigator. in the Air Force. While there, he met and married Greta, an x-ray nurse from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia . After the war, the couple moved to Flin Flon, where Frank worked in his brother, Sonny’s store.
He says that Flin Flon, like most mining towns, was “a young people’s town” but much larger than the Pas. He had grown up with many of the people who lived there and served on the Town Council at the time that another Jew, Jack Freedman (“a Cockney”), was the mayor. When asked about any antisemitism there, he replied “not enough to discuss. It exists everywhere.”
At age fifty, Jack was recruited south to New Jersey by a good friend, Rod MacIsaac, to work for a land development company. The job took him to England, Toronto, Vancouver and ultimately, to San Diego. There, he “put in a golf course and built homes”. It was “nice and warm”, so he and his wife stayed. She passed at age 88, after a marriage of 65.5 years. A Catholic by birth, she had sent her four daughters to Catholic schools but, as the eldest, Davilyn put it, “we also knew we were Jewish”. Although Frank says he knows little about the Jewish religion, he was, and is, a staunch Jew and supporter of Israel. Two of his daughters went to Israel in the late sixties, where they each met and married Israelis and raised families. At present, Davilyn lives in Winnipeg; her sister, Karen Stein, lives in Gibson, BC, Judith Beggs in Summerland, BC and Lisa Shahar in Terre Haute, Indiana
Frank has fourteen grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren. His first great-great-grandchild is due in June. When he reached the age of 100 last summer, despite Covid, there were several celebrations: A “small “family party for about 30 people, a bigger friends’ party for about 80 or 90 and several other small parties. Friends and family came from near and far, including his nephew-in-law, Jerome Phomin. Although Jerome‘s wife, Marsha, is no longer living, Frank and Jerome keep in touch regularly.
Frank still hopes to make a trip to Winnipeg to visit Davilyn. I look forward to that day, so that I can have the pleasure of meeting him in person.