September 20, 1918 – May 19, 2021
In the early hours of Wednesday, May 19th, Alice Geisser passed away at the Kimberley Special Care Home “The Pines” at the age of 102 years, 8 months. Alice was born to Mathilde Schlecht in Mulhouse, Alsace Province, 7 ½ weeks before the end of World War I, making her a German citizen by birth. (Germany annexed the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine during the war; they re-joined France November 11, 1918.)
In 1921 her mother married Jakob Büchi, a Swiss electrician, and Alice grew up in Herisau, Appenzell, Switzerland.
After completing her schooling her heart’s desire had been to study opera in Milan, Italy. That was not to be because (to paraphrase her stepfather) “only loose women perform on the stage and my daughter will not do that”.
Subsequently, she became a milliner. When wearing hats was fashionable, Alice’s hats were unique creations adorned with decorative scraps of ribbon, fabric, buttons, and costume jewellery.
Because she was born in German Alsace, the Hitler Youth attempted to recruit her in 1936 with no success. Her German citizenship required her to report regularly to the Swiss police during WW2, informing them as to her residence and employment.
During those years she worked as a live-in domestic: cooking, cleaning, tending to the children plus whatever other chores needed doing. For a time she was employed by a gas station owner where in addition to her usual domestic duties she was required to pump gas.
Her uniform was bright green and customers affectionately nicknamed her “grasshopper”.
On January 29, 1944, Alice married Albert Hans Geisser, a young man of Swiss heritage who was born in Canada and had returned to Switzerland with his parents in 1937. They lived in Romanshorn and their daughter Gerda and son Herb were born there. In March 1950 Albert returned to Canada with Alice and children in tow. They moved onto a farm near Luseland, SK and Alice was introduced to bare-bones living (no indoor plumbing, no electricity and unable to speak English).
In November 1950 they were involved in a collision with a snowplow and Alice was thrown through the front windshield of the vehicle. She suffered severe head trauma and spent six weeks in hospital. No one understood German so she sang, much to the delight of the doctors and nurses. She returned home just before Christmas, but she had changed. Her brain injury caused severe mood swings which plagued her for the remainder of her life.
Albert was a grain buyer for the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and in 1953 they moved to Vera, SK. In 1965 they transferred to Speers, SK and, finally, in 1972 to Saskatoon. Her marriage failed in 1976 and she lived alone until 1995.
During those years in Saskatoon, she worked in the cafeteria at the Co-op College, did housekeeping, and maintained a garden that covered two-thirds of her backyard. Her kids would joke that she grew enough produce annually to feed the Swiss army.
In 1995 she moved to Kimberley into a suite in the home of her daughter Gerda and son-in-law Graham Mann. She quickly established a close, special relationship with Graham that lasted until his death in 2019. The three of them shared their lives for 18 years until May of 2013 at age 94 when she had to be placed into care at The Pines. She was fiercely independent and even at the age of 100 she would be dressed and ready for the day when the staff came to her room in the morning. Alice was always active and participated in all the social and recreational activities and outings. While in her room, she could be found knitting or colouring while she enjoyed the wildlife outside her window. If she was not watching a favourite movie, she was singing.
Alice probably will be best remembered for her exquisite singing voice. She always sang, whether alone in her room, in the garden, in the kitchen cooking, in the back of a truck with friends enroute to berry picking, in the church choir or on stage at a local talent show.
In her late 90s she used a microphone and sang “Edelweiss” at the Pines. Also, she would yodel if you asked. But Alice had a multitude of other skills; she was an excellent swimmer, a good skier (cross-country and downhill), an outstanding knitter, a skillful seamstress (sewing elaborate square-dancing dresses for herself and outfits for the children), a keen gardener, an accomplished baker, a first-rate cook, and an intrepid traveler.
In Speers she was an active member of the Speers United Church Women and, of course, she sang in the choirs of both Speers and Kimberley United churches.
The loves of her life were family, friends, animals, and nature. Although great distances kept her separated from them much of the time, she cherished the opportunities to spend time with her children, grandchildren and nieces. Alice was the ultimate animal lover and shared her home with a dog and/or any number of cats.
Living in Vera she persuaded a chipmunk to climb onto her hand for peanuts and, here in Kimberley, it was difficult to convince her to stop feeding the deer. She was a great supporter of the local SPCA, both financially and by adopting rescue animals.
The mountains were a constant source of comfort and joy to her. When she lived in Sask, going on a driving vacation through the mountains was a constant challenge because she wanted to bring home every “pretty” rock she saw and most of them were pretty.
After 45 years on the prairies, she looked at the mountains in Kimberley and said that she never thought she would live in her beloved mountains again.
Looking back on her life, we find that when Alice had the least, she gave the most. She was a kind, generous, loving little lady but under that fragile-looking exterior was a core of steel. We are so fortunate to have had her in our lives for these many years; she was an inspiration.
Predeceased by her parents, stepbrother, step grandson Stephen Mann and son-in-law Graham Mann, she leaves to cherish her memory: daughter Gerda Mann; son Herb (Ellen) Geisser; grandson Scott (Emma) Geisser, granddaughters Summer (Bob) Tarr and Jessica (Jordan) Lawrence, great grandchildren Paige, Brooklyn & Mason Geisser; Carson & Ella Tarr; Harper & Hazel Lawrence; great grandsons Kenny (Laura) Mann; Jordan (Chelsie) Coulter; Nick Mann; great granddaughter Alyssa (Aaron) Hewko; three great great granddaughters Madilyn Mann, Violet Coulter & Eleanor Hewko; nieces Marlene Geisser and Carmen Smith-Geisser; family and friends.
Special thanks to the staff at the Pines for their care and compassion over the years. You became her friends and extended family through the years. A Celebration of Alice’s Life is planned for some future date, following interment in Marysville Cemetery. Donations in her memory may be made to the East Kootenay SPCA.
Arrangements entrusted to McPherson Funeral Services.
Condolences for the family can be offered at: www.mcphersonfh.com