Face of the Valley - Mary Koran

Mary Koran – a woman of gratitude

Each week, The Free Press profiles a deserving Fernie local. This week's Face of the Valley is Mary Koran.

  • Thu Sep 17th, 2015 6:00pm
  • Life

By Jennifer CroninFree Press Staff

Mary (nee Vicen) was born in Czechoslovakia in 1923. She is the eldest daughter of Joseph Vicen and Mary (nee Kimilcka).

In 1928, when Mary was five years old, her father left the old country for Canada. Mary and her mother moved in with her paternal grandparents, as Joseph settled in Fernie and started to prepare for the family’s arrival.

Prior to bringing the family to Canada, Joseph was required to prove that he would be able to provide for them. To this end, he purchased some land, which became the family home. With two horses and a wagon he cleared the land on which he built a two-room shack.

After five years of saving, clearing, building and preparing, the family was reunited. Reminiscing about this time, Mary shares, “I am so glad Dad was so brave and I am so proud of him! He did not know a word of English when he got to Fernie.”

This language barrier would also be something that resonates in Mary’s memory of her childhood. Beginning school at the Fernie Catholic School, and speaking no English herself, she remembers it as being “a rough start.”

The family homestead was located five miles from town, and Mary and her brother would walk to and from school each day. “We would walk five miles each day to go to school, and five miles home again,” she recalls. The snow would be piled so high on the side of the road that she and her brother would have to take turns climbing the snow bank to see which farm they were passing. Only by doing so, would they know how much further they had to go to get to school.

“When Dad could afford it, he got me a bike,” Mary remembers. Her brother would not get a bike until the following year, so they would take turns riding, to school. The roads were dirt and sometimes they would put so much gravel on them that the bike would get stuck. On these days they dragged the bike to school.

Mary’s mom did a lot of work, helping her father on the farm, while Mary and her siblings’ chopped wood and kindling, and everyday Mary would take out the ash pan.

Winter fun was had sliding down the hills on cardboard boxes, and in the summer Mary remembers her mom saying, “you kids go catch some fish for dinner,” which they did. Fishing at Hartley Creek, “we knew all the good spots,” she laughs

Mary remained on the family farm until her marriage to Frank Koran, who she met at a dance in Coleman, AB. Married at the Catholic Church in Fernie, and living in Coleman, Mary missed the family very much, and would travel by bus to visit.

In 1944, Mary and Frank relocated to Fernie where Frank secured work with one of the valley mines. Over 20 years they welcomed their six children, Joyce, Betty, Bob, Elaine, Frank, and Doug. When the youngest started kindergarten, Mary went to nursing school in Nelson. About 10 years into her nursing career, Frank passed on. Mary continued to work at the Fernie Hospital until retiring at age 65.

After losing Frank, Mary traveled, visiting Africa, Australia, Mexico, many islands and her favourite, India. Whether traveling with family, or with a Lethbridge senior’s group, this brought Mary great joy. “If it wasn’t for my health I would still do it,” Mary concedes.

“I love Fernie. Of all the places I’ve been to, I still wish to continue living in Fernie,” Mary notes.

Mary has made her home at the Trinity Lodge for 17 years, longer than any of the other residents. She has 17 grandchildren, over 20 great grandchildren and 12 great great grandchildren.  You can hear the pride in her voice when she speaks of her family, “They are all good kids, and all good workers,” she shares.

Grateful for her father’s courage, and for her wonderful family, Mary is this week’s “face of the Valley”.