Family, friends pack Legion for tribute dinner

If the measure of a man is in the company he keeps, then Sam Visser of Emo is quite a man.
On Saturday night, family and friends packed the Emo Legion in what turned out to be a rather unique tribute to a man who has served his community for years.
Born in Holland, Visser and his family moved to Canada in 1957 and settled in Rainy River District. It has been his home ever since.
He worked as a welder, blacksmith, and trucker for many years, then, together with his brother, Frank, opened Visser Auto in Emo.
In addition to serving one-and-a-half terms on Emo council, Visser was a tireless supporter of the local Chamber of Commerce and one of the founding directors of the Emo Walleye Classic.
As Emo Reeve Russ Fortier put it, “Sam is a man who has served his community for years and now the community is showing its appreciation.”
“There are more people here than there are chairs,” Reeve Fortier noted as he looked around the jam-packed hall.
Before the dinner, Reeve Fortier presented Visser with a plaque on behalf of the Township of Emo, thanking him for his many years of community service.
What made the occasion so unique was the fact Visser is only 54 years old. Age is meaningless, however, given one can be confronted with one’s own mortality at any time.
Visser first suspected something was amiss back in March and as time progressed and his weight continued to drop, he realized it was more than just a gastrointestinal problem.
So in July, he decided it was time to find out what was going on.
Unable to get an appointment for an MRI in Thunder Bay in a timely fashion, Visser went across the border and had the test done in International Falls. The MRI showed something suspicious, so he went to Winnipeg for a biopsy.
The results were inconclusive, so a second biopsy was ordered.
That, too, was inconclusive so, frustrated with the slow response from the Canadian medical system, Visser called the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Mn. in early September, where the response was much different.
“I called them on the Labour Day weekend and they booked me for the following Thursday,” Visser recalled. “I went down on the Wednesday and they told me, ‘You won’t leave here until we have a definite answer.’”
By Friday morning, he had the answer—pancreatic and liver cancer.
“Then I learned I had a problem, they said it’s a terminal type of cancer, but that’s not to say I’ve given up,” Visser vowed.
Armed with this devastating news, Visser returned home and broke it to his family. That’s when something remarkable happened. As he began to put his affairs in order, he had an extraordinary idea.
“I thought, it sure would be nice to get together with people while I can still talk to them,” he recalled.
So his daughters—Colleen Visser and Brenda Elias—took it from there.
“You know, people often call funerals a celebration of life,” said Elias. “But really, they’re not.
“This is a celebration of life,” she added, gesturing to the full room.
Indeed, the atmosphere was more akin to a party than a wake. People were eating, drinking, laughing, and talking amongst themselves as Visser made the rounds and spent time with his many friends.
In spite of his frail condition, he seemed energized by the company and at peace with himself.
But people brought more than just good wishes. The dinner was a potluck affair and there was more food than the estimated 400 could consume.
At the door, there also was a table at which people were invited to make donations to the Canadian Cancer Society and the Emo Health Centre. When the totals came in, Visser’s friends had come through with $975 for the cancer society and a whopping $3,835 for the local hospital.
But Visser isn’t ready to give up without a fight. This week he is in Thunder Bay, where he will consult with doctors to plan a strategy of treatment.
He said he has not yet decided whether to endure the ordeal of chemotherapy, or just let nature take its course. But one thing he refuses to do is feel sorry for himself.
“I can’t complain,” he shrugged. “I’ve had a wonderful life. I have two beautiful daughters, beautiful grandchildren.
“I have no complaints.”