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Bernard “Ben” Willemsen

Husband, father, grandfather, builder, teacher, friend

Born Aug. 8, 1936, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Died Oct. 21, 2011, in Halifax of lung cancer, aged 75.

Ben and his family suffered great hardship in Rotterdam during the Second World War. In addition to enduring the Hunger Winter, he and his sisters witnessed their father being removed from their home to be taken to a German labour camp. Reunited following the war, the family moved to Amsterdam, where Ben found his niche at the College of Ship Engineering.

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In 1956, Ben was conscripted into the Royal Dutch Air Force and served for two years as an airplane mechanic. In 1958, he and his first wife immigrated to Canada where their two daughters were born. The younger, Tricia, has just written a children's book that is a tribute to her dad, about a wise bear named Ben.

Boats were his life-long passion. As a child, Ben would sail his wooden shoe across a pond and in later years would design a ship that could cross an ocean. He bought his first sailboat, a James Cook cutter, and named her Dutch Spirit. He spent a good part of a year rebuilding her inside and out before launching her at Lake Winnipeg in Gimli. He rigged the boat for solo sailing and enjoyed the challenge of gale-force winds and six-foot-high waves. Ben could never decide what he loved most, building the boat or sailing it.

Ben had an eye for design and worked for more than 20 years in the engineering field. But he had another interest, some might say gift, one far less tangible.

At the age of 40, Ben began to pursue a path of personal development, through meditative disciplines and study. After moving to Winnipeg from Seabright, Ont., in 1982, he left his career in engineering, became involved in healing work and taught courses at Creative Retirement Manitoba, an organization that promotes seniors' education. It was there he met Penny, whom he was to marry five years later.

Before fully switching over to spiritual work, Ben was concurrently a guest lecturer on spiritual healing at the University of Winnipeg and a guest lecturer on Industrial Engineering Techniques at the University of Manitoba.

In 1987, he and Penny opened the Centre for Human Energy, where Ben devoted himself to teaching courses and counselling. For Ben, "human energy" referred to the energy frequencies of the physical body as well as those of the psyche.

Ben did not suffer fools gladly. When students used the word "but," wanting to argue rather than listen and think about what he had said, his response usually was, "Buts are for sitting on." Not everyone was able to see past the sometimes gruff exterior to the kind and loving being he truly was.

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Ben was musical down to his bones. He was a great dancer. He loved blues and gypsy jazz and enjoyed "playing with" his guitar. One of his favourite songs was The Midnight Special, which his friends sang at his Celebration of Life, changing the words to "shine its light on YOU."

In 1999, Ben and Penny moved to Nova Scotia, where Ben built their dream home on St. Margarets Bay and opened the Centre for Human Energy Studies. Ben continued to teach and counsel, published his third book about human energy, and continued to rebuild boats.

Penny Margolis is Ben's wife.

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