Joseph Zanyk

Obituary of Joseph Zanyk


Joseph Zanyk 1931-2021


Impossibly and outrageously, Joe Zanyk died, unexpectedly, on February 17, 2021.

He leaves behind his wife of 65 years, Kathreen, his daughters, Lisa, Jan, Sheila and Marien Zanyk, and sons in law, John McCormack, David McLean, and Ric Davey and Alex Dittenhoffer. He had fourteen grandchildren, their partners, and one great grandchild:

  • Michael, Kira and Stephen Zanyk Davey, and Michael’s wife Sarah McGall Zanyk Davey
  • Katie Chakrabarti, Liam, Sean and Karina Zanyk McLean, and Katie’s husband Apu Chakrabarti, Liam’s wife Yessi Siu, Sean’s partner Lily Hami, and Karina’s partner Austen Woody
  • Danny, Jack and Shona Zanyk McCormack, and Danny’s wife Helen Vanderkooy, Jacks’ wife Jess Hider, and Danny’s and Helen’s baby Caleb
  • Julia, Nicholas, Noah and Leo Zanyk Dittenhoffer

He also leaves his three sisters, Irene, Pearl, and Sylvia. Predeceased by his parents, Nicholas Zanyk and Anastasia (Hummeny) Zanyk and his siblings Mary, Anne, Zonnie, Emily, Michael and Sylvester and baby brother Morris.

Joe Zanyk’s presence in the world was so big and beautiful that it can not be eradicated and will never be forgotten.  No matter how many people or dogs we brought he still had more love to give us all, buckets of love and a limitless supply of hugs. His superpowers were love, animals, trees, and the truth about green energy.

Joe was the son of Ukrainian immigrants Nicholas Zanyk and Anastasia Humenny, who raised their family of ten children in resourceful poverty in Manitoba. He was born in Durban, Manitoba and at about aged three moved with the family to Cranberry Portage. Their lives revolved around his father’s job with the CN Railroad and the work of surviving and thriving in the Canadian environment. Despite having little extra money, his parents gave him and his siblings a well-fed and resourceful upbringing and managed to encourage all of them toward a higher education.  He had stories of an iconic childhood on the Canadian Prairies in the 1930s and 40s: the ice skating in 40-below, skiing across fields to a one-room school house, growing up at the edge of the railroad, and endless examples of “making do” to make a good life. 

One family legend is about a young Joe wiring a shed that he and his father had built, with the first electricity the tiny Cranberry Portage homestead had ever had. Lacking YouTube DIY instructional videos, he knew intuitively how to do it, and so an engineer was born. Among his great moments of pride were “ringing” his engineer daughter Jan and grandsons Danny and Jack. But he was so proud of everything his children and grandchildren and his wife did. Joe wanted everyone to be an engineer, but when it became apparent that we couldn’t all do that, he supported whatever we wanted to be and do, as long as it was done with integrity and would make us happy.

His force of love and energy is alive in his cross-country skis still propped on the deck ready for the next great snowfall, which finally happened during the days he got sick. His presence is in the piles of files in his office he wasn’t finished sorting out and the newspapers he still needed to read. In the rituals he and Kathreen and their little dog Cooper marked their days by. In his daily walks and friendly talks on the Bluewater Trail – his footprints are still there under the snow. His spirit of love is in the carefully labelled buckets and bags of birdseed and squirrel peanuts in the garage and the labelled boxes of things he could not throw out because they were perfectly good; the bits of hardware that would inevitably come in handy. He is present in his emails, phone calls and messages of support to all of us, ever helping us to live happy and successful lives. In the things we still meant to say to him and the days we still planned to have. Joe’s love of life and giving is in the hundreds of birds and squirrels who keep showing up on the deck as if nothing has happened. How dare they.

He was the ultimate alpha. Dogs followed him, even ditching their own people to follow him.  

Joe was our leader, marching along with us following, even when we objected and argued and thought we knew better -- a lifetime of daughters and people and dogs and little kids following his lead.

Joe was an extraordinary man who set an example for how to live a fine and full life – with integrity and dignity, using brilliant engineering and Ukrainian energy-saving and nature-friendly innovation. His answer to the question “How are ya, Joe?” was, unfailingly, “Just like a tiger” even when he wasn’t, in his later months when he had to work harder to do what he wanted to do but did it anyway.

His career was stellar. Upon graduating from Flin Flon Collegiate, an education which included adventures with a group of long-lasting friends and meeting his lifelong partner Kathreen, then the University of Manitoba with an Engineering degree and as a Professional Engineer, he had job offers that led him and Kathreen to Edmonton where they had their first daughter, then to Kamloops, and shortly after to Sarnia.

Going to Sarnia to work for Dow Chemical turned out to be a permanent career move where he became increasingly specialized in the generation of power.

While growing his significant career, Joe relied on and shared Kathreen’s support in growing their significant family. Joe exuberantly celebrated his four daughters. His capacity for love extended to as many dogs as could ever be brought to their house, and every squirrel, bird, goose, duck, or other random creature that needed care. He was the only man we ever knew who had a relationship with a backyard possum. One of his best friends was a goose with a shot wing and leg, for whom he built an inground pool and whom he tucked in at night. He was a generous and insistent compulsive feeder of people and animals.

Joe had an impressive career 35-year career with Dow, becoming more and more of a specialist in his field and the production of energy using gas turbines. When he retired, he created an equally stellar consulting company. JP Zanyk and Associates was called upon to provide expertise in court cases and power generation set ups all over Canada and the US and internationally. Joe was justifiably proud of his achievements, and his ability to rise from his simple upbringing to his level of world class knowledge and respect.

His favourite places included their beautiful big house that they built so we could all go there at once, which we did, many times; and their cottage property they bought in the Bruce Peninsula, where they built a cottage that was not big enough for all of us to go to, but we did anyway. So many family memories from there.

Joe was a good man with a list of adjectives a mile long: loyal, resourceful, generous; inventive and innovative; compassionate, vigorous, stoic, with integrity, stamina and an unfailing positive attitude. Confidence. Kindness. Sternness when it wasn’t necessary. Laughter when it was.

He had a complex mind and a brilliant matrix for problem solving, and an equally valuable approach to the simple things in life.

We each have our memories of him that are special or weirdly annoying or funny or character-building.  He taught his family different things, and also accepted what we taught him. Therein was his intelligence.

Joe was – is – one of those people that people just can’t believe is gone. The folks he met daily on the trail; his Kiwanis colleagues; the colleagues he worked with; his friends. Denial seems a very appropriate response to news of his death. It simply cannot be true.

In everything he did, he was confident and thorough and, almost always, right.

His heart was huge. His knowledge and expertise world-class, from the creation of gas turbine energy to the engineeringly-correct way to load a dishwasher.

When he was, abruptly, in the hospital, and our hopes were rising that we would get to bring him home, we talked on the phone and he asked us to charge his Fitbit so it wouldn’t die. Such was his determination to live. He and Kathreen wrapped up that last phone call with a mutual “I love you.”

Joe left things all taken care of, for us, his family: labelled, and exampled, and highly expected. We simply can’t mess it up, if we follow his instructions and his love.

The family thanks friends for so much kind support. Should you wish to make a gesture of sympathy, send memorial donations to The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada,  66981 Concession 4, Puslinch ON N0B 2J0,,  or the Sarnia & District Humane Society, 131 Exmouth Street, Sarnia ON N7T 7W8, .  Arrangements were entrusted to the McKenzie & Blundy Funeral Home & Cremation Centre Ltd. (519-344-3131) Messages of condolence & memories may be left at   




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