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General News · 31st May 2017
Iris Steigemann
Brigitta Kuehnel Grosse was born in Berlin on May 13, 1926. Her brother Dieter, with whom she was close friends for her entire life, was born two years later. Her family moved around a lot. When Brigitte was 13, World War Two began. Her teachers, impressed by her artistic talent, had secured her a place in art school. But her father said “No.” He opposed Hitler’s regime and told Brigitte that the young women in art school could be conscripted to the army. He was right. Young women in art school were sent to the Russian front, and many didn’t return.

Instead, Brigitte was required to work on farms for a year. Then she attended a school for child care givers. She wasn’t able to finish her education at that time, due to the war. During the last few days, the students could hear the fighting. The principal, a Nazi, wouldn’t let them leave until they could see the Russians at the top of a near-by hill.

Brigitte rejoined her family in a small rented house at the North Sea, a town named St. Peter-Ording. Other relatives arrived until there were fifteen people, most of them sleeping on the floor. They had nothing. They searched other people’s compost or worked all day on a farm for a bit of food or a bag of grain.

When the owners returned to their house, it fell to nineteen year old Brigitte to find a place for her extended family to stay. She found a house for workers behind a sanatorium. Many family members came and went as they sought to re-establish their lives in post-war Germany. Brigitte worked in the sanatorium for several years and then went to France to work as an au pair. Eventually, she was able to finish her degree in child care.

In 1953, Brigitte obtained a government contract to set up a sanatorium for children who were at risk for TB. She moved with her family to an island in the North Sea where they cared for many children. These were good years for Brigitte. She recreated the feeling of a big family while the children enjoyed a healthful respite. Brigitte would sometimes visit her brother Dieter in the city. They loved going to parties and dances.

Sometimes there were dances on the island and boys from a school at the opposite end of the island would attend. Hannes was one of those boys. He would leave the dance to be at the school for evening curfew, and then run the five miles back. One night, Brigitte’s father invited Hannes to sit at their table, and the romance between Hannes and Brigitte began. They were married for 61 years.

Hannes helped with the sanatorium after he graduated. Their first son, Sven, was born on the island in 1956. In 1957, the family left for Oberammergau, a small village known for its passion play of Christ’s life. It was closer to Munich, where Hannes had gone to study art. Iris was born there in 1958.

The new sanatorium held up to 50 children. Brigitte ran this home for sixteen years. As the years progressed, Brigitte’s role changed from child care to overseeing a large staff. Government salaries for child care staff diminished until Brigitte had difficulty finding people who were willing to provide what the children needed.

Finally, Brigitte and Hannes had had enough. Hannes wanted to try Canada. One summer in 1979 they searched for a farm in BC. In Campbell River, they met Bruce Ellingsen, the Cortes Island realtor at the time. He showed them the Loon Ranch. It was the beginning of September and the island was beautiful. They used their last one thousand dollars to make a down payment. In the spring, they returned with Iris and their son-in-law Volker. Iris and Volker had just graduated from woodworking school in Oberammergau.

At the age of 54, Brigitte was in a new country with an unknown language and she embraced her life on a farm. At the Loon Ranch, they built beautiful Bavarian style homes, grew flowers and food, managed the huge orchard, raised sheep and goats and made cheese. Brigitte, always a lover of children, lived close to her beloved granddaughters Anuschka and Isabel. The three generations spent Sunday mornings together. Sven made regular visits and so Brigitte got to spend time with her grandson Jared as well. Many people have had very good times on the Loon Ranch, thanks to the hospitality, art and beauty they found there.

In 2015, Hannes and Brigitte subdivided the Loon Ranch. Iris and Volker built them a new house closer to Iris, also with beautiful carved beams. Brigitte loved this house. She spent hours on the deck watching the sea.

Brigitte died peacefully on May 30 at the age of 91. She was strong, fair and spirited. She created and led a successful Kinderheim for many years, which required patience, love and the ability to meet many kinds of challenges. She had a huge influence on the people she worked with and the children she cared for. She loved children, nature, her friends and her family. She called her time with Hannes “a very good marriage.” You can find cement statues of her on the bluff above Brigitte’s (“Brig-eeta’s”) Beach, next to Hank’s Beach. She is survived by her husband Hannes, her children Sven and Iris and her beloved grandchildren Anuschka, Isabel and Jared.
Thou Art Dear Brigitte
Comment by Donna Tkachuk Blanco on 1st January 2020
Brigitte makes a breakfast of käse mit brot a delightful ceremony; hiking through a field or beach a solemn unveiling.

Being with her made one feel so connected to the moment as well as the earth... if one only bothered to pay attention.

Thou Art Dear Brigitte
Thanks for sharing
Comment by Nancy Silver on 6th June 2017
Thanks for sharing this loving rendering of your mother's life. It is giving us all a full sense of who she was.
You are such a loyal, loving, caring daughter. Your mom was so lucky to have you close to her.
Good bye Brigitte
Comment by Esther and Christopher on 3rd June 2017
Our thoughts are with those you left.
We shared warm moments that continue to glow in our hearts like all the people you helped and cared for during your trip through life.
Now your voyage continues in our memory
Glow in peace!
beautiful tribute, beautiful life
Comment by jude on 2nd June 2017
my heart is with you and your family, Iris.
Wonderful tribute Iris
Comment by Debra Fontaine on 2nd June 2017
It was so amazing to learn her life story. I didn't know how her life began. She was such a lovely woman. I picture her brown
suntanned walking Hanks Beach with Hannes. Her walk was graceful, strong and she always offered a smile . My condolences
good-bye to Brigitte
Comment by norberto rodriguez on 1st June 2017
My deepest condolences to Hannes, Iris, Sven, Volker, Anuschka, Isabel.... I have so many beautiful memories of all of you.
A Life Well Lived
Comment by Mark on 31st May 2017
I always loved Brigitte's joyful smile and peaceful presence. I admired her strength to stay on her beautiful island home until the last of her days. The support and deep connection with her family is an example we will try to follow. Love to and Peace to Hannes, Iris Volker, Anuschka and Isabel.

The Braatens
Beautiful Brigitte
Comment by Susanna on 31st May 2017
My heart goes out to all who love Brigitte. I was blessed to get to live on Loon Ranch for the four years I was living on Cortes, and anytime I got to see Brigitte, for dinner or a party or just in passing, I was always struck by what a gentle kindness I saw in her, her sweet nature, the strength I saw in her eyes and her hands, and the beautiful marriage and life she and Hannes had built together.

Brigitte, I'll see you in the beaches and land there, whenever I return for a visit. Sending all my love to you, Hannes, Iris, Volker, Izzy, and Anushka, and the rest of your family.