Isfeld honored as school opens
By Susan Quinn, Comox Valley Record, 26 October 2001
When Mark R. Isfeld Secondary was suggested for a name for Courtenay’s newest high school, few, if any, of its students knew who Mark Isfeld was.
Monday afternoon, they received an intimate glimpse of Isfeld, a Canadian peacekeeper killed on June 21, 1994 near Kakma, Croatia while clearing mines. A land mine exploded near the vehicle he was in, killing Isfeld. He was 31.
An emotional dedication ceremony was held Monday afternoon at Mark R. Isfeld High School on Lerwick Road in Courtenay. Isfeld’s parents, Brian and Carol, and his widow, Kelly, were on hand, as were several of Isfeld’s former army colleagues.
Guest speakers included Isfeld’s former commanding officer with 1 Combat Engineering Regiment, Brigadier General E.S. Fitch; Canadian Military Engineers Colonel Commandant B.Gen. (Ret’d) T.H.M. Silva; as well as school board chair Jill Lane, parent representative Vanessa Grieve, principal Wayne Friesen, teacher Liam Bishop and students Jason Veness and Amanda Colville.
The gymnasium was packed with students from grades 8, 9 and 10, who were only in elementary school when Isfeld was killed in 1994.
“When they first told us that’s what they were going to name the school, we thought, “ok”,” Colville said. Then students were shown footage of Isfeld’s work in Croatia.
“Many students were very moved by what we saw,” she said. “It inspired me to believe in myself because he did. He worked so hard in terrible conditions. I found it incredible that he was so strong.”
Colville, now in Grade 10, attended the school for three years when it was known as Courtenay Jr. She says the atmosphere is very different now.
“It’s the same building, but the atmosphere is different. It’s because the students are older, but there’s also a different sense,” she said.
“Students are looking forward to something new ... and to have someone to follow.”
Sergeant Jeff Mullenix served in the same section as Isfeld in Croatia. He came to Courtenay for the ceremony to find closure.
Mullenix said he felt “a big sense of pride with regards to the engineers. Our motto is ‘Ubique’, which means ‘everywhere’. And now we’ve extended that to (Courtenay).”
He said he didn’t know Isfeld that well until Croatia. “He was definitely for the kids, so you couldn’t ask for a better dedication than a school.” Mullenix related a story about Isfeld, who was famous for giving away his mother’s handmade “Izzy Dolls” to children. “We had just spent eight or 10 hours in a mine field and we would have to stop and spend some time giving a kid a doll. It was a big thing for him.”
The dedication ceremony was an emotional event for Isfeld’s family. All three cut the official ribbon declaring the school open. They also presented wooden plaques with family poems to the students, and received “Isfeld Ice” athletic clothing from Principal Wayne Friesen.
“I’d like to thank the community, the school board and especially the kids ... for the great honor that has been bestowed on us today,” Brian Isfeld said.
Courtenay school named to honour peacekeeper
Master Corporal Mark Isfeld died trying to rid Croatia of landmines, and students at Mark R. Isfeld secondary have taken his stories to heart.
John Mackie, Vancouver Sun, 25 October 2001
Master Corporal Mark Isfeld had one of the most dangerous jobs in a Canadian peacekeeping force - clearing mines out of the ground in war zones. But he didn’t flinch in the face of danger, because he had a passionate belief in what he was doing.
“I know what this stuff can do,” he wrote in a letter home. “Civilians, small children, don’t. My skills are to protect them.”
It’s said that Isfeld was so skilled with mines, he could recognize one from 100 paces, and take it apart blindfolded. But all his skill couldn’t save him when an armoured personnel carrier ran over the trip wire to a mine in Croatia on June 21, 1994, killing Isfeld and injuring two comrades.
Isfeld’s life and death became the subject of an acclaimed National Film Board documentary, The Price of Duty. His father kept his memory alive with a Web site; his mother knitted dolls for children in war zones, nicknamed Izzy dolls by fellow peacekeepers.
Seven years after his death, Isfeld’s bravery and legacy have been honoured in Courtenay, where a school has been renamed Mark R. Isfeld Secondary. It is the first time a school has been named after a Canadian peace-keeper.
“Mark would be so proud, especially because his grandfather was a teacher,” said Isfeld’s mother Carol.
Isfeld’s parents, who have been Courtenay residents for a number of years, were joined at a dedication ceremony at the school Monday by 200 members of Canadian Armed Forces from as far away New Brunswick.
“It was a very moving and emotional ceremony for us, and a great honour for Mark,” said his father Brian. It’s also an honour for the school, the students and the community, they all pitched in.”
Blair Pettis of the school district said Isfeld’s character and compassion made him an excellent candidate to be honoured with a school name.
“We were looking for someone that the kids could identify with,’ said Pettjs.
“This was a young soldier that really had his head on straight. He was aware of the situation over in Bosnia and Croatia. He was on his second mine clearing operation when he got killed. He understood the suffering that was going on there, he was compassionate. He would have his mother make up little dolls and hand them out.”
Carol Isfeld said she started making the dolls after Mark showed her a photo he had taken of a doll atop a heap of rubble.
“When he brought it home, well, he was upset, he started crying,” she recalled. “Some little girl had lost her doll or little dolly had lost her girl.
“The way he loved kids… all of a sudden, I knew what it was I could do to make him feel a little better. I haven’t got a clue where the pattern came from…I just needed [to do] something, and made dolls.
“It started slowly; one mother, one son. Mark only gave out three batches of dolls, and maybe 100 total. The next batch was ready to go back with him, but he died. We gave them to his comrades. They got named Izzy’s dolls by the fellas, and then became Izzy dolls.
“I made a few at a time. I wasn’t making them very fast because I would
be bawling more than anything. So I’d make a few, and one day I thought,
‘I can’t do this anymore, there’s too many kids and only one me.’ The story
went public and all of a sudden I had mothers and friends [across Canada],
everybody making them. It was my prayer, and it was answered, no doubt
Mark Isfeld was 31 years old when he was killed. He was married and had two step-children. He is one of 112 Canadian peacekeepers who have been killed since the Second World War.
Isfeld was born in Zweibrucken, Germany, where his father was stationed in the air force, and grew up in Greenwood, N.S. and Edmonton.
After Mark joined the army, he was stationed in Chilliwack with the 1 Combat Engineer Regiment. He completed two tours of duty overseas in Kuwait and Bosnia before he was killed.
Principal Wayne Friesen said the 800 students at the school were spellbound
by the ceremony.
“I’ve been in education now for 22 years, and I’ve never, ever been to an assembly where the kids were as focused,” said Friesen.
“We did quite a bit of work with the kids to have them be able to identify
with the name of the school. We’ve shown the National Film Board film,
we’ve talked about the details of his life.
“We’ve had kids doing a variety of projects around landmines and peace-keeping, so they were pretty informed going in. But they never really made the personal connection.
“To be able to see the mom and dad and Kelly his widow and all the military that showed up, there were probably 200 military people that came from across the country, really impressed upon the kids the importance of the event.”
The Mark Isfeld web site has approximately 20 photos posted. The following links will take you to selected photos at the site.
Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3 Photo 4 Photo 5 Photo 6 Photo 7 Photo 8
Back to Main Page