It is with deep sorrow and gratitude for a wonderful life filled with constant love, that we announce the passing of Ellen Zerbe (nee Must), our beloved Mommy and Vanamama on June 21, 2023. She passed suddenly at the age of 80, after lengthy suffering with declining health, both cognitively and physically, due to Alzheimer’s and Arthritis. This vibrant, kind and beautiful soul is now reunited with the love of her life, Frank Walter Zerbe, her dedicated husband of 61 years. Ellen leaves behind a broken-hearted family; devoted daughters Monica and Lynda, loving son-in-law Andre, her precious granddaughters Emily and Victoria, and her beloved Mini Schnauzer, Cory R.
Cherished youngest daughter of the late Peeter Must and Marie (nee Mannisoo), and step-father, Meinhard Kubja, now reunited in Heaven, along with her dear sisters, Helvi Viitberg and Vilve Loo, and her many cousins, especially Ann Spence (nee Raun), who was like a sister to her. Also predeceased by her parents-in-law, Herbert Zerbe and Babette (nee Neupert), and brother-in-law Gerd (who passed in childhood). Ellen also leaves behind her dear nephews/niece (Toomas & Raimo, Endel & Liia), many cousins near and far, and other family members in Estonia, Sweden, Germany, Canada, the US, and Australia.
Born on the island of Saaremaa, in Kuressaare, Estonia on June 10, 1943, Ellen was a child of WW2’s tragedies and many losses. As an infant, her family fled their beloved Estonia in the middle of the night during the summer of 1944 on an overcrowded fishing vessel, under a barrage of bombings to escape the ensuing Soviet occupation. They sadly left behind grandparents and many other family members who she would never see again. They were fortunate to settle in Eskilstuna, Sweden and begin a new life. Tragically, her proud father, Peeter, passed away when she was just three years old. Her mother, on her own, dedicated her life to raising her three daughters, and working in a factory as a seamstress. In 1952, young Ellen, along with her mother and sister, Vilve, had the great opportunity to move to Toronto for a better life. Initially settling in the East End, The Beaches, Ellen soon thereafter became a proud Canadian and married her life partner, Frank, in 1959.
Ellen’s first job was with a bank in Toronto, and her newfound career was cut short with the arrival of baby Monica. Ellen then lovingly chose to focus on her family life, expanding upon the arrival of her second daughter, baby Lynda. As a happy homemaker, she mastered the cuisines of both her mother country Estonia and her beloved husband Frank’s Germany, surpassing the recipes of her Mother and Mother-in-law, adding her own flare and expanding her repertoire to include the cuisines of many lands. She was the heart of our home life, selflessly showering her family with love and affection, creating an atmosphere of joy, fun and laughter. Always active (her nickname was “our energizer bunny”), and interested in the well-being of others, Ellen had a knack for connecting with people and pets, as she had a truly compassionate heart.
Ellen also took pride in work life outside of the home, with many part-time jobs including selling Avon, fashion retail, elections enumerator, housecleaning, and ESL assistant. Having an exceptional bond with children, she also worked in daycare and volunteered as a Kindergarten reading helper.
A true woman of faith, she was an active member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, participating in Ladies Guild, Council, and organizing social events. A proud retired Order of the Eastern Star member (Aloha Chapter), she participated in many philanthropic and social gatherings, alongside her Mason & Shriner husband, Frank.
Ellen was an avid music lover, listening, singing and dancing to a variety of music, from Elvis to Mambo, Broadway to Classical, ABBA to The Eurythmics. In her youth, she was a church soloist and took voice lessons from Helmi Betlem, learning classical Estonian songs. She enjoyed being active, playing sports (badminton, volleyball, darts and swimming), being in nature, cottaging, fishing and boating.
A talented linguist (fluent in Estonian and English, learning Swedish in childhood, and German as an adult), Ellen also loved to travel. She was able to use her excellent language skills while travelling to Europe. Other most fondly remembered trips were to Hawaii and various destinations within North America.
Ellen loved spending quality time with her family and friends, whether entertaining, singing, dancing, storytelling, board/card games (she is fondly remembered for her ability to play a mean game of Canasta). Our social butterfly came to life hosting countless gatherings with family and friends. She was dedicated to ensuring exceptional memories were made.
In later life, Ellen was ecstatic to become a grandmother. She treasured her granddaughters, and her sweet nature blossomed in sharing her zest for life with them, being actively engaged in their formative years and teaching them to appreciate all of her many passions (especially gardening, singing, playing games, arts and crafts, cooking and a love of animals).
Her integrity, kindness and joie-de-vivre were ever-present despite the challenges of her decline in health in her last years. Her sunshine and loving spirit remain in our hearts and will be treasured forever.
Ellen is now a Heavenly Angel, to watch over us and continue to shine her guiding light upon us. Mommy, we will strive to honour your life and embrace your values of faith, family, love, joy and justice.
A special note of appreciation to her Sunnybrook Hospital Gynecologist, Dr. Lee and Gyn-Oncologist, Dr. Gien who were able to work miracles to eradicate her aggressive cancer prior to her official Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Also thankful for the team of nurses and PSWs at Grove Park Home (esp. Sarah and Stephanie) who warmly welcomed our dear mom, and provided her with much appreciated compassion, support and dignity in her final months.
“Thank you for your patience with me as my mind and awareness slowly slipped away from a life I understood. Despite this confusing time, my heart over-flowed with love and gratitude for all those who kindly supported me.” (LZL)
“Something deeply beautiful has left our physical life, yet has become radiant and powerful if we are brave enough to accept this deep mystery.” (MZ)
“Grief and love are conjoined, you don’t get one without the other. All we can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy.” Author Unknown
Aloha, Kuni me kohtume taas, until we meet again…
A viewing will take place at York Cemetery (160 Beecroft Rd, North York) this Tuesday, June 27th from 6—8pm. A funeral service will follow on Wednesday, June 28th at 11am at St. Peter’s Estonian Lutheran Church (817 Mt. Pleasant Rd, Toronto). Donations in Ellen’s memory, may be made to Alzheimer Society Ontario, Canadian Cancer Society, Heart & Stroke Foundation, or the SPCA and Humane Society.