(1918 – 2015)
Katherine Friesen (Loewen) was an immigrant, student, teacher, business woman, interior decorator, philanthropist and much more. She is the name behind Rancho Reality, a “trailblazer,” bringing women into the male-dominated business world. Katherine’s legacy to Manitoba is experienced today through a strong Mennonite community, educational centres and healthcare facilities. Her footprint left on the real estate world in Winnipeg is remarkable. Her incredible story is matched only by her incredible grace and modesty. Her story is one that must be told.
She was born in Halbstadt, Southern Russia on August 12, 1918. It was during the Russian Revolution when her parents escaped with their two children through the Mennonite underground, eventually settling in Winnipeg.
Katherine Friesen spearheaded many things in her life, including being the first woman in her church to get her driver’s license, and using her own teaching money to purchase her family’s first home.
She was very committed to preserving and serving the Mennonite community. She and her husband, David Friesen, were founding members of the Mennonite Benevolent Society (MBS), and she founded the Mennonite Elementary School (the first Mennonite elementary school in the city), and the Menno Simons Christian School in Calgary, as well as the Menno Simons College in Manitoba, bringing the Mennonite religion and education to children of all nationalities and walks of life.
Together with her husband, she created the David and Katherine Friesen Family Foundation and the Katherine Friesen Legacy Fund as a means to help her philanthropic spirit live on.
She wanted the First Mennonite Church on Notre Dame Avenue to be a safe place for its congregation. There was a building next to the church that she and David purchased, and thus there was a meeting place and parking lot.
Friesen wanted to have a family and be able to afford to purchase their first home. She had a plan. There was a great need for housing after the war, so she decided her husband would build homes. She took her savings and borrowed from her father so that David could buy seven lots in River Heights and build seven homes. Her husband planned and built seven homes and she sold them.
This was the beginning of a great partnership with her husband. She had a strong business sense and soon started her own business in 1957, Rancho Realty, the sales arm for selling the new homes. She received her sales license, broker’s license, and FRI designation and took an interior design course. She was one of the first women in Manitoba to be a licensed real estate broker.
Friesen now trained her salespeople, decorated the homes and assisted her husband in building the business. She had entered a male-dominated industry and was very successful.
Today, Rancho Realty has operations across Western Canada with over 1,900 residential rental apartments, over 40,000 condominium units and 430,000 sq. ft. of commercial space.