• Anna Jarmics is an award-winning artist, whose water colours have been winning ribbons at the Calgary Stampede for decades. She has a style that is unique and distinctive, combining a deep appreciation for nature along with architectural evidence of humanity – from barns to castles – and yet rarely if ever depicting the people who might be associated with such structures themselves.  Without being gloomy, her paintings manage to create a rather disquieting feeling, at times hauntingly lonely, and yet tranquil. And yet Anna is so much more than an artist, a painter of water colours. She is also a mother, a grandmother, a compassionate and inspirational force in the lives of friends and family. She is even a champion dart player, and travels every two years to the Canadian Seniors’ Olympics, from where she habitually brings “the hardware” back to Calgary. Truly, she is a champion in every sense of the word.

    These accomplishments shine even brighter when one learns that Anna has painted all her pictures and thrown all her darts (her first was a bull’s eye!) without the use of her hands, which she tragically lost when only eleven years old. It defies understanding and challenges our thoughts on perseverance and courage, but somehow she continues to move forward in her life, always living by her motto, Never say no! While the loss of one’s hands may be a legitimate excuse to give up on a lot of activities and dreams, not so with Anna. Visiting her house, one is poured a cup of coffee, given a bite to eat, everything done seemingly with the same ease as for those of us who have no such disability. Being in Anna’s presence, one finds little to complain about of one’s own lot in life. Better to be like Anna and pick up the pieces and carry on. We live only once, so better make the best of it!

    Anna Jarmics was born in Hungary in 1934. The history of Hungary during the middle part of the last century is one of occupation and suffering, and yet despite years of Nazi and then Russian rule, the spirit of the Hungarian people was never crushed; today they remain a proud and noble race. In this regard, Anna is a typical Hungarian. When Anna was eleven years old, a small metal object was tossed into the yard where she and her siblings were playing. Anna picked it up and began to run with it. It turned out the object was a small charge grenade, thrown into the yard by some passing Russian soldiers. It detonated in her hands, causing irreparable damage, and scarring her face. Anna’s hands could not be saved, and later in the hospital what remained of both hands were amputated without the use of a general anesthetic – such drugs being non existence in war-torn Hungary at the time.

    It’s hard to fathom the years of rehabilitation Anna underwent to learn basic skills to allow her to function in the world and to excel as a painter. Learning to manipulate a pencil, to turn the pages of a book, arduous tasks for a young girl in post-war Hungary, and yet she survived. Losing one’s hands might be enough hardship for one person to have to endure and overcome – yet it is merely one episode in a life filled with hardship and strife. Perhaps the most remarkable episode from Anna’s life, was her escape from Hungary in 1956. Six months pregnant and newly wed, Anna walked across the border one day, passing armed Russian soldiers, towards a new life, towards freedom. She slept in hay fields during the day, traveling by foot under cover of night. For three days until she met with a sympathetic network of people who helped her get to the Austrian border – riding under a stack of hay in a horse-drawn cart.

    From Austria, Anna was sent to England where, improbably, she met up with her husband who had also managed to escape from Hungary. Eventually they would travel to Canada and begin a new life here, but even then Anna’s trials and tribulations were not over. Her husband, psychologically damaged following a three year exile in Siberia from which he never really recovered, deserted his young wife and her four children, cleaning out their bank accounts in the process, leaving her to fend for herself in her new country, surviving by her wits. Anna and her young family eventually made their way out to Calgary, where they not only got by, but in fact prospered. Every year, Anna enters a few paintings in the Calgary Stampede art show. She has a box full of award ribbons and citations for her troubles, and beautiful art on the walls throughout her home. She plays darts in a regular league and travels throughout the country to competitions, which she frequently wins.

    One thing Anna Jarmics has done extremely well throughout her life is to survive. In fact, she has not only survived – she has prevailed. She is an inspiration to friends and family alike, one of those rare people one encounters in life who, just by their example and through their perseverance, inspire us all to be the best that we can be. by Eugene Strickland