Community remembers Horst Podzadny: a complicated character who loved his dogs
For decades, the reclusive man was a regular presence in Inuvik, N.W.T.
Horst Podzadny was as iconic as the Igloo Church in Inuvik, according to those who live there.
The elderly man lived outside of the community in a "shack" without running water and heat.
But Horst — seen by others as a recluse and an independent — liked it that way.
"He was a complicated character," Miki O'Kane said.
"He was clever, but he also had a mental disability. He had good days and bad days."
O'Kane was his friend and gave the eulogy at his funeral service a week ago, on Jan. 20.
Horst died in December, at the age of 79.
A person only had to be in town for a short while before they got to know Horst, said Jon Hansen. Hansen was the pastor of Our Lady of Victory parish in Inuvik, N.W.T., where Horst attended.
Hansen echoed O'Kane's sentiment that Horst was a complicated character.
"He did suffer from mental illness and probably, his first impression that he would make on people was not always the most positive," Hansen said.
Horst was blunt and didn't hesitate to tell someone exactly what he thought. On his bad days, O'Kane said Horst would get cranky and unsociable.
There were some in town who weren't keen on getting to know him.
"But he never hurt a fly. He loved animals," Hansen said.
Horst loved his dogs
"Beyond a doubt the most important thing to Horst were dogs. More so than people," O'Kane said, adding he would often appear undernourished because he spent "his little meager income on his dogs more than himself."
Horst would hop on his bike everyday and pedal to town to fill two jerrycans up with drinking water for his dogs.
He was spotted pedalling into town the week before he died.
His love of the animal also got him into trouble, more than once, because of bylaw violations.
"At least three times, a large number of dogs had to be removed from his property and that was quite traumatic for him," O'Kane said.
'A trapline' in the community
She said it's likely Horst came to Inuvik in the late 1970s, early 1980s, but she didn't get to know him well until the 2000s when "he became less of a recluse."
Horst would call O'Kane often while she was at work — and on the good days he'd tell her a joke or two. But his main goal was to make sure she knew what was happening in the world.
"He'd listen to the news, recount the broadcast and provide commentary."
Those moments are some that she'll miss the most.
It was only after his death when O'Kane realized he had a "trapline" of people in his life.
"He kind of had a lot set up to help him in different ways, but we didn't know about each other," she said.
Community members who didn't attend the funeral still donated food and cash for the service.
"It wasn't a full church but it was a nice representation," Hansen said.
Inuvik Mayor Jim McDonald was one of the pallbearers at the service.
Hansen said that when he thanked the mayor after, McDonald said "you don't have to thank me. Horst was a community member like anybody else. There's no difference between any of us."
After he died, the RCMP had to contact his next of kin.
O'Kane learned that Horst had a brother, a nephew and a sister. She, like many others, knows little about his roots and much of his past remains a mystery.
But the lessons learned because of presence in the town won't soon be forgotten.
"He taught me patience and he taught me something about compassion," O'Kane said.
As for Hansen, he said "the health of our community is really determined by how we look after the least of our community members."
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with files from Marc Winkler