Written by Linda McLean.
He was a quiet man. A man of few words but lots of action. For 13 years, Mr. Ignac Horvat lived at the DI and volunteered his time from sun-up to sundown. He swept and cleaned and kept the drive-way and first and second floors free of litter. He seldom sat. Seldom took time to chat. He was always working. It was, he believed, his responsibility and his duty to contribute his time and talents to the well-being of his world.
And for Mr. Horvat, the DI was his world. Had been his world since coming to stay for the first time in 1997 while still working as a maintenance employee for a now defunct Calgary hospital.
He never spoke much about those early days at the DI, but then, Mr. Horvat didn’t talk much about anything. What little is known of him was gleaned from brief conversations held during the odd moments when he stopped to lean against his broom for a moment or to enjoy a meal or to simply rest — which was seldom, “I get busy and keep occupied,” his adage for living a healthy life.
Born March 25, 1935 in what was then Yugoslavia, Mr. Horvat came to Canada in 1955. An accomplished shoemaker, he left behind his parents, four brothers, and four sisters to carve out a new life by himself. In 1957 he moved to Calgary to work on the maintenance team of CP Railroad but it wasn’t until he came to stay at the DI in 1997, in the ‘old building’ that he discovered a comfortable and familiar place to call home. A place where he belonged.
Forty years after leaving his homeland, Mr. Horvat would return to visit his sisters, but he wouldn’t stay. “They had their own lives and I missed the DI,” he said upon his return. And he picked up his broom and picked up from where he had left off when he went back to ‘the old country’ — cleaning and sweeping and keeping this place he called home clean.
Over the years, staff and management attempted to hire Mr. Horvat, to pay him for the work he so expertly and tirelessly contributed. But for Mr. Horvat, cleaning was his way of giving back to the DI for the support, shelter, food and community it offered him.
A resident of the 5th floor, transitional housing, since the new building opened in 2001, Mr. Horvat was a model client. He kept his long Rasputin-like beard and hair neatly combed, his clothes tidy and pressed. Quiet and reserved, he kept to himself and was a master at deflecting interest in his personal life. Once asked if he’d been married or had a girlfriend, he politely answered, “No, but maybe sometime.” And kept sweeping.
For over thirteen years, Mr. Ignac Horvat lived at the DI and cleaned and swept and kept the debris from flying. On February 1, 2011, Mr. Horvat took his last breath. His heart stopped beating and in the quiet of his passing, the mystery of what brought him here to the DI remains forever unsolved. Yet, in his passing, we are left with appreciation, admiration and gratitude for this quiet man who gave so much and asked for nothing in return. We are left with knowing his greatness was in the small things he did with quiet resolve to give his best.
In his quiet way, Mr. Horvat garnered the respect of everyone with his attitude and his tireless commitment to keeping his home clean never complaining, always doing what he could to make a difference.
“Around here you see all kinds of things — good and bad. Some people are not capable of doing the right thing. One day they might be better, the next day worse. It’s human nature.”
In Mr. Horvat’s nature we were gifted with the best of humankind. We were better for Mr. Horvat’s presence in our lives. We are saddened by his leaving.