Chris' Serious Side

Other than my humour column, I have written a number of more somber pieces I'd like to share. These articles started out life as editorials in the Pipestone Flyer.

A Hero For Our Time

I would like you to meet a friend of mine. His name is Leigh Isfeld. We worked together years ago and, although we both eventually left the company, we kept in touch. To give you an idea how long we’ve been friends, I recall him introducing me to his brand new Atari video game console with a fresh- off-the-press game by the name of Space Invaders.

I happen to run into Leigh recently and the excitement in his eyes and the slightly higher pitch to his laid back manner made it obvious he had news to share. I knew it would concern his younger brother, Mark.

When I met Mark Isfeld, probably during one of Leigh’s famous Space Invader parties, he struck me as a most pleasant young man with a determination and drive that his happy-go-lucky brother studiously avoided. When Mark said he was going to enlist in the army to make a difference in the world, no one doubted his resolve.

Mark excelled in the military and was strongly motivated to go abroad. He found the path would be much shorter if he would specialize in combat engineering, specifically, in “ordinance”. This is the knowledge of things such as; bombs, munitions, “improvised explosive devices” (IED’s) and how to disarm them to make the way safe for his fellow soldiers. It may be the ultimate macho job.

Throughout his career, climbing quickly to the rank of Master Corporal, Mark acquired a peculiar hobby. He had his mom, Carol, knit woollen dolls, which she would send over to Mark by the dozens, to whatever conflict zone Mark found himself in. Those dozens became hundreds, which turned into thousands.

Mark never took sides in the disputes he was deployed to, just like a good peacekeeper does. He didn’t pay attention to the politics of war, just what his duties were to further the ends of his regiment. These duties were two-fold; render explosives safe for his buddies and share the dolls with whatever lonely, frightened, war-ravaged child he encountered, on either side, who could use a little woollen friend to help cope with their daily nightmare.

Soon, the dolls developed into Mark’s signature. They became known as “Izzy Dolls” after the nickname Mark had become known as with his army buddies. The military, always keen to save a buck, would use the dolls as packing material for transporting fragile items, thereby saving on bubble-wrap and allowing the dolls to hitch a free ride to where they would do the most good.

I will never forget that June day in 1994 when I heard on the radio, Mark Isfeld was listed with the  names of the latest casualties in Bosnia. He had been clearing landmines; as always, trying to keep his comrades from injury, when the explosion occurred that took his young life. My eyes instantly well up at the recollection of that day even now, an echo of the sadness and pain felt by all who knew him and had been touched by his generosity of spirit.

I bring this up because I just watched a twenty minute speech by General Lewis MacKenzie (Ret.) available at Among the topics of the stirring and revealing discourse was Master Corporal Isfeld and his unique contribution to making the world a better place; which is what every soldier believes they are doing.

Although, sadly, Leigh’s Mom, Carol has since passed, the doll knitting torch has been taken up by others and MacKenzie announced a shipment of 2000 more dolls have just been sent abroad to bring some solace to Africa’s children of conflict. These dolls are sensitively knitted with a darker shade of wool to reflect the intended recipients more closely but are still faithful to the “Izzy” pattern. I urge you to type in “Izzy Doll” into Google’s image search to see an amazing array of samples and even a number of the joyful recipients.

 Guys and Dolls


Find the pattern at

Phyllis Wheaton; Author of "In the Mood for Peace: The Story of the Izzy Doll"

"If you can get humor and seriousness at the same time, you've created a special little thing, and that's what I'm looking for, because if you get pompous, you lose everything."  --Paul Simon

To find the pattern to knit some “Izzy Dolls” for the cause, it is available at a website Leigh established to honour his fallen brother ( I would highly recommend having a look, knit-minded or not, as the tale of the young soldier is truly inspiring.

The website isn’t the only honour bestowed on Leigh’s brother. Earlier this month was the tenth anniversary of a school in Courtenay, BC changing their name to Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School; unassailable proof Mark did, indeed, make a difference in this world, just like he said he would. He not only made a difference in the lives of those children buoyed by an Izzy Doll, but also in how people at home and abroad view the efforts of our military men and women.

When Leigh talks about his brother, the pride is readily apparent. Leigh just told me of a man he met recently, “a 54-ish, hippy-type who always thought every soldier in every army was simply a brainwashed killing machine”. This man held this view his entire life until he read the biography of Mark, which was written by family friend Phyllis Wheaton called "In the Mood for Peace; The Story of the Izzy Doll". The book sparked an epiphany in the man and he became aware, with great shame, that beneath those khaki uniforms, are real people with genuine hearts and consciences simply doing the best they can to improve the lives of others.

The example of Mark’s life brings us as much joy in his success as it does humility at the bar he set. This soldier’s story is more powerful and inspiring than anything any of his political masters have ever done. I guess that’s why they didn’t name the school after some politician.

-by Chris McKerracher, March, 2012



Here are some links to a few of my more serious, though not necessarily solemn, editorial pieces:

Iceland to Join Confederation?  














































































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