Every Kimberley generation has had its great characters and personalities, and when they are called to Higher Service, it is not just a devastating loss to their family and friends, but also to the city of Kimberley.
The death of Ivan Freel early on Sunday 20 September 2015, while not totally unexpected, was still a shock as Ivan was one of those great Kimberley characters. A living legend, and one who Kimberley shall be hard pressed to replace, nay, impossible to replace for he was one of a kind.
Kind, genial, with a great sense of humour, and with a temperament and personality that attracted all to his presence, he was indeed beloved by all who knew him.
Ivan Freel was born on 24 September 1949 in Kimberley, a fifth (or sixth) generation Kimberlite. Educated at Kimberley Junior School and then Kimberley Boys High, he became an apprentice machine minder in 1967 at the Diamond Fields Advertiser when it was based at Permanent Way.
Upon achieving journeyman status he moved with his family to The Star in Johannesburg for some years in the 1970s before returning to the DFA.
In those days the DFA was printed and published in Kimberley at its Permanent Way premises, and the massive printing machine “Galloping Gertie” would start its run at approximately 02h00 each morning. The machine minders would work night shift and end about 06h00 as others were getting up to go to work. The machine minders would then join their fellow DFA night shift workers at their private bar “Knight’s Castle” at The Halfway House and wave to Kimberley residents from the stoep as they drove to work.
Ivan was a keen sportsman and represented Griqualand West at soccer at both Junior and Senior level. He dabbled at most other sports and as time progressed enjoyed riding – especially show jumping at the then Pony Club – cycling, canoeing, water skiing, wind surfing, and hiking.
He introduced wind surfing on Kamfersdam and many a tourist viewing the flamingos would comment on the lone surfer skimming across the surface, the birds keeping a wary eye on the invader. For a few years Ivan had a shop in the old arcade near the DFA specialising in wind surfing gear and equipment – the sport had also taken off at the De Beers Yacht Club on the Pan.
Hiking became a particular favourite pastime and he (and many of his friends) had done most, if not all, of the popular hikes around South Africa, and even some in neighbouring countries. He had competed on many occasions the following events: the Argus cycle race; the Fish River canoe race; the Vaal River marathon; the Midmar mile; and the Dusi canoe race. On all of these, and more, a group of friends would accompany him. Despite him not partaking of alcohol at that time, the after-parties were legend!
Upon retrenchment from the Diamond Fields Advertiser in early 1986 as machine room foreman, and the newspapers subsequent move to where it is today, Ivan began his two decade long involvement in the tourist and entertainment industry of Kimberley. He is, together with his partners in the venture, Lenny Allen and Brian Pienaar, probably best known for not only saving the Star of the West Saloon from demolition, but in renovating the building to its original form. Many days and weeks on the renovation saw the Star being gazetted a National Monument in 1990. In 1995 he was one of ten entrepreneurs rewarded by the SA Breweries for volumes of beer sale and visited Germany’s Oktoberfest as their guest.
The Star of the West was the first bar in Kimberley, and possibly in the country, that allowed women to be served at the counter, and despite great opposition from the police and many others, he persevered with the practise. This pioneering feat saw other Kimberley (and South African) bars open their establishments to women which eventually resulted in a re-write of the liquor laws nation-wide.
Without him knowing it, Ivan had followed in the footsteps of one of his forebears in running a saloon – his great grandfather (it could be a double great) Jason Freel owned at one time the famous Royal Oak Hotel on the old De Beers Road. The bug had bitten and after a brief respite took over ownership and management of several other Kimberley landmarks, notably The Halfway House and the Copa Cabana sidewalk café. The latter was a complete rebuild. His last, but not least venture in historical pubs, was in running the Occidental Bar at the revamped Open Mine Museum from 2006 until recently.
Many are unaware that during most of this period Ivan was a very ill man, so ill in fact that he received a kidney transplant in 2002. This required ongoing treatment for the rest of his life, but it did not deter Ivan from living life to its fullest. He loved nature and wild life and, with friends, went to the Kalahari (Kgalagadi) park 18 years on the trot, only stopping when it became a busy tourist destination and hordes of visitors spoiled the tranquillity.
Ivan was married twice, first to Jenny, and then to Shirley, the two unions producing four children, two boys and two girls. He loved his family dearly and most assuredly, the love was reciprocated, Ivan going the extra mile to ensure that he spent quality time with them. He was also loved by his so many, many friends, and his death has created a void in all their lives that can never be filled.
But he did leave them with many wonderful memories – the stories are legend, and of course will be repeated time and time again. The stories should be recorded for posterity.
Go well, my friend, you shall always be remembered.
To his family, all of whom survive him, our deepest sympathy and condolences. Ivan was a wonderful and lovely person. You are all in our thoughts and prayers at this sad time.
Ivan’s funeral service was held on Friday 25 September 2015 at St Cyprian’s Cathedral at 11h00, the day following what would have been his 66th birthday.