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A Brief Biography of Isaac Loewen (1865-1918)
Isaac Loewen was the fourth child born to Isaak (1827-1898) and Susanna (nee Krahn) (1833-1885) in Neuenburg, South Russia on 31 May 1865. He arrived in Canada as a twelve-year-old boy with his parents on the Sarmatian in June 1877. They settled in the village of Osterwick in Manitoba. Isaac began working for Peter Abrams (1852-1889) in the Abrams & Esau store in Gretna. When Peter Abrams died, he left behind a widow, Susanna (nee Rempel) (1854-1939) with 7 children (WRB 38). Isaac Loewen married Susanna on 29 June 1890 (WRB 39). Although 6 children were born to this union, five died in infancy leaving only one daughter, Susana. They also suffered the loss of another two of Susanna's children from her previous marriage. In addition to daughter Susana Loewen (1892-1974), then, the household consisted of Wilhelm Abrams (1874-1942), Sarah Abrams (1875-1952), Peter Abrams (1878-1955), Katharina Abrams (1883-1945), Gerhard Abrams (1885-1973).
Isaac Loewen became Wilhelm Esau's business partner in the Abrams & Esau store in 1890. Three years later the partnership dissolved, and Isaac opened his own store. He was actively involved as a leader in the community, being elected to the Gretna Town Council annually from 1897 to 1899. He was named as one of the auditors for the Mennonite Aid Plan, District 95 in 1901. In his promotion of education, he served as a member of the Bethel-College Corporation in 1893. His brother Bernard Loewen (1858-1936) was another merchant, and built the first general store in Winkler, to which was attached the post office. Bernard Loewen was postmaster in Winkler from 1884 to 1913. Likewise, Isaac's younger brother, Johann Loewen (1873-1932), was a businessman in Altona. Isaac was also involved in efforts to promote the emigration of other Mennonites from Russia to Canada, and sought financial assistance from Premier Greenway of Manitoba for that purpose in connection with his trip to Russia in 1896.
The 1901 Census lists the Isaac Loewen family living in Gretna, MB, with four children still at home. Isaac is listed as a merchant, and step-sons Peter and George are listed as clerks. Wilhelm had married Maria Agatha Regier (1876-1963) in Tiefengrund, SK, in 1896 (WRB 49). Maria was the daughter of Peter Regier (1851-1925), elder and organizer of the Rosenort Mennonite Church in the Rosthern area. In 1899, Sarah Abrams had married Johann Kehler (b. 1870) who was active in operating stores in Rosthern, Hague, and Osler at various times in his career. Grand-daughter, Grace Wiens, recalls hearing that her grandfather loved to sing duets with his step-son Peter; Isaac would sing the tenor while Peter sang the bass.
It was in April of 1902 that Isaac Loewen moved to Osler Saskatchewan with his family, and transferred his membership to the Rosenort Mennonite Church (WRB 333; but I have not found any mention either of Isaac Loewen or of Wilhelm Abrams in the Rosenort Mennonite Church register, nor in the Eigenheim Church register.) Peter Abrams remained behind in Manitoba, moved to Lowe Farm, and married Helena Wiens (1880-1965) that year. In Osler, Isaac bought 3 lots of land for $ 36.00 from the original surveyors of the town site, and built a house and a store, being the first merchant to set up a general store in Osler. In addition to running the store, he played a part in the marketing of grain and in providing loans to farmers who were purchasing land in the Osler area.
Apart from his economic pursuits, Isaac Loewen participated in other areas of the life of growing community of Osler, as well as in the larger Mennonite community north of Saskatoon. In 1903 he worked with a committee to have the ferry crossing the South Saskatchewan River to land near to Osler; and in 1904, he served as the town overseer. He was appointed Chairman of the first school meeting in connection with the organization of a proposed Osler School District on 2 February 1905. His daughter, Susie, was one of the first students, attending from 1905 to 1908. He was also elected to the board of trustees on which he served as secretary-treasurer, and was active in correspondence with the provincial department of education. He continued to serve as a trustee until his early death in 1918.
Isaac Loewen's extended family also served the community in various ways. His two step-sons, Peter R. Abrams and George R. Abrams participated as trustees for the school. When the Deputy Attorney General and the Deputy Commissioner of Education of the Saskatchewan Government came to Warman to conduct a Royal Commission on Private Schools in certain Mennonite Settlements at the end of 1908, Wilhelm Abrams was asked attend and serve as translator, because many of the Old Colony Mennonites appearing before the commission could not speak in the English language. Wilhelm's eldest daughter, Ella Abrams, was got involved in educational initiatives in the community when she started teaching in the Altona school near Osler in 1913. In Warman, a few miles south of Osler, Isaac Loewen had established his step-son George to run a store, and was a member of the executive council of the board of trade of Warman. When the Phenix started as a newspaper in competition to the Saskatoon Star in 1902, both Isaac Loewen and Wilhelm Abrams were recruited as correspondents from Osler and Rosthern respectively; and news items they contributed appeared in the second and third issues.
Another venture in which Isaac Loewen participated was the establishment of the educational institution which eventually became Rosthern Junior College. He was one of the initial nine men elected to the Board of Directors for the planned German-English teacher training institute in Rosthern, on 10 June 1903. Then in 1909, he was one of the eight original "incorporators" when the German-English Academy of Rosthern was officially incorporated. His step-son Wilhelm Abrams, who had taken up residence in Rosthern in 1902, was also vitally involved in initiating this educational venture, working closely with David Toews in promoting the vision for such an institution and acting as treasurer for the newly formed committee. Maria Abrams, Wilhelm's wife, was a cousin of David Toews' wife, Margarete (nee Friesen). Wilhelm's own father, Peter Abrams, had promoted education back in Manitoba, assisting in the establishment of what became the Mennonite Collegiate Institute in Gretna. Wilhelm had attended a business college in 1894, possibly being the first Mennonite to study in Winnipeg. In Rosthern, he worked both as a teacher and as a storekeeper - first in his own store and then as a bookkeeper for J. Janzen. Later, he moved to Saskatoon where he worked as an insurance agent, and in the Dominion Lands office as a clerk.
Isaac Loewen operated the store in Osler until his death during the influenza epidemic of 1918. The report of his death in the Mennonitische Rundschau, however, stated that he had died of a stroke (von Schlag getroffen). After his third seizure (Schlaganfall), he remained immobile for 40 hours before passing away on 7 December 1918, at the age of 53 years. He is buried in the Rosthern Town Cemetary. By this time, Peter Abrams had also moved to Osler from Manitoba. He bought the store from his mother and ran it together with his brother-in-law Johann Kehler. Susanna passed away in 1939, and is buried in the Osler Community Cemetery. Johann and Sarah (nee Abrams) Kehler were living in Hague where they were running another store as well. Peter ran the Osler store until 1944 when he sold out to the Co-op store that had then been organized. George Abrams created a bit of the stir in the Osler community when he married Virginia Dubois who was of a Metis and Roman Catholic background. Isaac's only surviving child, Susana, married the railway agent for the CNR in Osler, Fredrick Day (1879-1939). Their daughter, Grace (b. 1928) was part of the first class of the CMBC, where she met her future husband, Henry Albert Wiens (1925-1998). Henry served as a pastor in Langham and Chilliwack before being invited to be the pastor at the First Mennonite Church in Saskatoon from 1971 until his retirement in 1983. Grace continues to serve in the church in the ministry of music.
Interview with Grace Wiens, Saskatoon, 24 February 2005.
Abrams, Wm. "Schule und Erziehung: Die deutsch-englische Fortbildungschule zu Rosthern, Sask." Der Mitarbeiter 1, no. 9 (June 1907), pp. 68-70, reprinted as "Aus der mennonitischen Geschichte: Die deutsch-englishe Fortbildungs-schule zu Rosthern." Der Bote (12 January 1938), pp. 6-7.
Banman, Hella. Bits & Pieces of Osler & District, 1890-1908. Osler, SK: n. p., 1980.
Dyck, John, and William Harms, eds. 1880 Village Census of the Mennonite West Reserve, Manitoba, Canada The West Reserve historical series, 2. Winnipeg: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 1998, pp. 135-136, 260.
Enns, F. G. Gretna: Window on the Northwest. Altona, MB: Village of Gretna History Committee, 1987.
Epp, Frank H. Education with a Plus: The Story of Rosthern Junior College. Waterloo, ON: Conrad Press, 1975.
Guenter, J. G., ed. Osler... The Early Years and the one room School #1238 (1905-1947). Saskatoon: Osler Historical Museum, 1999, pp. 65-89.
Hague-Osler Mennonite Reserve, 1895-1995. Saskatoon, SK: Hague-Osler Reserve Book Committee, 1995.
Janzen, Jacob G. "The Warman Story, 1902-1980." Available at the Warman Town Office.
Martens, Jakob, "Saskatchewan," Mennonitische Rundschau (5 February 1919), p. 7.
Obituary of Susanna Loewen, Der Bote (22 March 1939), p. 5.
Rempel, G. E., ed. Rempel Family Book: A Family History & Genealogy of Wilhelm and Agatha (Sawatzky) Rempel and their descendents. Winkler, MB: n. p., 2000, pp. 238-245.
Urry, James. Mennonites, Politics, and Peoplehood: Europe - Russia - Canada, 1525-1980. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2006, pp. 168-169.
WRB = West Reserve Bergthaler Mennonite Church Register
Compiled by Alan M. Guenther, 8 March 2005.