A Tribute to Dick Epp
by Ted Regehr on behalf of the
Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan
Dick Epp, in one of his books, tells of the time when the railway wanted to build a track right through the middle of the Epp family house in Glenbush, Saskatchewan. Was that the jolt which got him started as a story-teller and writer? It is, in any case, only one of the many stories he told of his own experiences and those of family members and friends.
Stories shape their identity and help people when dealing with the vagaries of life. Not long ago, many Mennonite stories were told in Low German to the accompaniment of Knaksoat, (sunflower seeds), or in High German if they dealt with the loss of the beloved Russian homeland. In the 1950s, younger writers like Dick Epp began to tell stories in English of their Canadian experiences. Initially Dick apparently had no coherent plan about any future use of his stories. He simply enjoyed writing and telling stories about interesting people and events.
He cherished times together with others who shared his interests and therefore became an immediate and enthusastic founding member when a society dedicated to the writing and promotion of Sasaktchewan and Alberta Mennonite history. The society began with a small group which met alternately in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Dick was one of those who made special trips, took photographs, gathered stories and participated in the Alberta meetings. He and Betty also hosted visting Albertans when they came to meetings in Saskatchewan. But it soon became evident that there was sufficient interest to have separate Mennonite historical societies in Saskaktchewan and Alberta. So the former Saskachewan and Alberta society became the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan.
Dick Epp served as chairperson of that Society for 16 years, and as editor of its official publication, the Saskatchewan Mennonite Historian, for eleven years. He, with Betty's help, made that publication one of the best of its kind, publishing numerous stories and providing a wealth of local historical and genealogical information. At his retirement as editor in 2006 it was noted that "No one person has invested as much time and energy in the work of the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan as has Dick Epp."
The Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan, together with other Canadian Mennonite historical societies also supported and sponsored a larger project. Canadian centennial celebrations created interest in the writing of histories of different Canadian ethnic and religious groups. That prompted a small joint committee of the established Ontario and Manitoba Mennonite historical societies to promote the writing of a single volume history of Mennonites in Canada. They had already missed the Canadian centennial, but hoped their history could be published in time for the centennial of the coming to Canada of Mennonites from Russia in 1874. That small committee then encouraged the establishment of Mennonite historical societies in all the western provinces and invited their participation and support in the writing of the history of Mennonites in Canada. Dick Epp embraced the project with enthusiasm and offered many interesting insights as the writing of the Mennonites in Canada book proceeded.
The proposed one-volume project, not unlike some government bureaucratic programs, eventually grew to encompas three volumes. The first one met the 1874 target date but only covered the period up to 1920. The third and final volume was published in 1996. When it came time to launch that last volume Dick Epp served as the key organizer, promoter and supporter of that event here in Saskatoon. He used his many contacts and persuasive powers to attract not only many key Mennonite leaders and historians, but also civic, university and community leaders and even the Lieutentant Governor of Saskatchewan. He also prepared an exceptionally fine photo and audio collection of that event. He was a true and generous friend of Mennonite historians and of the many and varied programs of the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan.
Dick and Betty Epp were, and Betty remains Sylvia's and my cherished friend. When Dick autographed our copy of his book From Between the Tracks, 1927-1952 he wrote "For Sylvia and Ted for many years of friendship. Enjoy!" We had many similar interests, and join with all of you as we mourn Dick's passing and, at the same time, celebrate his very productive and well lived life.
A Tribute to Dick. H. Epp by Leonard Doell
The Family Eulogy