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MHSC Citations &
Presentation of Ruth Derksen Siemens
on the Russian Gulag

The National MHSC Annually presents a Citation Award to someone, in the area where the AGM is held, for lifelong service in Mennonite faith communities. Our MHSS nominated two, and the MHSC graciously presented both of them with Citations on January 21, at Bethany Manor, in the packed Fellowship Hall. Sam Steiner from Ontario, the President of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada, formally presented the citations.

Sam Steiner presenting the posthumous Citation for Dick H. Epp to his widow Betty Epp, and son, Don Epp.
Sam Steiner presenting Citation for Dick H. Epp
to his widow, Betty Epp and son, Don Epp

The Nomination of Diedrich Helmut "Dick" Epp, and Esther Patkau, for the MHSC Award of Lifelong Service within the Mennonite Faith Communities read:

Dick and Esther were born within ten days of each other in the warm Saskatchewan summer of 1927. Dick was a grandson of Mennonite immigrants who arrived in Rosthern in 1898. They later moved to Glenbush. Esther was a daughter of parents who came to Hanley in 1923. Both learned their Anabaptist values in rural settings and went on to contribute their considerable talents throughout Saskatchewan and beyond. Neither one ever retired, but rather both continued to work after their salaries had stopped. Dick died of cancer in 2009. Esther continues to contribute her talents in various ways.

The MHSS wishes to present both Dick Epp and Esther Patkau for the MHSC award. The MHSS believes that a case can be made for two awards because both are outstanding candidates. If this cannot be done, the MHSC is asked to adjudicate.

Dick Epp was a founding member of the MHSS in 1973 and served as its president from 1980 to 1996. He edited the Historian for eleven years. His contributions to the MHSC are well known. Dick was much involved behind the scenes to enable the writing of the 3 volumes of the history of Mennonites in Canada. His life's story is largely contained in Between the Tracks, a book he published several years before his death in 2009.

Dick was one of the first Saskatchewan Mennonites who began to collect stories in the English language. The Historian was a repository for many of them. Hundreds of other stories are in the collection of family histories that he wrote. Dick was an accomplished photography whose work has appeared in many professional journals and newspapers. He and his wife Betty attended Nutana Park Mennonite Church. Dick wrote a history of Nutana Park MC.

Dick attended elementary school near Glenbush and attended high school at Rosthern Junior College. He was a teacher who taught first in a one-roomed school near Mullingar and went on to be a teacher and principal in a number of Saskatoon schools.

Those who worked with him always commented on his professional demeanor and his devotion to collecting and preserving the stories of Mennonites.

Sam Steiner presenting Esther Patkau with the MHSC Citation Award
Sam Steiner, MHSC President, presenting
Esther Patkau with the Citation Award

Esther Patkau graduated from both Rosthern Bible School and Canadian Mennonite Bible College. She was commissioned in 1951 as a missionary to Japan where she served 23 years under the General Conference Mennonite Church. Upon her return in 1974, she was ordained and served as pastor of First Mennonite Church in Saskatoon for seven years. She completed a master's degree in theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon. Her thesis was a study of the life of Rev. J.J. Thiessen.

In 1983 she became a hospital chaplain and served in that capacity until 2005. For the past five years she has been the Spiritual coordinator at Bethany Manor, a Mennonite Seniors' complex. She has served as a volunteer in the children's ward of the Cancer Clinic for a dozen years. In 1989 she was given a Caring Award by the Governor General of Canada. She has been honored by MEDA, by the MHSS, and by Canadian Mennonite University.

Esther wrote the history of Rosthern Junior College, and the history of First Mennonite Church. She also wrote a history of the Patkau family. Almost every year she does inservice seminars on how to write memoirs and how to write obituaries. In each case she has written booklets for these subjects. Esther has transliterated hundreds of articles from Old German Script to modern German script. She has translated hundreds of articles into English. She has written dozens of biographies for submission to GAMEO. One of her quaint projects was to identify diseases described in everyday language in Prussian documents and to find English names for them.

Submitted by Jake Buhler, on behalf of MHSS
December 15, 2010

Author, Ruth Derksen Siemens' Presentation on the Russian Gulag

Ruth Derksen Siemens reading her book, Remember Us

Ruth Derksen Siemens, of Abbotsford, BC, an author and a dramatic storyteller, told a spell-bound crowd about relatives who escaped from Russia, and other relatives from the same clan who were arrested and taken away to Stalin's Gulag in Siberia. A whole family lived around their wooden box on a layer of crowded humanity in a prison dormitory. From there they wrote letters to the relatives in Canada. Miraculously, their letters came through and were collected in a farmhouse in Saskatchewan.

Ruth read from her book, written around and quoting those letters, Remember Us: Letters from Stalin's Gulag. Some of those letters were translated into English by other relatives, and from these desperate pleas, she has gleaned a history and sense of perspective. (There's more on her website; www.gulagletters.com).

Ruth Derksen Siemens telling the gripping stories With the assistance of some professional film-makers, Out-to-See Entertainment Inc., a documentary film has been produced too. It is called, Through the Red Gate. This film was shown to the 255 people present for this gripping story of the Rieger family that managed to escape to Canada.

Afterwards, Jake Buhler, President of MHSS, opened the floor for questions from the audience, and made a point of asking how many people had personally come through that Red Gate. A surprising number of hands went up. When he asked how many had family members come through it - still far more hands went up!

A certain number could say that their ancestors came to Canada with the earliest waves of emigrees in 1875 and thereafter, but an astonishing number of those attending have personal connections and echoes of the stories Ruth told in their own family histories.

Ruth Derksen Siemens autographing her book
When the meeting closed, Ruth was surrounded with people wanting to talk with her personally, and her husband handled brisk sales of her book at a table in the back until sold out. Later, Ruth talked with many individually, as she autographed their book purchases.

Altogether, a very memorable evening. Other family stories are likely to ripple out of it.

[last updated - Aug/19/2021]
Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan

Room 900 - 110 La Ronge Road,
Saskatoon, SK, S7K 7H8
Archive Hours: Monday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. Wednesday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. & by appointment on Wed. evening.