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A good-humored crowd gathered expectantly in the Fellowship Hall at Bethany Manor on Friday evening, March 6.
The music group had cancelled, so Jake Buhler, president of MHSS, opened the meeting with a surprise. He said that Dick Braun had received a Gesangbuch at age 12, as probably had many others present at this meeting. We would sing a few stanzas of number 693, and at the end another hymn, usually sung at a funeral at the going out to the cemetery for the burial service.
He noted that there are meaningful spiritual concepts expressed in these hymns, for they were written by our Anabaptist ancestors, often while awaiting death because of their faith.
Bob Wahl, managing the overhead projector put the words on the wall so we could sing along. For some it had been many decades since they last tried to sing German, but it was good to see many taking part quite naturally.
Leonard Doell introduced the guest speaker, Dr. John J. Friesen from Altona, MB., who retired in 2010 as a professor of history at Canadian Mennonite University. Since then he has taught grateful Hutterites their own history. Leonard and Dr. Friesen are both Board members on the Plett Foundation, and Dr. Friesen is the editor of the annual Preservings published by that Foundation.
He took up the Mennonite story in Poland and Russia. They settled in the delta at Danzig when they fled the persecution in the Netherlands, because the Polish king promised them exemption from military service.
That changed when the Prussians took over Poland. The Mennonites lost their military exemption and could not buy any more land for their grown children.
About that time came Russia's offer; free, plentiful land, and financial assistance for settling in the Ukraine. Representatives, Heppner and Bartsch went to check it out, and came back to the Danzig area with signed promises. This led to several waves of migration to Russia.
The Mennonites claimed four major settlement areas; Chortitza on the Dneiper River in 1789, Molotschna, settled in 1804, Am Trakt, and Alexanderthal near the Volga.
Dr. Friesen spent time on the formation of various Church Groups in Russia – then also in Manitoba, as they became six churches or denominations.
(Dr. John Friesen has shared with us his detailed notes and slides; click this link to open the PDF file; or right-click on it to
save it to your computer - John-J-Friesen-Presentations.pdf)
The evening was closed with prayer by Rev. Bill Kruger, and then Rev. Martin Friesen and Jake Buhler led us in another old German hymn, (Farewell World, in English).
Of course, coffee and sweets facilitated much visiting, and the book tables were open for sales too.
The annual reports and general business of the MHSS came Saturday morning at 9:30 am. First, John Reddekopp shared a devotional on remembering.
He began by sharing his own memories of the Saskatchewan School #99 as a student. He had slides, too, one of the students in 1950s, and another of the very first school – which rather looked as if had been built of sod.
Mr. Reddekopp reminded us of the importance of remembering the wonderful works of God. MHSS focuses on remembering well.
The Annual Reports and the discussion of the same went rather quickly, and were all positive. Vera Falk reported excellent book sales. Treasurer, Elmer Regier said we had done well, but funds were getting tight again, and moved the appointing of an auditor. Ruth Friesen reported on a good first year as editor of the Historian, and what to expect this year. Elmer Neufeld gave the member-ship and subscription STATs, and Kathy Boldt recognized the volunteers who staff the archives.
The story of the two paintings on display was told first. Painted by Jacob E. Friesen, historian from Hague, he had given them to a friend in BC. When that woman passed away, her family sought a way to return the paintings to a place like our archives.
Victor Wiebe urged people to turn old documents and photos over to the Archives and let the staff there decide what is of value and what is not. Too often the best materials are thought to be rubbish and discarded or burned.
Victor also invited volunteers to work with him to post articles about pastors, churches, and Mennonites who have accomplished anything, on the GAMEO website.
Susan Braun introduced MAID, the anacro-nym for Mennonite Archival Image Database. This is a website where all the provincial Mennonite historical societies are contributing their historical photos. These can be explored and seen by anyone, and if one wishes to download a copy of any, there is a fee to be paid through PayPal. It is minimal if intended for personal use, but is higher if intended for any for-profit use, such as publishing in a book, etc.
The Annual General Meeting was closed with a coffee break, and then at 11:15 a much-increased crowd sat down to enjoy Dr. John Friesen's second lecture.
This time his focus was on the Legacy of the Prussian Mennonites. This refers to the period before they moved to Russia.
He named three good books on this topic;
- Mennonites in Early Modern Poland & Prussia, 2007, - by Dr. Peter J. Klassen.
- Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Reform, & Family in Prussia East, 1772-1880, 2010 - by Mark Jantzen & John Thiesen.
- An English Trans. of H. G. Mannhardt's The Danzig Mennonite Church, It's Origin and History, 1569-1919, 2007 - Mark Jantzen & John Thiesen, editors.
[Ed. look for his complete lecture notes with slides, on this website - SOON.]
This lecture was followed by a hearty lunch of soups, buns, and vegetables, with lovely fruit plautz choices.
At 1:30 pm. Leonard Doell and Dick Braun gave a lively dual presentation, reviewing how 20 years ago a committee was formed to produce a book for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Hague/ Osler Reserve. The project grew and grew as they began to collect photos and stories of the earliest settlers. Eventually, 1700 photos went into the book, and the first printing of 750 books was sold immediately. Subsequent print-ings sold out quickly, even though it was a large and expensive book.
The 100th anniversary was celebrated on August 4,5 and 6, 1995. On Saturday at the Brian King Centre, 1500 people showed up, catching the ladies in the kitchen off-guard. But the volunteers worked together wonderfully and the event was a huge success, especially the bus tours of the villages.
Leonard re-told the story of the coming of the first Mennonite settlers on this Hague/Olser Reserve, including their relationships with the First Nations people, whose land the government had given them.
Jack Driedger was asked to tell the intense story of his grandfather, Johann Driedger, a business man who was excommunicated by the Old Colony church, and how he struggled with that all his life.
After this, Leonard told of the movement of many of the Old Colony families to Mexico, and some on to Paraguay.
Dick took a turn again, telling of the women and families of the villages. Mny families also left to populate other areas in Canada and beyond.
The Q and A session brought out other interesting details, such as the moves were driven by poverty, or the hobo with the alias, George White, who was shot in Laird.
Dick observed that in the 1950s, because tractors replaced horses, many young men had to find a job and moved to the city. As they married and settled down these young families settled in Warman and Martensville, so they could have the benefits of a rural setting, rather than the city full of temptations. Today, these two places have become cities as well.
The afternoon flew. Everyone was invited for coffee, or faspa, and those who wished could tour the archives, with Dick Braun as the Guide.