Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan

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Bruce Guenther, author, speaking of The Altester he wrote about his grandfather.

A Double Book Launch for The Ältester

A Double Book Launch for The Ältester was sponsored by MHSS – in the Osler Community Hall, and in Bethany Manor, in Saskatoon, for author Bruce L. Guenther. Guenther grew up in this Saskatchewan Valley area, not that far from Osler, but his education and career has taken him to Abbotsford, BC., where he is a professor in the Mennonite Brethren College.

The Osler book launch took place on Friday evening, October 19th and the community hall had 135 earnestly listeners. (This writer observed that most of the people present were directly related to that Friesen family, or were neighbours and close friends with that extended family).

The Herman Friesen 10 chiliden singing a song as they did growing up The surviving 10 adult children of Altester Herman D. W. Friesen, (out of 13), sang a special song, "Come to the Saviour" to represesnt the many Sunday afternoons that family had sung together around an old pump organ in their home. There were 8 women and 3 men in that family musical group, singing acapella.

Guenther summarized his grandfather, and his life as a farmer and minister in the Old Colony Church. He also reviewed book process from idea to completion over 20 years. When he saw his grandfather's sermon collection, he got an idea, which culmated in this book. He applied to the Delbert Plett Foundation for a grant to have the sermons translated from the old Gothic script. However, there was no diary or journal, so he had to research for details in his family.

Guenther explained what he had tried to do in the book. This included a historical overview of Mennonites in Canada from their arrival in Canada in the 1870s, when they were promised they would not be called up for war-time enlistment, and (they assumed) would be able to educate their children privately. Later, they learned that Education was under provincial jurisdiction, and the Saskatchewan government wanted to unite all the citizens with an English education. This caused many of the Old Colony Mennonites to pack up and move to Mexcio.

However, Herman and Margaretha Friesen and their family did not go.

The author tried to understand that decision in the book. Other key themes were about the family and personal issues they faced as they grew up and raised their own large family. Another was about Herman as a spiritual leader, including the translation of seven of his sermons. Then there were the major challenges of how to slant or present the book; as a biography, about theology, or as history - or perhaps a hybrid of all three. Which is what happened.

After reading a page from the book, Bruce Guenther answered questions from the audience.

Bruce Guenther autographiing his books in Osler

When the presentation was finished the people streamed to the back of the room to the book sales table. Bruce Guenther signed them at another table nearby. 80 copies of The Altester were sold that evening. 20 copies were held back for the second event the next day. People continued to visit in small clusters over coffee and desserts. Many stories were told informally.

On Saturday afternoon, October 20th, a similar program was presented in the Fellowship Hall of Bethany Manor in Saskatoon. 85 people were present, mostly residents of this retirement complex, a few who had attended the Friday evening launch, and then some others who drove in from outlying communities.

The one exception to the program was that the Friesen sons and daughters did not sing this time, even though several of them were present.

Again, Guenther's presentation was followed by a Q and A time with the audience, and then coffee and book sales with the author signing them. Susan Braun, the treasurer, reported later that the 20 books held over were quickly sold and another 40 people placed orders for their copies. However, she had ordered another 80 so there would be 40 on hand in the archives for sales that were sure to follow afterward.

We trust that as the first buyers read their copies and tell their family and friends, more orders will come in.

[last updated - Nov/18/2021]
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.