Tribute to Dick H. Epp
by Leonard Doell
Today, we as a Mennonite community are gathered to mourn the loss and to give thanks for the life and work of our friend, teacher, author, historian, photographer Dick H. Epp. As a Mennonite people we are greatly indebted to Dick Epp for his vision, his perseverance and dedication to preserving the history, culture and faith of our people.
Dick had a deep passion for sharing the stories of our past and the creation of a Historical Society became a good vehicle for that to happen. In the early 1970's, a small group of individuals gathered in Saskatoon with a vision to create a Mennonite Historical Society. By June 1973, an organizational meeting of the Western Canadian Mennonite Historical Society was held and only four interested and dedicated individuals showed up at that first meeting and one was Dick Epp. The first annual and founding meeting was held here at the Nutana Park Mennonite Church on November 24 1973. Ted Regehr became the first President of what became known as the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan and Alberta, followed by Blake Friesen in 1976 and then Dick Epp in 1980, who began his long and distinguished tenure in that position.
For the next 16 years Dick would serve as the President of this organization, faithfully carrying and nurturing it through some very lean years. It was always hard to attract members from distant places as long as Alberta and Saskatchewan were together, since few Alberta members attended the Saskatchewan meetings and vise versa. Eventually the societies split. The Saskatchewan society remained small and fragile but held together by a few committed people including Dick. The annual membership fee to the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada was $500.00 and because the Saskatchewan Societies coffers were often empty, Dick would graciously contribute most or all of the fee from his personal money in order to keep the society afloat for another year. Had it not been for the commitment and perseverance of Dick Epp, the society would probably not have survived these tough years.
In January of 1996, I was elected as President of the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan to replace Dick Epp. I was very humbled but also apprehensive about taking this position because Dick left a legacy that I knew I could not fill. It was also difficult for Dick to let go of the position as President and to now sit in on board meetings as the Editor of the Historian. Over time, Dick took me under his wing and in kind and helpful ways he began to mentor me in my role as President, for which I am very grateful to him. I developed a deep respect and appreciation for Dick during the 12 years we served on the board together.
Then for the next 11 years, Dick turned his attention to being the volunteer Editor of the first class Saskatchewan Mennonite Historian. He poured endless time and resources, including many MAC computers, into creating a newsletter that was the envy of other societies across the country, plus it was enjoyed by many people who had no connection to the Historical Society. It highlighted local histories and genealogies, that provided intimate insights into the lives of our people, putting flesh and blood on to the people whose stories then came alive and were preserved for generations to come. In April 2006, the Historical Society honored Dick for his many years of commitment and leadership to this organization.
Dick recognized his shortcomings in these tasks and often acknowledged his loving wife Betty for her tremendous support and the way she complimented him. Betty was always there to encourage him and to gently remind him of things he forgot, she helped to edit and became known as the lady with the Red pen, as well as to host many guests and meetings and through this we had the good fortune of experiencing the genuine hospitality, generosity and kindness of their home.
Today we mourn with you as a family the tremendous loss that we have experienced in the death of our friend Dick. We are very grateful for all that he contributed and accomplished in the time that God granted him life on this earth. In closing, I want to quote Dick's words from a 2004 edition of the Saskatchewan Mennonite Historian. I quote "When I look back, I'm glad that I did not throw in the towel during those hard years because what we have now is something that should make all Mennonites in this Province proud, because we are preserving our history for future generations." unquote
Thank you Dick for the things that you have done for us and for those yet to come, may you rest in peace.
3 July 2009
A Tribute to Dick H. Epp by Ted Regehr
The Family Eulogy