Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta
Jacob J. Klassen (1900-1974)
Written and presented by Jake Klassen to the MHSA-sponsored "Celebration of the 80th Anniversary of Russian Mennonites coming to Coaldale, Alberta (1926-2006)"
I’m Jake Klassen, the son of Jacob J. Klassen, and I was asked to make some comments about my father and our family.
First of all I want to thank the Historical Society Committee for remembering our father, Jacob J. Klassen, and honouring him for his contributions to society.
Our father was born on September 13, 1900 in Schöneberg, Ukraine, Russia. He was oldest of five children. He had two sisters and two brothers. His sister, Agatha, predeceased him on February 6, 1924, at the age of 19 years. In 1910 the family moved to the village of Leonidovka in the Ignatjevo colony, Ukraine, Russia. He grew up in Leonidovka where he met our mother, Aganeta Derksen, and they were married on August 24, 1924. On June 30, 1925, their first son was born and he died on October 9, 1925. Then one month later, on November 10, 1925, his father Jacob John Klassen died unexpectedly of an aneurysm in his head.
The sudden death of a husband and father brought a great deal of stress and sadness to the family, that had been planning to immigrate to Canada. However, after some deliberations and considerations they decided to continue with their plans.
Then on September 26, 1926, our father with his wife Aganeta, his widowed mother, his brother and sister-in-law, Gerhard and Sara Klassen, and his two younger siblings, Sara and Daniel, began their journey to Canada. They landed in Quebec on October 22, 1926. From Quebec, they took the train to Harris, Saskatchewan, where Uncle Peter Hildebrandt (Grandmother Klassen’s brother) lived. He was also a relatively new immigrant to Canada. They spent the winter in Harris and I, their son Jacob, was born there on April 28, 1927.
Effective May 1, 1927, the Klassen families purchased a farm at Esbank, Saskatchewan with no down payment. Payments on the farm were half of the crop.
The owner that sold the land, asked if he could take out a mortgage on the land and they consented and kept on making payments to him. And as the times became harder and the drought and depression set in, he didn’t meet the mortgage payments, and so the family had to vacate the farm. All they salvaged was their clothes, some bedding, two cows, one horse and a buggy. After four and half years in Saskatchewan they moved to Coaldale and made a new start.
The beginning in Coaldale was difficult. But our father was willing to work, was optimistic, courageous, and had determination and they made a new start. Father had convictions, was honest, and a man of integrity, and he proved it by his actions and he gained the trust of people, and got involved.
The Church was of major importance to mother and father, and both had been baptized on their confession of faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and accepted as members into the Mennonite Church in Ukraine. Then on January 3, 1932, mother and father were both accepted as members into the Coaldale Mennonite Church, and were active and faithful members in the Church until they died.
Some of our father’s involvements
Our father was very actively involved in the Coaldale Mennonite Church Building Committee for the present sanctuary that was built in 1957. Also for many years he was chairman of the church's Finance Committee.
Our father was active in the Alberta Conference of Mennonites, and in the Canadian Conference of Mennonites. In the Canadian Conference he served on the Board of Finance. In the Alberta Conference he was instrumental in the building of the Alberta Mennonite Senior Citizen’s Home in Coaldale. He was the chairman of the building committee. Our father had a keen interest in the Alberta and Canadian Church Conferences and MCC. For many years he was a regular attendant and an elected delegate at these conferences.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, he was very much involved with immigration. Having come to Canada with his family as immigrants in 1926 he was very supportive in helping the new immigrants feel welcome and accepted into the Mennonite community. Being chairman of the Provincial Relief Committee and also a member of the Canadian Board of Colonization he took the work with immigration very seriously. Father had a love and concern for the new immigrants and attempted to meet every train that brought immigrants to Coaldale, to insure they had a place to stay and a way to get there.
I was asked to say something about our family. Well, we were a large family, our parents and eleven children. You can imagine that there was lots of activity, and we were a big happy family. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, changes were taking place in our family. The older ones were involved in the church and youth activities. Our church youth group with the influx of the new immigrants was quite large and we had many enjoyable times. Friendships developed and weddings followed in our family and the family kept on growing.
This was a nice time for our family. Both parents were healthy and able to travel, and for a number of years took an annual few weeks of summer vacation. Also in the beginning of the 1960s our family received a letter from mother’s siblings seeking to make contact with our family after many years of no communication. When our parents emigrated from Russia mother left behind her parents and seven siblings. When they made contact only three were still alive and the others had all vanished.
You can imagine the excitement in our home when we received this news after so many years of no contact. Then in 1967 our father was able to get his visa to go to Russia. But as a foreigner he could not travel to their homes, but had to make reservations in a hotel and the relatives had to come to the hotel to meet him. On that trip father met mother’s one sister and one brother.
Father came back with enthusiasm, and persuaded mother to come along, and they made the arrangements, and in 1968 they both went and mother met her two sisters and one brother that she hadn’t seen since 1926, over 40 years. Our parents came back safely and mother was very happy and thankful that she had the opportunity to have a reunion with three of her seven siblings after so many years of separation.
A few more comments about father’s main occupation and his death
In 1937 he was elected to the organization committee to study the need and feasibility to build a Mennonite-owned Cooperative Cheese Factory in Coaldale. When the organization committee accomplished their work with the opening of the Cheese Factory in 1938, he was elected to the Operational Committee. In 1940 he was elected as manager, a position he held until 1972, when the Cheese Factory was sold. During these years the Cheese Factory developed and did a thriving business. The quality of the cheese placed high in various competitions across Canada.
In 1943 they opened an egg grading unit. In May 1944 the decision was made to put an addition onto the factory and open a locker plant. The expansion of the operation led to the erection of a new building in 1945. Residential milk delivery began in 1949 in the town of Coaldale, and for several years included delivering pasteurized milk to the town of Taber.
Our father was involved in many other Mennonite organizations: the Coaldale Community Hospital that was built in 1954, and MCC Alberta that was organized in 1964, and he was the treasurer and kept that position until the end of his working days, when my brother-in-law, Jake Retzlaff, took over. Father’s interest in MCC and the welfare of all Mennonites was his life.
On February 22, 1974, our father had a blood clot and passed away the next morning on February 23, 1974. It was a shock to us all that father passed away so suddenly, but we have the comfort to know that father was prepared to meet his Lord and Savior, and we have the assurance to meet him again in eternity.
In closing I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share about our father’s involvement and our family. Thank you.