Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta
Henry Kornelson (1890-1974) G#217966
Written and presented by Elvira Dueck to the MHSA-sponsored "Celebration of the 80th Anniversary of Russian Mennonites coming to Coaldale, Alberta (1926-2006)"
At an occasion like this Dad’s testimony would be according to 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove in vain”. He would want all glory be given to God.
Our parents came to Coaldale early in 1927 and settled on a small farm in the Readymade District where Dad made a living for his family. He was a kind and loving father to all of us. His first loyalty was, however, to his Lord who had saved him. He was ordained as a lay minister in the church and preached, when and where he was called, either at home or elsewhere. This often involved long absences from home. The common denominator of all of his messages, and the text of his last sermon two weeks before his death, was Colossians 1:12, here engraved on his tombstone: “He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light”.
Dad also often quoted Romans 14:7: “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself”. He was very much involved in whatever was for the common good. Soon after he moved to Coaldale he needed an appendix operation. This involved going to Lethbridge – a trip of several hours, and being treated for about 10 days by staff who knew no German when he could speak very little English. The need for a hospital in Coaldale, with German speaking staff, became very evident to him. He was not one of the founders of the Coaldale hospital, but he was a very early board member. Soon German-speaking Dr. David Epp and nurse Helen Martens, R.N. were working in a very primitive hospital. Throughout the years and the growth of the hospital I hardly remember a time when Dad was not a member of the hospital [board]. This was not a paid position. It involved many meetings and much free labor in getting a building set up and maintained.
When it became necessary to build the third hospital in 1954, it was, by now, a community venture. Dad was now the chairman of the board, and needed to conduct the meetings in English – a great challenge to him. Having studied some structural engineering in Germany prior to World War 1, Dad designed the plans which were, with minor changes, approved by an architect and the building project was underway. This again involved many days on the building site, until we had the fine Coaldale Community Hospital which functioned in the black until 1989. Then the government took over the building of the present hospital.
In Russia the Mennonites had their own schools where religion and German were taught. Not so here in Canada. The little German schools in various areas of the district partly fulfilled the need for teaching German and Bible knowledge. This was not quite enough for Dad. As quickly as he could he learned to speak a broken English, and let himself be elected to the local board of the small Readymade School. He couldn’t always understand everything, but he was instrumental in bringing a few fine Christian teachers into the school. At the annual ratepayers meeting he urged all Mennonites to be there to vote for the right things. Many of our people didn’t understand much English, but later one non-Mennonite was heard to remark: “These Mennonites are like a bunch of sheep. They just watch Kornelson, and when he raises his hand they all do.” Dad was on that board until it dissolved when Readymade became part of the Lethbridge School Division.
Having been on these two boards, he had become keenly aware of the great dearth of teaching and medical personnel among our people. What a great positive influence Christian professionals could have in society! However, to get this education, the concern was that in high school our young people would absorb the values of the world. Dad, together with others, saw the need of a Christian high school. He strongly promoted this cause, and at a conference in 1944 he was elected as chairman of the first board of the Alberta Mennonite High School. Again, this involved much prayer, planning, voluntary work, and many trips to our MLA, Roy Lee, to speak for accreditation. It was a small beginning, with about 40 pupils, 2 teachers and 1 cook for the out-of-town students. At its height there was a staff of 6 teachers, and 100 students who, in a Christian atmosphere, were taught the Bible and German in addition to the prescribed high school curriculum. Singing and music were also stressed, and one year, with full orchestra, the choir presented Handel’s Messiah at several occasions. The school was a great blessing to many.
Having said all of this, I would just like to add that Dad would never been able to do what he did without the constant loyal, whole-hearted and sacrificial support of Mother. While Dad was more in the public eye, Mother held the fort at home. We children were very aware of that. Both parents left us a great legacy.