Community Collaboration

   How does one manage when there is too much to do, especially when the “maintenance” items on the list are quite important and the “projects” are of high value? Strategic priority management, cooperation and diplomacy are helpful, perhaps even essential.

   Several years ago a small group of museum supporters approached the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) Board of Directors with a proposal to create and locate a monument recognizing conscientious objectors (CO’s) who served in alternative fields of service during times of war. Since that initial conversation, this project has grown to now include a substantial peace monument.

   The MHV Board of Directors recognized both key elements of this project as being in alignment with the mission and values of our museum and potentially a valuable addition to our collection of exhibits. The challenges it presented were the aspects of available labour and financial resources to make it happen. This would not be a small project. As a result, the initiators of the concept agreed to form a committee which would own the project and manage it on behalf of MHV, reporting to MHV’s Board of Directors.

   In a recent media release, committee member Abe Warkentin wrote, “A peace exhibit committee has commissioned Manitoba sculptor Peter Sawatzky to build a bronze statue of martyred Anabaptist Dirk Willems. The monument is expected to be a concrete way of recognizing the Anabaptist ideals of peacemaking.

   “The life-size statue to be completed in 2018, will be the focal point of a new peace exhibit at Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach. The Mennonite Heritage Village is a world-class museum attracting 40,000 visitors per year from around the world.

   “Sawatzky is renowned for various sculptures, including the Seal River Crossing, a 29-foot-long sculpture of nine caribou in downtown Winnipeg as well as a 21-foot York boat in Selkirk.

   “Willems was one of around 4,000 martyrs killed in Europe in the 1500s for their understanding of the practice of baptism (among other charges). Holding to the doctrine that one should only be baptized upon confession of faith, they re-baptized adult believers and refused to baptize infants. Willems became known for rescuing his captor after breaking out of prison and was burned at the stake near his home village of Asperen, The Netherlands on May 16, 1569....

   “Willems was imprisoned in a residential castle turned prison and escaped by letting himself out of a window with a rope made of knotted rags. Emaciated from his imprisonment, he did not break through the ice surrounding the castle but his heavier pursuer broke through.

   “Willems, hearing his guard’s call for help, turned back and rescued him. The guard wanted to release him but the mayor ordered his recapture and imprisonment.

   “Willems was sentenced to execution by fire on May 16, 1569….”

   With a great deal of planning, negotiation and coordination, the expanded peace exhibit project is underway. The initial component, a monument honoring conscientious objectors, was completed in 2016. That monument now stands beside our sawmill (which was operated by CO’s in the past) on the MHV grounds. The second component, a monument of the Dirk Willems experience, is currently being built and is scheduled for completion in 2018.

   MHV is fortunate to have people in our constituency who are so invested in our mission that they have volunteered to take on such a large project. There have been many meetings where this project has been developed - committee meetings, board meetings, and joint meetings of the board and the committee. Considerable time has been spent in finding common ground on various aspects of the project, as there is determination to satisfy all parties involved in the best interests of MHV. We are grateful for ongoing progress.

Calendar of Events

June 17-July 7 – Manitoba Food History Project

July 1, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Steinbach’s Canada Day Celebration (with fireworks at the Soccer Park at 10:45PM)

July 9-13, 10:00AM-4:30PM – Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 5-7

July 14, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Car Show

July 25, 10:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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