Former Mennonite leader, team builder, Henry Poettcker dies at age 90

Aaron Epp, with files from Deborah Froese
June 19, 2015
Mennonite Church Canada/Canadian Mennonite University
Henry Poettcker in his office at Canadian Mennonite Bible College in 1964.
Henry Poettcker as a young man.
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Immigrant farm boy, hard and confident worker, team builder, family man, devout Christian – Henry Poettcker was all those things and more.

Poettcker, who served as president of the General Conference Mennonite Church (now Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA) from 1962 to 1968, died on Sunday, May 24, following a stroke. He was 90 years old.

In addition to his leadership with the national church, Poettcker was deeply involved with Mennonite educational institutions. In 1954, he joined the faculty of Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC), one of Canadian Mennonite University’s (CMU) predecessor institutions. Five years later, at the age of 34, he became its president. He held that office for 19 years.

Helmut Harder, former General Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada and Emeritus Professor of Theology at CMBC, was a colleague of Poettcker’s at CMBC. In an email interview, Harder wrote that he appreciated Poettcker’s keen sense of discernment and invitational leadership style. “I greatly value my years of as part of the ‘Poettcker team.’ I give thanks for Henry and respect him greatly for his contribution to the church.”

After CMBC, Poettcker moved to Elkhart, Indiana, where he served as President and Professor of New Testament beginning in 1978 at Mennonite Biblical Seminary, one of the two seminaries that constituted Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, now Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He was named President Emeritus when he retired in 1990.

Poettcker was born in Rudnerweide, Russia on March 27, 1925. His family moved to St. Elizabeth, Man. when he was just a few months old, and then to a farm 25 km. west of Pincher Creek, Alta. when he was two.

While attending Menno Bible Institute in Didsbury, Alta. throughout the winter of 1942-43, Poettcker met Aganetha (Agnes) Baergen. After marrying in 1946 in Tofield, Alta., they spent eight years in Alberta, Kansas, Illinois, and New Jersey while Poettcker furthered his education.

Upon his retirement in 1990, Poettcker returned to Winnipeg. In 2005, CMU honoured his years of service by naming one of its buildings Poettcker Hall. Four years later, CMU Press published Poettcker’s book, A President’s Journey: The Memoirs of Henry Poettcker.

In his later years, Poettcker gave loving care to Agnes, who suffered a severe and debilitating stroke. She passed away in February 2014.

Poettcker is survived by daughter Chrystyanna, sons Ron (Carol-Ann) and Martin (Erna), seven grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, and extended family.