The Ben Horch Story had its beginnings over twenty years ago, in January 1987. Ben Horch had undergone a prostate operation over Christmas and was recuperating at home when I first raised the idea of writing his biography. I had known Ben since my student days at the School of Music ( University of Manitoba ) in the late 1960s, and had spent several months studying radio production techniques with him from November 1972 to March 1973. I visited him regularly at his home to discuss and submit assignments for this course and to dialogue with him on a wide variety of musical, theological and philosophical topics. It was during these months that we developed a close and lasting friendship; he became my musical father and I his adopted musical son.
Both Ben and Esther welcomed the idea of the biography and placed all of their collected files, correspondence, scrapbooks, recordings and photographs at my disposal. On 19 January 1987 I began conducting, and in some cases recording, a series of interviews with Ben and Esther, and later with members of their extended Horch, Hiebert and Falk families.
During our interview on 27 January 1987, Ben said: “The way the book comes out should result not so much from conversation with me, but from conversation about me through Esther, so that this is a collaboration between you two.” And a true collaboration it was.
After her retirement in 1974, Esther had taken on the role of family chronicler. A self-confessed “pack-rat,” she had been gathering and storing up letters, cards, photographs, programs, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia from members of the extended Horch-Hiebert-Falk families for years. “Like my father,” she writes, “I am a systematic collector of dates, anecdotes and photographs. I find it difficult to discard a letter, especially when it comes from a member of our close-knit family.”
She organized these materials into dozens of 3-ring binders and scrap-books, including 24 binders and scrapbooks devoted to Ben’s family, life and career, 10 devoted to Esther’s family, life and career and two to the tragically short life of their only daughter, Viola Horch Falk. Esther wrote hundreds of pages of commentary in order to preserve the memory of family stories and traditions for her grandchildren. None of this material was intended for publication.
But in order to allow her voice to speak in these pages, I have quoted extensively from Esther’s writings, allowing her to relate stories and details of Ben’s life in her own distinctive “folksy” style. The photo on page 462 shows her as I first met her in the early 1970s. She is truly the co-author of this biography, and she is given the final word (below, page 466).
After Ben’s death in 1992, I was also given access to all of Ben’s correspondence and personal files. I have taken the liberty to quote extensively from these letters and personal notes in order to allow the reader to “hear” Ben in his own words. Those interested in hearing Ben’s own voice and some choral performances that he conducted can go to the website www.oldoakpublishing.com for samples from the Ben Horch Sound Collection.
Esther’s scrapbooks and Ben’s personal documents form the primary building blocks of this biography. They were supplemented by dozens of personal interviews with Ben and Esther, Ben’s brothers Ed, Emmanuel and Albert, and several dozen other family members, colleagues, friends and former students. As Esther wrote in the introduction to her book, C.N. Hiebert was my Father , “A book about Father would be incomplete if written by only one person…” The same is true of a book on Ben Horch, and I have given these various witnesses many opportunities to comment on Ben’s life and career.
These personal sources were supplemented by a host of archival sources and newspaper accounts listed in the footnotes and in the bibliography. For those documents originally written in German I have provided my own translations.
After only a few weeks of research, it became clear that Ben’s life fell quite neatly into the five-part division seen in the Table of Contents. But filling in the details within each of these five parts proved much more complicated and daunting.
Over the 20 years that I have been working at this task, I have been assisted by dozens and dozens of people, who freely offered information, counsel, advice and other forms of assistance. Many of their names are found in the text, footnotes and bibliography, and I offer all of them my heartfelt thanks.
Special acknowledgement must be given to members of the extended Horch, Hiebert, Falk, and Kroeker families throughout Canada and the United States for sharing freely and generously of their knowledge and experience of Ben and Esther.
I also offer a special word of thanks to the following archivists and librarians for their assistance and diligence in locating and accessing douments and journals: Ken Reddig, Conrad Stoesz and Abe Dueck (Centre for M.B. Studies, Winnipeg); Alf Redekopp and Lawrence Klippenstein (Mennonite Heritage Centre), Christ Kotecki (Manitoba Public Archives), Shelley Sweeney (University of Manitoba Archives), John Tooth (Manitoba Department of Education Archives), Wendy Winslow (Librarian, St. John’s Technical High School), Kevin Enns-Rempel and Larry Warkentin (Centre for M.B. Studies, Fresno).
A very special thank you to Doreen Klassen ( Corner Brook ) and Evelyn Braun ( Winnipeg ) for their careful reading of the manuscript over the past five months, for their constructive criticism and support. Thank you also to John and Bertha Klassen, Helen Litz, Harold Redekopp, Al Reimer and George Wiebe for reading and commenting on portions of the book.
Finally, I owe a great debt of gratitude to my sons Joel and Jonathan Letkemann for their technical computer support and their expertise in the design and layout of The Ben Horch Story .
22 October 2007