October 9, 1931 - April 14, 2020
Benno A. Klassen was born October 9th, 1931, on the family farm, three miles north and half a mile west of Laird to Abraham and Helena (Bergen) Klassen, the third youngest of twelve children. Early years on the farm were marked with chores, caring for the horses, and catching gophers in the spring.
When the work was done there was time to play. Whether making sling shots or whistles from Willow branches or flooding the ice for winter skating, Benno was always busy and creative. He often played with younger siblings John and Margaret. Benno and John were the farmers and Margaret was relegated to farmhand or livestock. On one occasion the ‘sheep’ was weighed but found too light for market weight, much to Margaret’s great relief.
Benno attended the Hamburg school where he completed grade 9. He was a voracious reader, reading through the entire school library more than once.
On May 29th, 1949, he was baptized upon his confession of faith in the Tiefengrund Mennonite Church. In the years that followed he served the congregation in many capacities, including Sunday school teacher, council chairperson, and Deacon.
In 1952 Benno attended Rosthern Bible School. There he met Frances Nellie Sawatzky from Saskatoon. They were married October 30th, 1954 and began life on the family farm in the two-room summer kitchen. There was no shortage of work for the young couple and children soon arrived. Reg in 1955, Laurel in 1957, Debbie in 1959, and Doug in 1960. Benno didn’t mind the hardships of those early years and later remarked that they were the best years of his marriage to Frances because he loved how they had to pull together to make things work.
In 1965 the young family moved across the road and the farming operation grew. In the following years the hog barn expanded, the house was renovated, and more children joined the family: Darren in 1966 and Kimberly in 1967. The farm was a busy place but there was plenty of time to welcome family and friends. The ‘Klassen Family Farm’ sign, complete with a St. Bernard dog, and Yorkshire and Belted Berkshire hogs, let you know you were at the right place.
Early in his life, Benno sensed God’s call to ministry and Tiefengrund provided him the opportunity to hone many of his ministerial skills. Benno’s formal ministry began in 1979 when the Zoar Mennonite Church in Waldheim called him to an interim pastoral position. This first year of pastoral ministry was very affirming and provided him the time to transition from farming to a new and fulfilling chapter in his life. In 1980 Benno was ordained as a Minister by the Saskatchewan Mennonite Conference. His ordination service was deeply meaningful for him. It was a public affirmation of the skills and abilities he felt God had given him years earlier.
In addition to Zoar Mennonite Church, he also pastored at Eigenheim Mennonite Church and Laird Mennonite Church. Benno often joked that he received his theological training from his 33 years in the hog barn. In addition to this practical training, Benno enjoyed short courses that were taught at Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnipeg and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.
Church and community were important to Benno. In addition to his church involvement, he sang in many choirs, sat on numerous boards and committees, and coached minor hockey. Later in life he became an avid golfer and joined a curling team.
Benno was a practical man who made decisions quickly and got things done. As a farmer you would never have described him as having patience, yet as a Pastor he had the patience of Job for people who felt on the margins of church life and in matters of faith.
After Frances died in 2010, Benno married Joan Schapansky the following year, but plans for life together were soon disrupted by health concerns. Benno was diagnosed with dementia and moved to the Rosthern Nursing Home in 2016 before his death four years later.
Benno is survived by his children, Reg (Karyn) Klassen; Laurel (Sandra) Klassen; Debbie (Chuck) Scroggs; Doug (Sherry) Klassen; Darren (Monika) Pries-Klassen; Kimberly (Randy) Sawatzky; stepdaughter Darci Schapansky (Dave Jeffery); numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife, Frances Klassen (2010); and his second wife, Joan Schapansky (2019).
Benno was loved and appreciated by many people. His impact was felt far and wide. His life was long and full. The most fitting end to his story is a line from his favourite hymn:
“Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”
A Memorial Service was held on Saturday, October 9, 2021 at 2:00pm at the Rosthern Mennonite Church. Interment of ashes took place at Rosthern Cemetery.