Barg, Benjamin “Benno” Gerhard (1933-2014)
Benjamin "Benno" Gerhard Barg: a teacher administrator, and a gentle Christian whose desire for justice and to help people made him an activist, taking him into situations like conflict zones in the Middle East.
The eldest of nine siblings, Benno was born on 8 October 1933 to Gerhard "George" Barg (21 April 1903-8 May 1969) and Helen Dyck Barg (15 January 1913-30 July 1996), immigrants from Russia to Canada in the 1920s who after marriage settled on a farm near Brooks, Alberta. Benno was baptized at the nearby Duchess Mennonite Church where he was a member until he moved to Ontario. His membership was transferred to First Mennonite Church in Kitchener (16 March 1958), then to Warden Park Mennonite Church in Toronto (1960-1994) and to Breslau Mennonite Church (1994-2014).
On 23 June 1956 Benno married Esther Jean Hallman (5 November 1934- ), daughter of Anson (21 September 1887-21 January 1983) and Esther Shantz Hallman (3 June 1891-19 December 1961). When Benno first arrived in Kitchener, he met Jean when her parents invited the hungry student for dinner at their home. Benno and Jean were parents of three daughters, Brenda (Shane) Forsythe, Susan (Alan Strong) Barg, Beth (Ken) Fast and two sons, Gerry (Cathy Cardozo) and Brian. Benno Barg died 30 April 2014 at Grand River Hospital after an eight-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease. His funeral service and burial took place on 4 May 2014 at Breslau Mennonite Church.
Early on, Benno knew farming would not be his life’s work. A hailstorm that destroyed Alberta crops opened the door for a return to Ontario where he had attended Ontario Mennonite Bible School for two winters after graduating from high school at Mennonite Collegiate Institute, Gretna, Manitoba (1952).
With no money for school, Benno worked in trucking and construction to earn enough to enroll at Stratford Normal School (teachers college). Both he and Jean graduated in 1956 and began teaching careers. After a move to Toronto, Benno taught with the Scarborough Board of Education (1959-1970) and rose to science department head. That career ended when John Hess, his former Kitchener pastor and then administrator at Warden Woods Community Centre, invited Benno to assist him.
Always unconventional and innovative, Benno Barg overcame his usual frugality and spent Warden Woods funds to purchase a computer in 1977, one of the first for non-profit agencies in the city. He spent 23 years at Warden Woods, first as building supervisor (1971), assistant administrator (1973-1979) then as executive director until he resigned in May 1994 and moved back to Kitchener.
He didn’t retire! Benno worked for his son, Gerry, at Barg Management (1994-2006) in numerous support and administrative roles including managing all the company’s technology. "He paid employees according to need," said son Gerry. "My dad had the lowest pay."
Benno’s strong urge to advocate for people suffering violence and injustice led him to engage with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), first at a consultation with Innu people in Ottawa in February 1990, then with other First Nations people in southern Ontario in 1997 and 1998. After a training session in Kitchener, Ontario in May 1998, Benno became a CPT reservist. He served in First Nations communities in Ontario, in Labrador, and conflict zones in Nicaragua and the Middle East including several tours in Hebron. The inhumane and unjust treatment of Palestinians that he witnessed affected him deeply. Benno brought great passion to his work with CPT, expressing self-sacrificial love for all, as Jesus did, inspiring similar concern in others. He received credit for creating CPT’s mission statement: "Building partnerships to transform violence and oppression."
Violence of any kind, including war, was foreign to Benno's values and faith. He joined Conscience Canada, an organization founded by Friends (Quakers) in 1978 in Victoria, British Columbia. Conscience Canada provided a "Peace Tax Return" for use by people who conscientiously objected to having their taxes used for military purposes to register their objection. Benno was elected to the board of Conscience Canada (2008) and within the year became the organization's treasurer. He held that position until he resigned on 31 March 2012. He frequently encouraged members of his congregation to withhold the 8.4 percent of their income taxes destined for military activity.
Over the years Benno served his church and community on other boards and committees. A representative list includes Rockway Mennonite School, Mennonite Board of Education, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada Property Committee, and various boards related to Warden Woods Church and Community Centre in Toronto.
Benno was a man of strength, compassion and faith. "He did a lot of unique things," said Gerry. "He always put others first [and] taught me to see the good in people."
Barg, Else, Benno’s siser. Personal email (24 October 2016).
Barg, Gerry, Benno’s son. Personal emails (24 September and 23 October 2016).
Burkholder, Mary, Duchess (Alberta) Mennonite Church historian. Personal email (11 November 2016).
Groh, Mary, Conscience Canada president (2010-2017). Personal email (18 November 2016).
Hill, Valerie. “Peacemaker lived a life of service to others.” Waterloo Region Record (9 June 2014).
Hincks, Craig W. Living Words: A History of Warden Woods Church and Community Centre 1937-1994. Toronto: Warden Woods Church and Community Centre, 1995.
Pritchard, Doug. Christian Peacemaker Teams former Canada Coordinator in a 25 June 2006 50th wedding anniversary tribute.
|Date Published||February 2017|
Cite This Article
Burkhardt, Ferne. "Barg, Benjamin “Benno” Gerhard (1933-2014)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. February 2017. Web. 20 Jan 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Barg,_Benjamin_%E2%80%9CBenno%E2%80%9D_Gerhard_(1933-2014)&oldid=147221.
Burkhardt, Ferne. (February 2017). Barg, Benjamin “Benno” Gerhard (1933-2014). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 January 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Barg,_Benjamin_%E2%80%9CBenno%E2%80%9D_Gerhard_(1933-2014)&oldid=147221.
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