Epp, Edgar Willis (1931-1991)

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Edgar Epp (left) with ministers Henry Funk and Irvin V. Schmidt looking at the gallows in the Prince Albert Correctional Centre for Men, 1966.
Source: Mennonite Archives of Ontario (1994-14:1117).

Edgar Willis Epp: civil servant, administrator, and educator; born on 20 March 1931 in Laird, Saskatchewan, the second of four children of Bertha (Friesen) Epp (29 July 1902, Laird, Saskatchewan, Canada - 17 February 1959, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) and Gerhard P. Epp (26 November 1888, Alexanderthal, Fürstenland, South Russia - 19 July 1978, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada); his father had three children from a previous marriage.

Edgar was raised in Laird and after graduation from high school attended the Canadian Mennonite Bible College, where he earned his Bachelor of Christian Education in 1952; there, too, he met Leola Jantz of Drake, Saskatchewan. They married on 21 August 1952. A year later the two were serving as house-parents at Rosthern Junior College, where he was Dean of Students and music instructor from 1953 to 1955, and again in 1956-58, following a year of study at Bethel College to complete his BA. By 1959, he had earned a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, and moved to Regina Saskatchewan, where he worked as a probation officer and child welfare worker. From 1961 to 1965, apart from a short leave to earn his Master of Social Work degree (1964) from the University of Manitoba, he was Executive Secretary of the John Howard Society in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

In April 1965 he began work as Superintendent of the Prince Albert Correctional Centre for Men, where he not only refused to cooperate with the local sheriff’s office on matters pertaining to the death penalty but also had the gallows removed, a decade before capital punishment was officially abolished in Canada. In 1967, he became Warden of the Haney Correctional Centre, Maple Ridge, British Columbia, and courted similar controversy by placing firearms in storage and refusing to order ammunition. The story of his quelling a subsequent riot through negotiation rather than force has been recounted by Cornelia Lehn in Peace Be with You (1980). 

In January 1971 (now father of six, and a grandfather), Epp became Coordinator of Community Programs for the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services in Toronto; in September 1972, he became Administrator of Adult Institutions for Ontario’s newly-created Northern Region. Then, in July 1973, he became Deputy Minister of Corrections for British Columbia (BC), having served as special adviser to a BC Commission Inquiry into Criminal Justice. He left BC and the civil service after a proposed appointment as Special Policy Adviser to the Provincial Cabinet fell through, the government having lost the December 1975 election. He and his wife moved to an acreage near Saskatoon where they would later raise sheep and goats. In the meantime a two-year position was created for him as bi-national consultant on victim–offender ministries for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC); he continued to serve MCC Canada in that capacity until August 1981, when he became Executive Director for MCC Saskatchewan.

By then Epp had also begun teaching occasional courses in criminology and sociology for the University of Saskatchewan, in various locales. He also ran unsuccessfully as an New Democratic Party candidate for the Rosthern constituency in the 1985 provincial election. After leaving MCC in August 1986, Epp began teaching more frequently, for a variety of institutions, including the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College. In July 1988 he became Dean of their Saskatoon Campus and Head of their School of Social Work. He worked there until his death from cancer on 10 October 1991.

While his varied career included work as lay pastor and choir director, social worker and jail warden, farmer and teacher, Deputy Minister and Dean, Edgar is widely remembered for his passionate but good-humoured commitment to social and criminal justice. In 1971, as a member of the General Conference Mennonite Church Commission on Ministries, Epp helped draft The Way of Peace, which – like his tombstone in the Laird cemetery – quotes Micah 6:8: “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”


Epp, Edgar. Law Breaking & Peace Making. The Sunderland P. Gardner Lecture, August 19, 1982. [Argenta BC:] Argenta Press, 1982.

Epp, Gilbert. Unpublished autobiography, Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia Archives, Abbotsford, BC.

GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 6.02 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2010: #212970.

Lehn, Cornelia. “We Trust You: Edgar Epp 1969.” In Peace Be with You. Newton KS: Faith and Life Press, 1980: 112-114.

Author(s) Garrett Epp
Date Published March 2010

Cite This Article

MLA style

Epp, Garrett. "Epp, Edgar Willis (1931-1991)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. March 2010. Web. 9 Aug 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Epp,_Edgar_Willis_(1931-1991)&oldid=101347.

APA style

Epp, Garrett. (March 2010). Epp, Edgar Willis (1931-1991). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 9 August 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Epp,_Edgar_Willis_(1931-1991)&oldid=101347.

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