Harder, Bertha Fast (1914-2008)

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Leland and Bertha Harder, 1962. Family photo

Bertha Fast Harder was born 26 July 1914 in Mountain Lake, Minnesota, USA, to Herman B. Fast (19 May 1887-19 December 1938) and Anna Warkentin Fast (19 November 1886-11 October 1980). Bertha was the second daughter in a family of four daughters and one son. Bertha graduated from Mankato (Minnesota) State Teachers' College in 1937. From 1937 to 1944 she taught First Grade in Minnesota public schools and helped on the family farm. At the end of World War II she worked with Yugoslav and Jewish refugees in Egypt and Italy through Mennonite Central Committee and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. She graduated from Bethel College (BA, 1949), and from Mennonite Biblical Seminary (MRE, 1951). On 8 August 1951 she married Leland Harder. They had two sons.

Bertha was a pioneer leader among Mennonite women. Following her relief work, she became the first General Conference Mennonite Voluntary Service worker, taking her slides and stories to church communities across the USA and Canada. Immediately afterward she was asked to become the first director of General Conference Mennonite Voluntary Service. She was the first woman to be elected to a major Mennonite denominational board: the General Conference Mennonite Commission on Education. From 1952-57 she was a pastor’s wife and a partner with her husband through leadership in Sunday School, summer Bible school and several women's groups at First Mennonite Church on Chicago’s south side, a General Conference Mennonite Church mission church. For 25 years, 1958-1983, Bertha taught Christian education classes and coordinated student wives’ activities at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana. She became well known for her church speaking and story-telling. In retirement she served as a docent at Kauffman Museum (North Newton), director of Low German programs at Bethel College’s Fall Festival, and as a popular 5th and 6th grade Sunday School teacher.

At home Bertha raised her two sons. She loved to garden and cook and bake, especially traditional Mennonite baking and dishes, and be a hostess to guests. She provided entries in a Mennonite cookbook, and a chapter telling her story in the book, She Has Done a Good Thing. She reveled in the accomplishments of her five granddaughters. In 2008 Bertha contracted a form of leukemia and died on 23 August 2008. Bertha and Leland Harder are buried in the Gnadenau Mennonite Cemetery south of Hillsboro, Kansas.


“Bertha Fast.” GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 18-03 ed. https://www.grandmaonline.org/GW-ASP-4/GWIndividual-new.asp: #20140.

Harder, Bertha Fast, "Go and teach Christian education" in She Has Done a Good Thing: Mennonite Women Leaders Tell Their Stories, ed. Mary Swartley and Rhoda Keener. Scottdale, Pa. and Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press, 1999: 144-152.

Klassen, Mary E. “Christian education leader dies: Harder was the first female faculty member at AMBS.” Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries. Reproduced in Biograph. 20 August 2018. https://mla.bethelks.edu/mediawiki/index.php/Harder,_Bertha_Fast_(1914-2008).

Author(s) John D. Harder
James C. Juhnke
Date Published August 2018

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MLA style

Harder, John D. and James C. Juhnke. "Harder, Bertha Fast (1914-2008)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. August 2018. Web. 2 Aug 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Harder,_Bertha_Fast_(1914-2008)&oldid=161440.

APA style

Harder, John D. and James C. Juhnke. (August 2018). Harder, Bertha Fast (1914-2008). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 August 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Harder,_Bertha_Fast_(1914-2008)&oldid=161440.

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