Harder, Mary Tiessen (1913-2006)

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John and Mary Harder, early 1980s.
Family photo provided by Edith van Dongen

Mary Tiessen: teacher, businesswoman, lay leader; was born 8 November 1913 in the Mennonite settlement of Schönfeld, South Russia to Peter Jacob Tiessen (25 January 1863-2 October 1943) and Elizabeth Fast Tiessen (15 June 1879-20 August 1939) on the family’s 700-acre estate. Mary was the 11th of 14 children born to Peter Tiessen; five of her siblings died young. Six of the children were born to Peter and his first wife Anna Enns Tiessen, and eight to Peter and Elizabeth. Mary married John Norman Harder (4 February 1910-21 December 1985) on 29 July 1950. With her marriage, she became step-mother to John’s three daughters (Edith, Arlene, Aldora); she and John had two sons (John and Peter). Mary Harder died on 25 July 2006 and was buried in the community cemetery in Vineland, Ontario, Canada.

Mary Harder described her early childhood as idyllic. This changed with the advent of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The arrival of food aid from Mennonite Central Committee in 1922 assisted theirs and many other families near starvation. This left a lasting impression on young Mary.

The Tiessen family immigrated to Canada in 1924, began farming in Essex County, Ontario, and were active in the Leamington United Mennonite Church. Mary left school at 16 to help support the family, though she carried poetry books in her pockets while doing factory work. After her mother’s death in 1939 Mary returned to school, attending Mennonite Collegiate Institute in Gretna, Manitoba followed by the Toronto Normal School. While teaching in the spring of 1950, she received a letter from a widower and shop-keeper named John Harder in Arnaud, Manitoba inviting her to correspond. They were married shortly thereafter and settled in Arnaud. In 1953 they moved to Vineland, Ontario where they established “Harder’s Dry Goods.” Mary was an active partner in the business.

During this time, Mary Harder began to assume leadership roles in the church community. She became a correspondent for Der Bote and later served on the board. She was active in Women in Mission, serving in leadership roles in her congregation (Vineland United Mennonite Church), Ontario, Canada and North America during the 1960s and 1970s. She attended and was a frequent speaker at gatherings in North America, Europe and South America. In the early 1960s, she and John began selling SelfHelp Crafts merchandise out of their home. A visit to Zaire to meet with churchwomen in 1971 strengthened her compassion for those in need. A year later, when she and John sold their store, she became the founding president of the Christian Benefit Shops in St. Catharines which, in addition to providing low-cost merchandise to the poorer areas of town, raised tens of thousands of dollars for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). It was the first MCC thrift store in Ontario.

Reflecting in 1990 on her motivation to serve, Mary told the Mennonite Reporter, “We were kept alive by the kitchens set up by MCC. I am grateful I can now do something to help others.”


“Personal profile: Ontario thrift shop pioneer leave legacy of service.” Mennonite Reporter (24 December 1990): 22.

Marr, Lucille. The Transforming Power of a Century : Mennonite Central Committee and its Evolution in Ontario. Kitchener, Ont: Pandora Press, 2003.

Harder, V. Peter. “Our Mother’s Journey: Mary Harder.” July 2006. [unpublished; copy of this funeral eulogy located at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario]

Author(s) V. Peter Harder
Laureen Harder-Gissing
Date Published March 2020

Cite This Article

MLA style

Harder, V. Peter and Laureen Harder-Gissing. "Harder, Mary Tiessen (1913-2006)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. March 2020. Web. 12 Apr 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Harder,_Mary_Tiessen_(1913-2006)&oldid=166839.

APA style

Harder, V. Peter and Laureen Harder-Gissing. (March 2020). Harder, Mary Tiessen (1913-2006). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 12 April 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Harder,_Mary_Tiessen_(1913-2006)&oldid=166839.

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