Toews, Johann Heinrich (1841-1915)

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Johann Heinrich Toews: mill owner and public benefactor; born on 24 December 1841 in Einlage, Cortitza Mennonite settlement, South Russia, to Heinrich and Margaretha (Loewen) Toews, the eldest of five children. On 23 July 1863, Johann married Susanna Neufeld. The couple had eight children, one of whom died in childhood. Johann died of a heart attack on 12 August 1915 in St. Petersburg.

Johann Heinrich Toews received his elementary school education in Einlage, where he grew up in a farming family. His father owned first a windmill and then a treadmill. In 1857, the family moved to Ekaterinoslav, where Johann’s father once again built a treadmill and then a steam-powered mill. Johann received his secondary education in Chortitza and was likely baptized in the Chortitza Mennonite Church.

In 1868, five years after his marriage to Susanna Neufeld, Johann Heinrich Toews and his brother Jakob constructed a large steam-powered flour mill in Ekaterinoslav. Johann became the sole owner when Jakob and his brother-in-law built their own mill in 1880. The early years at the mill required a lot of hard work, much of which Johann had to do himself with help from his family. Eventually, his son Heinrich took over the holdings after running the business for some time. Johann closed down the mill when the Pogrom of 1905 made obtaining loans difficult, selling the machinery and renting out the empty granaries as living quarters.

Throughout his life, Johann Heinrich Toews was involved with the church. While officially a member of the Chortitza Mennonite Church, he actively participated in the local Mennonite church. He frequently gave to the poor, and the Toews home became popular for youth activities. He also helped sponsor education for a student who later became a teacher and elder in the community.

Johann Heinrich Toews had an elaborate three-storey residence constructed in Ekaterinoslav, where he lived with his family. The Toews residence was on the second floor, as well as apartments for students who came to study in the city. The main floor included some shops. Johann likely owned other property as well, adding to his holdings over the years.

The Toews apartment was decorated with many expensive furnishings, including silk-covered furniture and floor-to-ceiling mirrors on the walls. Johann and Susanna frequently held large parties and gatherings there, and they were known for their skills at entertaining. Johann Heinrich Toews was known as a quiet man who frequently went for walks through the city, sometimes accompanied by his grandchildren. 

In 1911, Susanna had surgery in Berlin for cancer of the cheek, and for a short time it appeared that she had recovered. Despite receiving further treatment, she died on 7 October 1912. The funeral was held on 11 October in Ekaterinoslav, and the coffin was placed in the Toews family burial vault.

Together with his daughter Margaretha, Johann Heinrich Toews went to Germany on a vacation in 1914. When World War I broke out, the borders were closed; Johann and Margaretha had to stay in Germany, unable to communicate with the family. Eventually, they made arrangements to travel through Sweden and Finland, finally arriving in St. Petersburg. There they ran out of money but were able to borrow enough to get home. During the night of 12 August 1915, however, Johann died of a heart attack. His body was transported home and placed in the family burial vault.

Johann Heinrich Toews was a dedicated and versatile businessman as well as a generous and well-loved man. He contributed to the welfare of his family and community through his many projects, leaving an example for others to follow.


Der Botschafter (9 October 1912): 1.

Friesen, Rudy P. with Edith Elisabeth Friesen. Building on the Past. Winnipeg, Canada: Raduga Publications, 2004: 694-696.

Huebert, Helmut T. Mennonites in the Cities of Imperial Russia, 2 vols. Winnipeg: Springfield Publishers, 2006-2008: v. II, 176-179.

Toews family information, reports, pictures, diaries, research from Werner Toews, Winnipeg Manitoba.

Author(s) Helmut T. Huebert
Susan Huebert
Date Published April 2009

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Huebert, Helmut T. and Susan Huebert. "Toews, Johann Heinrich (1841-1915)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. April 2009. Web. 27 May 2020.,_Johann_Heinrich_(1841-1915)&oldid=120797.

APA style

Huebert, Helmut T. and Susan Huebert. (April 2009). Toews, Johann Heinrich (1841-1915). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 May 2020, from,_Johann_Heinrich_(1841-1915)&oldid=120797.

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