Unrau, John M. (1916-1961)

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John M. Unrau (1916-1961)

John Martin Unrau: geneticist; born 24 January 1916 to Martin Kornelius Unrau (4 January 1886, Alexandertal, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement, South Russia - 9 April 1965, Abbotsford, British Columbia) and Anna (Wiens) Unrau (29 April 1889, Sparrau, Molotschna, South Russia - 8 February 1968, Abbotsford, British Columbia) in Karaguy, Orenburg Mennonite Settlement, Russia. John married Mary Klassen (b. 1918 in Osterwick, Chortitza Mennonite Settlement, Russia) on 3 August 1940 in Mayfair, Saskatchewan. Mary was the daughter of Peter I. Klassen (1892-1992) and Maria (Toews) Klassen (1895-1977). Mary had studied art at the University of Saskatchewan. They had four children: John, Paul, Mary, and Philip. John died on 1 March 1961 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where he was buried.

John immigrated to Saskatchwan with his family in 1926. He attended elementary school in the Mayfair School District, completed high school by correspondence while working on the family farm, and then obtained a BS in Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan between 1938 and 1942. His MSc at the University of Saskatchewan (1945) focused on sunflower breeding and his PhD at Washington State College (1949) continued that work, along with the analysis of the wheat genome. His work at the Forage Crops Laboratory, Saskatoon, led to the development of a named sunflower hybrid, "Advance," and while on sabbatical at Cambridge 1957-58 a rust-resistant soft white spring wheat, licensed as "Kenhi."

John Unrau joined the Department of Plant Science, University of Alberta, in 1949, becoming department head in 1951. He was instrumental in establishing the Genetics Society of Canada in 1958, serving on its executive in various capacities. He was appointed to the National Research Council in 1959 and was able to get Council support in 1959 in establishing the Canadian Journal of Genetics and Cytology (now Genome). At the time of his unexpected death he had agreed to head a new institute of genetics as a professor of molecular biology at McMaster University.

At the University of Alberta, John Unrau encountered Mennonite university students, many of them from rural areas. He invited them to his home where he and Mary entertained them and held Bible studies in which students were allowed to ask wide-ranging questions, sometimes for the first time in their lives. These evenings led to the formation of a mission church in 1950 which was organized as First Mennonite Church, Edmonton, in 1959. Unrau continued to serve as spiritual guide and provided administrative support to the young congregation until his death.


GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 6.06 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2011: #219125.

Johnson, L. P. V. "John Unrau: 1916-1961." Canadian Journal of Genetics and Cytology 3 (1961): 92-95.

Klassen, Irene. Their Mark, Their Legacy. Calgary, AB: Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta, 2006.

Unrau, John. The Balancings of the Clouds: Paintings of Mary Klassen. Winnipeg, MB: Windflower Communications, 1991.

Unrau, John P. and Paul Unrau. “John Martin Unrau (1916-1961).” Genome 51. 9 (September 2008). Web. 19 May 2011. http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/g08-909.

Author(s) Wesley Berg
Date Published January 2011

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MLA style

Berg, Wesley. "Unrau, John M. (1916-1961)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2011. Web. 22 Mar 2019. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Unrau,_John_M._(1916-1961)&oldid=134951.

APA style

Berg, Wesley. (January 2011). Unrau, John M. (1916-1961). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 March 2019, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Unrau,_John_M._(1916-1961)&oldid=134951.

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