Alumni Profiles Articles

Getting to Know CMU’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

On Saturday, September 24, CMU President Cheryl Pauls will present the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards to Peter Guenther, Adrienne Wiebe, Ron Toews, and Brad Leitch.

The Distinguished Alumni Awards celebrate alumni who, through their lives, embody CMU’s values and mission of service, leadership, and reconciliation in church and society. The awards are presented to alumni from CMU and its predecessor colleges: Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC) and Mennonite Brethren Bible College (MBBC)/Concord College.

We spoke with this year’s award recipients.

PGPeter Guenther (CMBC ’69)

Working at a prison is an unconventional summer job for a student, but that’s what Peter Guenther did while studying at CMBC.

At the age of 19, Guenther worked at the Provincial Correction Centre in Prince Albert, SK.

“While it was pretty dull and boring standing at various points and being a corrections officer, I saw the harshness of prison and the opportunity to make a difference,” he says.

One older gentleman who worked as a shift supervisor had a big influence on Guenther.

“He’d come talk to me about what was happening, reflect with me on how things could be better, and encouraged me to think of corrections as a career.”

That summer had a profound impact on the direction Guenther’s life has taken. In the years since, his professional career has focused on providing safe, healing, and supportive spaces for offenders.

He has worked as a senior bureaucrat and head of numerous correctional institutions, both provincial and federal.

Guenther possesses a deep commitment to social justice that dates back to his time in high school. His interest in helping the less fortunate was developed at CMBC, where he earned his Bachelor of Theology.

“What struck me and shaped me while studying both the Old and New Testaments was the biblical imperative to help and work with marginalized people,” Guenther says.

After CMBC, Guenther completed a bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of Saskatchewan and a Master of Criminology at the University of Ottawa.

He worked for 39 years in corrections, serving as the head of numerous correctional institutions including director of the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, warden of the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, and executive director of the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon.

Guenther says it was the opportunities to lead and make a difference that he most enjoyed about his career.

He became known as a compassionate, principled, and respected leader who worked to reduce harm, violence, and recidivism.

Highlights from his career include increasing programming for women, and access to mental and spiritual support services for inmates and released offenders.

“It was exciting for me to see offenders complete those programs and move through the system, and eventually be released as law-abiding and productive citizens,” Guenther says. “The whole process of not simply warehousing offenders but treating them was most exciting.”

Guenther’s interest in restorative justice has led to volunteer work that includes service on the board of Saskatoon Community Mediation and the advisory committee for Circles of Support and Accountability, an organization with groups across the country that support men and women who have committed serious sexual offences.

Guenther and his wife, Marilyn, live in Saskatoon, where they attend Nutana Park Mennonite Church.

He is both excited and humbled to be receiving a CMU Distinguished Alumni Award.

“It’s very gratifying to be recognized, especially in this career,” he says. “It’s not the typical Mennonite career, but I’m very pleased and proud of the impact that I’ve had with both staff and offenders.”

AdrienneWiebeAdrienne Wiebe (MBBC 1976-78)

When Adrienne Wiebe recalls her time at MBBC, learning to think critically – and rooting that critical thinking in faith – sticks out.

“I learned that God wants shalom for the world, and that we as Christians are part of participating and building towards that,” Wiebe says. “That set the groundwork for how I approach life.”

Wiebe, who holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Alberta, has sought to participate in building toward shalom via a career in international development.

Following college, Wiebe travelled in South America for nine months. After falling in love with Latin America, she returned to her native Edmonton to do a Master’s degree in Geography. A year of fieldwork in Ecuador followed.

After returning to Edmonton, Wiebe worked for several years with Central American refugees at the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. In the meantime, she married Arturo Avila, a Chilean political refugee living in Edmonton, and they had two children.

From 1992 to 1996, their family lived in a Mayan village in the highlands of Guatemala, where Wiebe and Avila did community development work with a small Canadian NGO.

Wiebe’s experience in Guatemala stands out as a career highlight.

“It was really mind-opening,” she says, adding that initially, she went to Guatemala with the idea that she was going to help the people there. She soon realized that the community had been there for hundreds of years, and she was “just a blip” in its history. “Then I got really curious about the history of the community and the nature of the community, so out of that grew the PhD research I eventually did.”

Wiebe did her PhD from 1997 to 2002, with many research trips back to Guatemala, and worked part-time in a hospital as the multicultural services coordinator. This was followed by seven years spent working full-time in research and program development with Indigenous communities for Alberta Health Services.

From 2010 to 2013, Wiebe and Avila served with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Mexico, where Wiebe worked as a policy analyst and educator for Latin America.

Upon returning to Canada, Wiebe spent two-and-a-half years working as a provincial thrift shop coordinator for MCC Alberta.

This past March, Wiebe took on a one-year assignment in Ottawa with Oxfam Canada. At Oxfam, Wiebe works on evaluation and learning related to the organization’s global programs and campaigns on ending violence against women and girls around the world.

“I like the interaction between being an activist in some sense, and working with people and communities to understand what’s going on and how we can make things better, and then learning from that – reflecting on that experience, increasing our knowledge and awareness… taking that new knowledge and putting it into practice again,” she says. “I enjoy that research-action-reflection cycle.”

Wiebe says she feels honoured and humbled to be receiving a CMU Distinguished Alumni Award, adding that she sees her upcoming visit to Winnipeg as a great opportunity to reconnect with her alma mater.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going on at CMU today.”

Ron Toews 01Ron Toews (MBBC ’84)

In the Saskatchewan farming community in which Ron Toews grew up, a godly farmer tapped him on the shoulder and said, “I believe God is calling you to leave the farm and study to become a pastor.” Hearing and responding to God, even when it feels risky, has defined Toews’s journey.

“That shoulder-tapping impulse is something that I’ve carried on,” says Toews, who currently lives in BC’s Fraser Valley, where he works as Director of Leadership Development for the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.

Toews oversees Leaders2Learners (L2L), which connects leaders across Canada to learn together, share and pray together, and exchange resources that they have found helpful in their ministry settings.

Toews’s main focus is to serve pastors and churches by making tools available to leaders that are based upon their needs and ministry contexts.

“Through coaching we help leaders become attentive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings so that their lives can have maximum ministry impact,” he says.

For Toews, who holds an MDiv from the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, CA and a DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, his role with L2L is the latest in a life spent serving the church.

From 1987 to 2002, Toews and his wife, Dianne, pastored two churches: Kitchener Mennonite Brethren Church in Kitchener, ON, and Dalhousie Community Church in Calgary, AB.

When Toews was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2000, he began to look closely at his life and calling. He realized one of the things he valued deeply was helping young people in their journeys to become pastors.

In 2002, he accepted a faculty position at the MBBS-ACTS seminary in Langley, BC where he spent five years as Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies.

He eventually ended up in the corner office at ACTS as interim principal, a role he accepted after going away to Africa for a month with Dianne to think and pray about the decision.

They returned to Canada to the news that their 24-year-old son, Nathan, had been killed in a car accident. The experience, Toews later told the MB Herald, “made cancer look like a cakewalk.”

Toews left ACTS after 21 months, and eventually accepted a leadership development role with the BC Mennonite Brethren conference, where he served from 2009 to September 2012.

Toews began working in the current role he’s in shortly thereafter. He enjoys the job.

“No two days are ever the same,” he says. “Helping leaders and churches be on mission with Jesus is a privilege.”

In spite of personal challenges, Toews has remained steadfast in his faith, trusting in God and serving others so that he might “make a kingdom difference.”

He views receiving a CMU Distinguished Alumni Award as a tribute to the faithful farmer who tapped him on the shoulder, and many others who have invested in him and contributed to who he is today.

“Dianne and I give thanks to God for his faithfulness over a life that has taken some twists and turns,” he says. “We give God thanks for his ongoing journey with us.”

BLBrad Leitch (CMU ’13)

At 30, Brad Leitch (nee Langendoen) is carving out an impressive career as an award-winning filmmaker, peacebuilder, and playback theatre actor who approaches difficult topics with empathy, compassion, deep listening, and boundless energy.

“I firmly believe there’s so much overlap between peacebuilding and documentary filmmaking,” Leitch says, adding that both require empathy, curiosity, flexibility, and adaptability.

Leitch is the executive producer and founder of Rebel Sky Media, a film and video production company in Winnipeg, MB. His directorial work has explored topics of peace and justice in Canada, Iraqi-Kurdistan, Israel, Palestine, and the United Kingdom.

Some of his work is currently featured in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, and in a permanent exhibit at the Pier 21 Museum of Immigration in Halifax, NS.

“The majority of the projects I work on these days have led to a more explicit merge of peacebuilding and filmmaking, through the topics explored and through the lives of individuals who are modeling what peace and reconciliation may look like,” Leitch says. “The film itself then becomes a kind of tool and resource that can spur the audience’s own imagination for creating peace. This is exciting to me.”

Leitch’s interest in theatre and film was sparked growing up in Fenwick, ON, a community located 30 km. west of Niagara Falls.

He studied filmmaking for two years at the Center for Creative Media, a Christian film school in Texas.

Leitch, who comes from a Christian Reformed background, was appalled by the support for the war in Iraq that he witnessed when talking to Christians in Texas.

He developed an interest in peacemaking that led him to Christian Peacemaker Teams. He was part of a two-week delegation to Palestine in 2008.

While studying Peace and Conflict Transformation at CMU, Leitch joined Winnipeg’s Red Threads for Peace Playback Troupe.

He is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary about playback theatre: participatory, improvisational theatre where audience members share a story from their life and an acting troupe immediately plays back that story using a variety of improv theatre forms.

In the field of peacebuilding, playback theatre is being used as a conflict transformation tool in education, mediation, psychotherapy, and trauma healing.

Leitch is also about to premiere Reserve 107: Reconciliation on the Prairies, a documentary that explores the goings-on in Laird, SK, where Mennonites and Lutherans have committed themselves to finding some justice for the Young Chippewayan First Nation whose land they have settled on.

“I’m very interested in seeing what peacebuilding looks like in a practical sense, and film is a great tool for showing that,” Leitch says.

“It’s something that can be easily missed: That these peacebuilding journeys are long journeys that people commit to and embark on, and they can sometimes be fragile,” he adds.

For Leitch, receiving a CMU Distinguished Alumni Award is both a surprise and an honour.

“It means a lot coming from a community I have so much appreciation and respect for,” Leitch says. “I am grateful.”

General News News Releases

Former CMBC professor David ‘Doc’ Schroeder, 91, dies

Respected theologian and churchman remembered as beloved teacher, mentor to many

His name was David Schroeder, but those who knew him affectionately and respectfully referred to him as ‘Doc.’

Schroeder, who worked as Professor of New Testament and Philosophy at Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC), one of Canadian Mennonite University’s (CMU) predecessor institutions, died peacefully in his home on Sunday, Sept. 27. He was 91 years old.

David "Doc" Schroeder with his wife
David “Doc” Schroeder with his wife Mildred

A theologian and churchman with a D.Th from the University of Hamburg, Schroeder taught at CMBC from 1959 until 1994.

Harry Huebner, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Theology, remembers Schroeder as a beloved teacher and inspiring mentor to many students.

Schroeder’s gifts extended to his colleagues and to the shaping of CMBC.

“He refused to give simple answers to difficult problems because he believed in the capacity of people to hear the voice of the spirit,” Huebner says. “His charisma was infectious and his influence cannot easily be overstated.”

That influence stretches far beyond CMU.

“Churches across the Mennonite world sought not only his Biblical knowledge, but his wisdom in bringing issues of the times into interaction with the Biblical narrative in ways that often resulted in that ‘a-ha’ moment,” Huebner says.

Schroeder was born in Altona, MB on Sept. 20, 1924. As a young man, he was a conscientious objector. He felt so strongly about the matter that, rather than allowing his bishop to speak for him before the judge, Schroeder went to Winnipeg to face the judge himself.

Schroeder earned a Bachelor of Theology at Mennonite Brethren Bible College (MBBC) and became an ordained minister. Polio struck, derailing his career as a minister but leading to the opportunity for Schroeder to further his studies.

He earned a BA from Bethel College (1951) and a Master of Divinity from Mennonite Biblical Seminary (1956) before moving on to the University of Hamburg, where he finished his D.Th in 1959.

Reflecting during a recent CMU event on his time spent studying under Schroeder in the 1970s, alumnus Larry Plenert remarked on how Schroeder inspired him to become a lawyer.

“He was someone who all of us students at CMBC looked up to and thought highly of,” Plenert says.

A student asked Schroeder if it was appropriate for Mennonites to be lawyers.

“Doc felt that the legal profession would benefit by lawyers that had integrity and had good, strong values, and although we came from this tradition of ‘Stillen im Lande’ (the quiet in the land), it was OK for a Mennonite student to become a lawyer,” says Plenert, who practiced law in Abbotsford, B.C. for 27 years. “That was tremendous encouragement for me.”

CMU President Cheryl Pauls notes that Schroeder leaves a legacy as a beloved teacher to many students.

“He was known for his gentle nature, student mentoring, and visionary, creative capacity to take complex questions forward in the classroom and the church,” Pauls says.

Gerald Gerbrandt, President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Bible at CMU, says that Schroeder was a gentle yet passionate teacher with a fertile imagination and an ability to connect with anyone.

“Dave had a special capacity to relate with integrity to a broad range of people, whether renowned Biblical scholar or devout layperson, whether non-Christian or conservative Mennonite,” Gerbrandt says. “In each case, he could develop a genuine relationship built on respect and trust.”

Doc Schroeder in 1961
Doc Schroeder in 1961

Upon Schroeder’s retirement from full-time teaching in 1989, CMBC held an academic symposium in his honour.

Speaking at the event, Rodney Sawatsky, a former student of Schroeder’s and president of Conrad Grebel College (Waterloo, ON) at the time, remarked that churches sought Schroeder out not because of what he said, but because of who he was as a person.

“He is heard because he does not so much negate or scold or imply his intellectual or spiritual superiority but rather he adds to, builds bridges, surprises, encourages, and assures,” Sawatsky said. “He breathes new life, new faith, new hope, and new love.”

“His master teacher is Jesus the Christ, the Word made flesh,” Sawatsky added.

“We honour Dave best when we too, as teachers of the church, look to Jesus as our master teacher, when our words too become flesh in and through us. Then and only then will we have been true students of Dave Schroeder. Then and only then will we be servants of the church as Dave has modelled so powerfully for us!”

Schroeder’s passion for peace and justice, the global church, and the Mennonite church were equalled by his passion for his family. He lived in a four-generational house for more than 50 years.

He is survived by the love of his life, Mildred (Bartel), who he was married to for 66 years. They had three children: Dorothy (Don) Sugimoto, Lynette (Ernie) Wiebe, and Alan (Ruth) Schroeder; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

About CMU
A Christian university in the Anabaptist tradition, CMU’s Shaftesbury campus offers undergraduate degrees in arts, business, humanities, music, sciences, and social sciences, as well as graduate degrees in theology, ministry, peacebuilding and collaborative development, and an MBA. CMU has over 800 full-time equivalent students, including those enrolled in degree programs at the Shaftesbury and Menno Simons College campuses and in its Outtatown certificate program. 

For information about CMU visit

For additional information, please contact:
Kevin Kilbrei, Director of Communications & Marketing; 204.487.3300 Ext. 621
Canadian Mennonite University
500 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB  R3P 2N2

General News News Releases

Former CMBC president Henry Poettcker, 90, dies

Colleagues remember gifted scholar, administrator who exemplified servant-leadership

Immigrant farm boy, hard and confident worker, team builder, family man, devout Christian—Henry Poettcker was all those things and more.

Poettcker, who served as president of Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC), one of Canadian Mennonite University’s (CMU) predecessor institutions, died on Sunday, May 24, following a stroke. He was 90 years old.

2015-06-04 - Henry Poettcker [01]
Henry Poettcker in his office at Canadian Mennonite Bible College in 1964.
A scholar with a PhD from Princeton, Poettcker joined the faculty of CMBC in 1954 and became its president five years later at the age of 34. He held that office for 19 years.

Waldemar Janzen, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and German, worked as CMBC’s dean during Poettcker’s presidency. He remembers Poettcker as a calm, steadfast person who steered a steady course for CMBC during the turbulent youth movements of the 1960s and 70s.

“He was a humble, unpretentious leader,” Janzen says.

Harry Huebner, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Theology, says Poettcker gave the faculty the freedom to help shape CMBC.

“Perhaps his greatest gift was to interpret the constituency to the faculty and the faculty to the constituency,” Huebner says. “A most sensitive skill.”

Poettcker was born in Rudnerweide, Russia on March 27, 1925. His family moved to St. Elizabeth, Manitoba when he was just a few months old, and then to a farm 25 km. west of Pincher Creek, AB when he was two.

While attending Menno Bible Institute in Didsbury, AB throughout the winter of 1942-43, Poettcker met Aganetha (Agnes) Baergen. After marrying in 1946 in Tofield, AB, they spent eight years in Alberta, Kansas, Illinois, and New Jersey while Poettcker furthered his education.

Henry Poettcker as a young man.
Henry Poettcker as a young man.

After CMBC, Poettcker moved to Elkhart, Indiana, where he served as President and Professor of New Testament beginning in 1978 at Mennonite Biblical Seminary, one of the two seminaries that constituted Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, now Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

He was named President Emeritus when he retired in 1990.

Jacob Elias, Professor Emeritus of New Testament who served as dean at AMBS most of the years that Poettcker was president, describes Poettcker as gracious, dedicated, pastoral, organized, warm, and humble.

“His style of leadership was to empower others in their ministries,” Elias says. “He had a keen awareness of the challenges and opportunities facing congregations in Canada and the United States, as well as internationally. He had a deep love for Christ and the church, and a heart for pastors and other church leaders.”

As the first Canadian president of MBS, Poettcker fostered a closer link between the seminaries and CMBC/CMU, says Walter Sawatsky.

Sawatsky, who now is Professor Emeritus of Church History and Mission, remembers Poettcker’s approach to leadership: “Henry’s leadership style modeled a collegial approach that conveyed his style from CMBC and his belief that faculty needed a sense of freedom and were assumed to be part of the seminary leadership.”

In addition to his contributions to CMBC and MBS, Poettcker served as president of the General Conference Mennonite Church (now Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA) from 1962 to 1968, wrote Sunday school curricula for adults in German and English, and frequently contributed to Mennonite periodicals.

Upon his retirement in 1990, Poettcker returned to Winnipeg. In 2005, CMU honoured his years of service by naming one of its buildings Poettcker Hall. Four years later, CMU Press published Poettcker’s book, A President’s Journey: The Memoirs of Henry Poettcker.

In his later years, Poettcker gave loving care to Agnes, who suffered a severe and debilitating stroke. She passed away in February 2014.

Poettcker also participated in the professor emeriti group that meets every Thursday morning at CMU for fellowship, professional discussion, and mutual support.

This past March, 10 of Poettcker’s CMBC colleagues gathered with him to celebrate his 90th birthday.

It was a festive hour spent reminiscing over coffee and cake, and honouring the significant role Poettcker played in their lives and careers, and in the history of CMU.

“Henry has been a much greater and more impressive leader than he makes himself out to be,” Waldemar Janzen wrote in the foreword to A President’s Journey.

“He was never an advancement seeker or self-promoter. He did not display his own gifts, but others recognized them and challenged him to prepare for and assume leadership. When that happened, Henry acted with surprise that he should be chosen, and then applied all his energies to the task in order to serve others and God. When I hear the term ‘servant-leader,’ my first thought is of Henry Poettcker.”

A line Poettcker wrote in the resignation letter he sent to CMBC board members in 1977 perhaps best exemplifies his humility and faithfulness in the face of his many contributions to the Mennonite Church:

“If I have been one link in helping along, I give thanks to God.”

Poettcker is survived by daughter Chrystyanna, sons Ron (Carol-Ann) and Martin (Erna), seven grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, and extended family.

About CMU
A Christian university in the Anabaptist tradition, CMU’s Shaftesbury campus offers undergraduate degrees in arts, business, humanities, music, sciences, and social sciences, as well as graduate degrees in theology, ministry, peacebuilding and collaborative development, and an MBA. CMU has over about 900 full-time equivalent students, including those enrolled in degree programs at the Shaftesbury and Menno Simons College campuses and in its Outtatown certificate program.

For information about CMU visit

For additional information, please contact:
Kevin Kilbrei, Director of Communications & Marketing; 204.487.3300 Ext. 621
Canadian Mennonite University
500 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB  R3P 2N2