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Gene Stoltzfus: Celebrating a life, 1940-2010


Mennonite Church Canada
March 23, 2010
-Deborah Froese

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Mourners celebrated the life of Gene Stoltzfus, founding director of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), at a funeral service on Thursday, March 18, 2010 at Knox United Church in Emo, Ontario.

Stoltzfus died on March 10, 2010 while riding his motor-assisted bicycle.

For the funeral service, a small group of those close to Stoltzfus gathered in a Taize-style seating arrangement.  Grouped on two sides of the sanctuary, the configuration of those gathered reflected an important visual dynamic in peacemaking discussions and Stoltzfus’ lifelong dedication to the process.

“The service was bright, positive, not at all sombre nor heavy,” said Janet Plenert, Mennonite Church Canada Executive Secretary, Witness, who attended the service with Mennonite Church Canada General Secretary, Robert J. Suderman.

Plenert noted that Stoltzfus’ wife, Dorothy Friesen, actively received people as they arrived and gave the opening welcome.  Marking the service as a true celebration, Friesen “grabbed Gene’s boots from the display table and danced around holding high above her head during the song, ‘We are marching in the light of God,’” Plenert reported.

Following the service ice cream was served with a large block of chocolate that was broken for all to share. “Ice Cream was his favourite food,” Plenert said. “And I guess he often contributed a block of chocolate to share at CPT events.” 

Harry Huebner, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Theology at Canadian Mennonite University also attended the funeral.  As a member of the steering committee that developed CPT, Huebner worked closely with Stoltzfus.  “He was passionately committed to non-violent peacemaking,” Huebner said in a telephone conversation.  He noted Stoltzfus’ unwillingness to compromise on his commitment to peacemaking and his insistence that all people be drawn into the conversation at hand.

Commenting on the wide variety of people who came to pay tribute to Stoltzfus, including local First Nations people, Huebner said.  “What struck me most was the many different lives that Gene has touched, and the different kinds of people,” he said.

During the service, testimonies were shared about Stoltzfus and his work around the globe, from Philippines, Iraq, Palestine and Colombia to local First Nations communities.  “All were strong statements of affirmation and gratefulness for a life well lived, a man who lived with integrity and gave his life to the struggle for peace and justice,” Plenert said. “Gene lived his life in a way that touched others profoundly, and shaped them.  His friends were many, and from all walks of life and culture. This was reflected in the service and who participated with testimonies.”


The son of a Mennonite pastor and his wife, Gene Stoltzfus was born and raised in Ohio. After graduating from Sociology at Goshen College in Indiana, he went on to obtain a M.A. in South and Southeast Asian Studies from American University in Washington D.C., and a Master of Divinity from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana.  He and his wife, Dorothy Friesen of Wpg, Manitoba, lived in Chicago for 25 years until his retirement when they moved to Fort Frances, Ontario.

On his blogsite, Stoltzfus recalled sharing the news with his father on August 15, 1945 that World War II had come to an end.  “This was my first peace message,” he wrote. The joy with which his father responded to his message left a powerful impression; Stoltzfus was only five years of age at the time.

Stoltzfus lived to share messages of peace.  He was a conscientious objector in Vietnam and directed  a peace and social justice program with Mennonite Voluntary Service. Together with Dorothy, the couple provided leadership to a Mennonite Central Committee human rights and economic justice program in the Philippines during a period of martial law,.

Stoltzfus shared his beliefs about peace on his blogsite by writing, “I believe that our world desperately needs unarmed peacemakers and that in order to do sacrificial non-violent engagement we need a confident spiritual core that is informed by critical thinking. All such work will affect the body politic, and will lead through periods of resistance to change. At root all of us in this world have the potential to share the power of love, a force that reaches far beyond sentimentality.”