Melvin Loewen

Melvin Loewen

1925 - 2023

Share Your Memory of
Melvin

Obituary of Melvin Loewen

Melvin Jacob Loewen was born December 9, 1925, in Steinbach, Manitoba to Jacob T. and Margaret (Friesen) Loewen.  He grew up with an older brother, C. Wilbert (Bert), and a younger sister, Emmeline.  They never knew two older siblings who had died in infancy.

Throughout his life Mel cherished fond memories of his parents, his many relatives, and his hometown which had been founded in 1874 by a small group of Kleinegemeinde Mennonite families.  At one point Mel had nearly two hundred living uncles, aunts and first cousins whose lively family fests were high energy events.  His parents both had three years of primary education in German but soon learned functional English as they undertook road construction, custom threshing, sawmilling, and the moving of houses, heavy equipment and grain storage elevators throughout Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  By the age of 18, Bert and Mel were foremen of crews.  Their father eventually became chairman of the school board.  Their mother had a storehouse of memorized poems - in German - which she was happy to share.  It was assumed traveling preachers and missionaries - as well as expectant mothers during stormy winters - would stay with the Loewens, whose house was near the hospital.  

Mel accepted Jesus as his Saviour as a young man and enjoyed a life-long conversation with his Lord and Friend.

During the war years Mel's alternative service was intense during the summer months but slow in winter, so for two winters he attended Steinbach Bible Institute together with his double-first cousin and buddy Cornie Loewen.  Their close friendship, begun in kindergarten, lasted a lifetime, including a trip around the world many years later.  Together with two other friends they went to Italy early in 1946, just after the war, on a cattle ship tending horses destined for Yugoslavia.  When they returned in March, Mel finished most courses of grade 12, graduated from high school, and started looking for a college.

With the help of his mother they heard of a Mennonite school in Indiana called Goshen College where he started as a sophomore the fall of that 1946.  Two years later Mel met Elfrieda Regier at an ice cream party in Goshen.  She had come for a weekend visit from Wheaton College to see hometown friends.  They were engaged in April 1949 - while Elfrieda was teaching high school science in Northern Minnesota - and married the following August.

During the next decade Mel completed a Master’s degree in medieval history at University of Minnesota, taught a year of high school,  and with their growing family did a first term as missionaries in the village of Djoko Punda Congo under the Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (then called the Congo Inland Mission) where Mel was director of a teacher training school.  Their first furlough was spent at the Universite’ Libre de Bruxelles where Mel completed his Ph.D. 

The 1960s were turbulent years as they returned to the newly-independent Congo. Mel taught at the Congo Polytechnic Institute for a few years, then joined the Congo Protestant University in Stanleyville just as rebels were overwhelming government forces.  The Loewens were caught in that city in 1964 and held hostage for four months.  Together with other foreign captives they were rescued in a daring raid by Belgian paratroopers and mercenary ground forces.  Mel was named president of the university the following year as it was in exile in Kinshasa on the campus of the Catholic university.  To take a breather from the Congo turmoil in 1967, the Loewens moved to California for three years where Mel took an assignment as academic dean with Fresno Pacific College. 

In 1970 Mel was offered a staff assignment with the World Bank.  The first assignment was in Abidjan Cote d’Ivoire.  He stayed with the organization for twenty years taking field positions in Africa as well as longer stays at headquarters in Washington DC.  Some of the more challenging tasks included representing the Bank at United Nations agency meetings in New York and Geneva as well as serving as Bank representative in Rwanda.  Over the years Elfrieda hosted hundreds of guests while also nurturing their six children through various French and English schools.

After retirement from the World Bank in 1990, Mel and Elfrieda traveled for the Mennonite Christian Leadership Foundation encouraging Christian businessmen in their witness and support to the emerging churches of Asia and Africa.

In 1998 they moved to Goshen, Indiana to be nearer children and grandchildren.  It was their 36th move.  

In 2000 Mel, together with Loewen cousins in Manitoba, formed the Steinbach Campus Foundation to prepare a 60-acre campus with sites for public and private institutions of service to the community.  In 2002 Mel became chairman of the North America Liaison Bureau of the Congo Protestant University, an institution that was by then flourishing under the leadership of their former African students.  

Mel enjoyed tennis, crokinole and golf; he hit a hole in one at the age of 95 at his home course near Goshen, Indiana. He also enjoyed long walks and bird watching with Elfrieda.  He studied the Bible as a guide to making a living and a life.

Mel died September 8, 2023 in Goshen.  He is survived by his children, Barbara, Margaret, John, James and Lisa, along with his children-in-law, Nancy, Bob, Wendy and Joe.  He is also survived by his sister, Emmeline. His wife, Elfrieda, his son Jacob Gerard, and his brother, Wilbert, predeceased him. In addition, he is survived by his eight grandchildren (Emma, Nick, Loewen, Andrew, Christopher, Jesse, Levi, and Alexi) and seven great-grandchildren (Elliott, Fiona, Wesley, Jillian, Roma, Quinn, and Avon). Interment will be in Steinbach, Manitoba in land once owned by Mel and Elfrieda and bought by the city to become Heritage Cemetery on Loewen Blvd.  

The funeral service will be held on Wednesday, September 20, 2023 at 11:00 a.m. at Birchwood Funeral Chapel, Steinbach, MB., with an opportunity to visit with the family starting at 10:00 a.m. 

In keeping with Mel’s lifelong interest in Africa and in education, memorial contributions can be made at https://educationcongo.org/.  Please see the “Named Fund” option. 

Wednesday
20
September

Funeral Service

11:00 am
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Birchwood Funeral Chapel
162 PTH 52 W
Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada
(204) 346-1030

Interment

Heritage Cemetery
395 Loewen Blvd
Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada