Reimer, Klaas R. (1837-1906)
Klaas R. Reimer, Mennonite pioneer and entrepreneur, was born on 12 December 1837 in the village of Rosenort, Molotschna Colony, South Russia. Klaas was the oldest of seven children born to Abram F. Reimer (1808-1892) and Elizabeth Rempel Reimer (1814-1893) and was the grandson of Klaas Reimer, founder of the Kleine Gemeinde. Klaas was baptized on the second day of Pentecost 1857 and that same year married Katharina Wilms (1837-1875). Together they had eight children, six sons and 2 daughters. In 1870 Katharina began to suffer from mental illness. Doctors were unable to treat her delusions or change her irrational behaviour. In spite of the personal sorrow this created for him, Klaas continued to support and care for his wife at home. In 1874 Klaas and his family joined the Mennonite immigration to Canada where they settled in Steinbach, Manitoba. The following year Katharina died and as was the custom, Klaas soon remarried. His second wife was Helena Warkentin (1852-1884). Together they had three children. After nine years of marriage Helena died and the following year Klaas married Margaretha Klassen (1864-1918).
Klaas R. Reimer came from a very poor family. Although his grandfather had been a prosperous farmer, Klaas' own father was known in the community as "foola Raima" (lazy Reimer), which perhaps explains his family's circumstances. His family received money from the community poor fund and Klaas went to work at the age of 12 with no hope of becoming a farmer. It would have been difficult to imagine at this point that Klaas would become one of the richest men in his community, but that is exactly what he did. Klaas worked for other farmers until the age of 17 at which time he became an apprentice to a blacksmith. This was a trade for which he appeared well suited, being over six feet tall and weighing over 300 pounds at one point. In 1857 Klaas moved to Kleefeld, Molotschna where he began his first blacksmith business. Unfortunately the 1860's brought crop failures which created both a financial and a spiritual crisis for Klaas. After much soul-searching Klaas resolved to rejoin the Kleine Gemeinde of which his wife, Katharina, had not been a member. The church underwrote his debts through two of his wealthy uncles and soon his financial circumstances began to improve. Klaas continued operating his blacksmith shop but also rented a full farm in the village on which he raised sheep. In 1869 Klaas moved his family to Steinbach, Borozenko Colony, which was part of a settlement recently purchased by the Kleine Gemeinde. The profit he made from selling his sheep made it possible for Klaas to purchase his own land. Over the following years his farm and blacksmith shop were so successful that Klaas was able to repay in cash the debt which his uncles underwrote. Klaas continued to prosper in spite of his wife's illness, immigrating to Canada, and experiencing late spring frosts, grasshopper plagues and food shortages in his new homeland. His mother's conviction that Canada was where God wanted them to stay prevented Klaas from moving to the United States and after the first hard years had passed she was proved right. With money Klaas had brought from Russia he reestablished himself in Steinbach, Manitoba by investing in a new blacksmith shop, a flour mill, and a general store. A combination of circumstances and Klaas' own personal abilities proved to be a recipe for success. As his sons grew up they also proved to be good businessmen so that by the end of the century they and their father collectively owned three general stores, 75% of the flour mill, four cheese factories, and a sawmill. Whatever changes wealth and prosperity brought into Klaas Reimer's life, he remained loyal to the Kleine Gemeinde and disliked leaving the village which was his home.
Klaas R. Reimer died on 6 February 1906. His story was a "rags to riches" story but Klaas R. Reimer is remembered as more than just a good businessman. Above all he is remembered for being a tenderhearted man of faith whose kindness and generosity were a blessing to both his family and community.
Loewen, Royden K. "Klaas R. Reimer: From Rags To Riches But Not From Village To World." Historical Sketches of the East Reserve 1874-1910. Steinbach, Manitoba: The Hanover Steinbach Historical Society Inc., 1994. 304-312.
Plett, Delbert F. "Klaas R. Reimer 1837-1906." Preservings No. 9, Part I (December 1996): 7-9.
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MLA style: Brown, Sharon H. H. "Reimer, Klaas R. (1837-1906)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. April 2006. Web. 19 June 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/R45614.html.
APA style: Brown, Sharon H. H. (April 2006). Reimer, Klaas R. (1837-1906). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/R45614.html.