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Yarrow, British Columbia

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Esther Epp Harder, Edwin Lenzmann, and Elmer Wiens

Biographies and Obituaries


John Guenther 1914 - 1998

John Guenther was born in Osler, Sask on November 16, 1914, passed away June 15, 1998. John Guenther was the second child of Frank & Susanna Guenther.

His formal education consisted of attending the only school in the area, which was a German school, until an English school opened when he was 14. John was able to attend school only in the winter months; he went to school for three winters. Early each spring he resumed working on his father's farm learning many things not taught in a classroom. It was the great outdoors that became his college; he enjoyed gopher and rabbit hunting and cross country skiing. However he didn't feel that farming was really his thing. He believed God had given him a 'mechanical mind,' which allowed him to work with machines and when machines didn't do what his mechanical mind thought they should, he was able to invent new ones. He has several patents to his name.

In October 1934 he married Katherine Sawatsky. They eventually had three children: Elmer, Pauline and Jeannie.

In 1937, he moved to Bradner Road in Abbotsford, then to Yarrow in 1938 and Greendale in 1940, He was one of the area's pioneer commuters, living in Greendale and working in a machine shop in Vancouver, but the commute did become too much and he moved to Vancouver to be closer to his job. The in 1943 he moved his family to Vancouver Island and lived on a floating boathouse at Youbou.

The attraction of the Fraser Valley was too strong and in 1946 he moved back to Greendale and then to Yarrow.

In 1947, together with his father, he bought the Yarrow Box Factory on Central Road. Two years later he bought his father's share and became sole owner and then also added a sawmill division to the factory. Unfortunately the bottom fell out of the sawmill market so he gave that part of the operation up in 1956. He continued to make wooden raspberry and strawberry boxes called hallocks. He also had a machine shop in the factory. It was a great gathering place for the locals who enjoyed warming themselves around the metal barrel stove, trading stories and watching John work.

He was a highly skilled welder and in the blue haze, a machine he dubbed 'Frankenstein' came to life. It took two pieces of veneer, stapled them together and dropped them off to a belt as completed hallocks. It was single-handedly able to produce all the hallocks needed for B.C., Washington and Oregon. Then plastic boxes hit the market and Frankenstein went into retirement, but not its inventor.

In 1963 John Guenther had an idea that he was going to make doors. He prayed about his plan and said, "Lord, if you can trust me with money and bless the work of my hands, I will support missions." His prayers were answered as he put his mechanical mind to work and made machines to make doors. His goal was to make 100 doors a day. Within eight years he was making 300 doors a day.

The original factory was wiped out in a fire on November 25, 1970 but he rebuilt it bigger and better and continued to expand building by building. At the high point of production there were 75 employees on day shift and 60 on night shift, providing good-paying jobs for the community. All told, John built a total of 140 machines in Yarrow.

In 1988, Guenther Doors was sold to Premdor and is still flourishing.

John married Hilda Neufeld on January 19, 1973. They continued to live in Yarrow and attended the Yarrow Alliance Church. They did some travelling: South America, Germany, Africa and the Middle East; the Orient, Florida and Hawaii, often visiting missionaries they had gotten to know.

At age 68, John decided that he needed a retirement project to help a few more missionaries. He started a metal door factory. No one would let him look at an existing factory, so he was left to use his mechanical mind to invent what he needed. Once again, his factory prospered and expanded and it produced 250 doors a day.

On October 31, 1995, he sold Guenther Manufacturing to Lynden Door. They are still in operation, employing local Yarrow people.

As well as the missionaries he supported and the donations he made to Campus Crusade for Christ, Global Advance and others, many local people have benefitted from the generosity, vision and hard work of John Guenther, who did his best to live by Christian principles. He was a humble man. When he invented a machine, he gave credit to the Lord and when he established a successful business he gave credit to the Lord. Now it is time to give some credit to the man. We who are left behind can proudly say: 'he lived his life that his Lord and Master will say: "Well done, my good and faithful servant, I have prepared a mansion for you."' He will be missed. Heaven's gain is our loss.

He was predeceased by his first wife Katherine Guenther and his older sister Annie (George) Sawatsky.

He is survived by his loving wife, Hilda; three children: Elmer (Martha) of Cache Creek; Pauline (Robert) Harms of Chilliwack; and Jean of Huston; three grandchildren: Brian Guenther of Cache Creek; Michael (Barb Scheffler) Harms of Toronto; Margot (Bruce Ramsay) Harms of Vancouver; his sister: Suzy (Peter) Teichroeb of Maple Ridge; three brothers: Abe (Suzy) of Mission; Henry (Rita) of Abbotsford; and Bill (Vera) of Oliver; and many other dear relatives and friends.

Funeral services were held June 22, 1998 at the Seven Oaks Alliance Church in Abbotsford with interment at the Hazelwood Cemetery with Rev. Goldsmith officiating.

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