Monday, July 14, 2014

Leslie K Tarr 2014 career award

In June I was given the Leslie K Tarr Award by the Word Guild of Canada for 2014.  Here is the award presentation speech by Belinda Burston followed by my acceptance speech, which she graciously read for me. She also accepted the award on my behalf. 

The Leslie K Tarr award is named in honor of its first recipient, the late Leslie K. Tarr—a journalist, editor, and teacher.  “It celebrates a major career contribution to Christian writing and publishing in Canada. Specifically the award recognizes a Canadian citizen who affirms the Apostles’ Creed and who has demonstrated excellence in his or her own writing, contributed to the development of Christian writing and writers in Canada, and helped position the church in Canadian society, leading to better understanding of Christianity.”

Leslie K Tarr Award Speech by Belinda Burston
Ladies and gentlemen
Editor Wally Kroeker described the challenge of summing up the career achievement of this year’s winner of the Leslie K. Tarr Award.  In his submission to a collection of essays in Katie Funk Wiebe’s honour he asked how he could “Draw a thematic net around her free-range mind.” 

Katie Funk Wiebe was born in 1924 in northern Saskatchewan where she grew up the daughter of German immigrants from Russia. With her husband and children she left Canada for Kansas in 1962.  Her husband died shortly thereafter. She is the mother of three children and grandmother of six. 
To the church Katie Funk Wiebe is an agent of transformation; a life force that has pushed its way through the firmly packed soil of tradition.   She is 89 years old and she is a Mennonite biblical feminist.

At a time in which women in general and women in Katie’s tradition in particular, hardly questioned that their place and fulfillment was firmly and only in the home, she hungered for more.  She advocated for academic excellence; the right for women to have a voice in matters of the church and wrote articles in a column for women that were so stimulating that she attracted readers of both sexes. She captured people’s interest with an ability to explain complex issues clearly, in down to earth language and vivid imagery.

In one of her memoirs Katie writes that she wishes she had had more courage and that only she knows how much she held back. She faced fears, doubts and insecurities and wishes she had “galloped at breakneck speed.” But it was costly to challenge the status quo and she endured painful opposition and misunderstanding even from women. In spite of this the record of her accomplishments is impressive by any standard and her life a model of faithfulness to her calling.

Katie Funk Wiebe, professor emeritus of Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas, retired in 1990 after teaching English for 24 years. She has devoted her retirement years to bringing meaning to life through writing, speaking and teaching. She has a deep love for the church, family history, women’s issues, and the personal development of older adults. She presently lives in Wichita, Kansas. 

Before leaving for Kansas in 1962 she attended the Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg for two years (1945-47) and is a graduate of Tabor College (BA 1968) and Wichita State University (MA 1972). 

In addition to hundreds of articles, she has written and/or edited 20 books, focusing in the last years on aging and personal and family history. 

I finish with a quote from Katie that expresses who she is; written when she was only 83:
I tell myself it is important to keep reaching ahead for goals I personally will not win…I want to die climbing.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to present the 25th annual Leslie K. Tarr Award for Career Achievement--to Katie Funk Wiebe!

Leslie K. Tarr 2014 acceptance speech by Katie Funk Wiebe

Members of The Word Guild: editors, writers, speakers, and friends

It is a humbling and gratifying experience to be recognized for an award at any time. It is  especially rewarding when this honor comes from one’s peers.  Thank you for giving me the Leslie K. Tarr award for 2014. 

Writing has been part of my life for decades.  In high school I wrote on a scrap of paper: “I’m afraid to be a writer…..I’m afraid to put things down on paper I might regret later on… No one will ever see these things I write. No one will ever know they belonged to a girl who once had hopes and dreams.” Yes, hopes and dreams. But what does one do with hopes and dreams?

I was the third daughter of immigrant parents from south Russia to Saskatchewan in 1923.  Writing as a vocation was an unknown entity to them--and to me.  In my little village no one wrote for a living, let alone to fashion a life. But my dream, in all its vagueness, persisted.

But why write if I had nothing to write about?  As a young adult a few words in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest gave that dream direction:  “You shall be holy for I am holy.”  The purpose of life is “not happiness, nor health, but holiness.” I clung to that thought.

But I still had many mountains to cross before writing could become a reality: early widowhood, finding my way in a new country, getting an education, becoming a college professor, helping my four children grow up. As they became more independent I thought about writing again.

My late entry into the work world taught me of the need for dreams and the willingness to risk in achieving them.  By now I had learned that you only learn to teach by teaching and to write by writing.  Both disciplines involve people, language, and ideas.  I also learned to appreciate the need of coaches, especially editors, in accomplishing those dreams. I owe much to the many editors in Canada and the United States I have learned to know and value. They have opened doors for me.

I have always enjoyed language, although I’m not sure about this flare for words people talk about. I think of a word as a jewel, always carefully chosen, placed in its special setting.  I have never seen myself as a particularly gifted writer, mostly as a hard worker.  I find myself jealous of poets and they way they can make music and paint pictures with words.

I have always hated jargon, including religious jargon, even when I didn’t know what it was. My goal has always been to put ideas, especially theological concepts, into language people will understand and say, “Ah, yes, Katie, you’ve helped me.”  I am grateful for the hundreds of people who have written to say thanks over the years.

A small dream started me on my writing journey, which now includes many books, articles and much more.  That dream and the words of a writer in an unlikely book, a tattered book of devotional readings I found on a dusty bookshelf, challenge me even in this, the ninth decade of my life, to dedicate “my utmost for God’s highest.”  And to keep at this always holy, yet rewarding, task of writing. Thank you for your support and recognition of my work and life. 


  1. So proud of you for this award, so well deserved. You have been an inspiration to keep open for the new and alive to the old and looking outward and inward via writing, to walk through open doors, push through others. And wonderful to see (and be blessed and hugged by) you recently in the Wichita airport!

  2. What a rich blessing it was to discover your writing through research for the award speech.