The biography of B.B. and Liese Fast

Last night, another book launch, another biography: A Time to Remember: The Story of Reverend B.B. and Liese Fast, privately published, 2009). B.B. Fast (1896-1964) was a teacher (in Russia and in Springstein, Manitoba) and also a businessman (with the company of C.A.DeFehr, his father-in-law), and a  longtime church leader in NorthEnd/Elmwood Mennonite Brethren Church of Winnipeg.

He was someone whose “strong contribution was not that of a dynamic pulpiteer,” according to MB leader and family friend, J.B. Toews, “but as a person who provided the model of life which in itself became an exposition of biblical truth…the model in which character reflected the truth of his expositions.”

The book was written primarily for the children and grandchildren of B.B. and Liese Fast, and so the launch was at the home of B.B. Fast’s youngest — Bill and Margaret Fast. And the reason I was there? Well, I wrote the book. But I must hasten to say that this was one of those projects with many layers of participation from many people, dreamt of and begun a long time ago, while all five children (Bernie, Bettie, Neil, Nellie, Bill) were still alive. They gathered and organized various materials, and they and the older grandchildren shared their memories. Helen Isaak, Herta Voth, Margaret Harder researched different aspects of the story; I pulled it into a narrative.

When I saw the finished book last night, for the first time, I have to say I was amazed. It was a bigger book than I’d imagined, and so beautifully put together. To the story of their parents, the family added a 6-page introductory essay by Waldemar Janzen (“How Menonites Came to Live, Prosper, and Suffer in Russia”) and lots of photos, maps, and scans of family artifacts, including a gallery of colour photos of B.B. and Liese Fast’s current descendants. It feels both warm and elegant.

Only two of the children are still living — Neil and Bill — and they seemed especially happy last evening that this dream of theirs had been completed at last. It’s a great thing to honour one’s parents — and an honour to participate in a small way in their doing so.