October 2003 Tributetobeck


Ervin Beck, upon his retirement

Walking down the west side of this hill

through maple and beech, you see the river

beyond the river grass, wind blowing

along its top like a child’s hand as he waves

goodbye for what promises to be longer

either of you can imagine. Further

downstream you spy a sandbar: two heron

stalk its edges while at its center huckleberry

bushes loaded with blue bells of fruit wait

be rung. In the midst of the tall grass, half

way between forest and river, it’s hard to see

anything except the meadow’s green slats, sky

and sunlight breaking through to remind you

something beyond. You are sure

others have walked here, yet the grass rights

itself so easily that all their paths disappear.

There is no danger. You will not be lost

without water or food; no animal will attack,

no storm will fire and bring down trees

a tragedy of limbs. As this story ends

you will come to the water’s edge, find

a small boat turned over, and out in the river

the current will not be so strong that you

unable to carve it, pull yourself toward

the sandbar where you will take off your boots,

walk on warm earth at day’s end, taste the berries

that fall unbidden to your hand, their blue song

like a blessing upon your tongue, a song given

back to the way you have come.

– Todd Davis


This issue of THE MENNONITE
QUARTERLY REVIEW-a special volume of essays, tributes and book reviews
on contemporary Mennonite literature-is dedicated to ERVIN BECK. Teacher,
literary critic, folklorist, collector and promoter of Mennonite literature,
Beck served as a gifted copy editor and assistant editor of this journal
for some 35 years. He was the principal organizer of “Mennonite/s Writing:
An International Conference,” the venue at which the essays gathered together
in this issue were first presented.

During his long career as
a professor of English at Goshen College, Ervin Beck has been an indefatigable
promoter of Mennonite studies, linking the scholarly insights from a variety
of academic disciplines with an emerging public appreciation of Mennonite
and Amish literature, folklore, art and material culture. As a deeply
appreciative critic of Mennonite literature, Ervin has published several
groundbreaking essays, including an analysis of Rudy Wiebe’s novels within
the framework of postcolonial literature and a probing study of the intellectual
roots of Wiebe’s The Blue Mountains of China. In addition,
he has written perceptively on Mennonite trickster tales, archetypes in
Mennonite literature and Mennonite urban legends (including a classic
article that traced the spread in Mennonite circles of an alleged encounter
between the professional baseball player Reggie Jackson and several Mennonites
visiting New York City). Along the way, Ervin introduced a new course
at Goshen College on Mennonite literature, the first of its kind in the
U.S, and he has maintained comprehensive bibliographies of Mennonite-Amish
folk art and U. S. and Canadian Mennonite literature (www.goshen.edu/~ervinb).
In October of 2002, Ervin collaborated with Hildi Froese Tiessen of Conrad
Grebel College to organize an international conference on Mennonite literature,
a successor to the conference “Mennonite/s Writing in the U.S.” that he
organized in October of 1997.

Ervin’s interest in folklore
found expression beyond the classroom in his passion for Mennonite and
Amish material culture. Since 1984 he has been a visionary promoter of
the Mennonite-Amish Museum Committee, taking the lead in collecting and
preserving artifacts from Mennonite, Amish and Hutterite communities.
Over the past twenty years he has helped to organize numerous exhibits
on themes that included folk art, children’s toys, furniture and quilts.
An active member of several local historical societies, Ervin has authored
at least three books on topics related to local history and, in 1993,
he was honored as “Historian of the Year” by the Goshen Historical Society.

Not least, since 1968 Ervin
has served as copy editor, proofreader and assistant editor of The
Mennonite Quarterly Review. During his 35-year tenure, he has
enlivened hundreds of manuscripts with his incisive, clear copy-editing
suggestions, all the while respecting the distinctive voice and style
of each author.

Ervin brought an unusual
combination of confidence and humility to all that he did. As editor of
the journal, I will miss his sure judgments, his collegial flexibility,
his efficient work habits and his puckish sense of humor. This slender
volume is only a token of the gratitude and respect that I wish to express
to Ervin. The world of Anabaptist-Mennonite studies has been deeply enriched
by his contribution-we are grateful!

– John D. Roth, editor

The Mennonite Quarterly Review
The Mennonite Quarterly Review