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Wiens, Ann Klassen (1930–1988)

Proper Title

Ann Klassen Wiens collection

Dates of Creation


Physical Description

1.3 cm of textual records, 4 photographs, and other artifacts

Biographical Sketch

Annaliese Klassen (Ann Klassen Wiens) (1930–1988) was the third of six children born to John Klassen and Gertrude Wall in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Following high school, she attended and graduated from Winkler Bible Institute and later Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg. Klassen continued her studies in the field of nursing at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg, with further studies at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas.

In 1960, Ann was accepted to serve as a missionary with Mennonite Brethren Missions in Paraguay at Yalve Sanga, Chaco, where she worked among the Lengua and Chulupi people (now called Enlhet and Nivacle tribes, respectively) as a nurse, and later as a social worker among the women of these tribes. She also took on the role of providing translations of a hymn book, school textbooks, and even the New Testament, into the Lengua and Chulupi languages. This missionary work, eighteen years in total, was briefly interrupted by a one year teaching assignment at Bethany College in Hepburn, Saskatchewan (1971–1972).

One day during her time in Yalve Sanga, Klassen encountered a group of Ayoreo (also known as Moro) tribesmen. It was this encounter that proved to be one of the most dramatic events of Klassen’s missionary career. Just three years before her assignment began, a missionary named Kornelius Isaak had been killed shortly after receiving a stab wound from a Moro spear. After noticing Ann’s necklace, one of the tribe leaders indicated that he wanted it. Ann managed to communicate to the tribesman that she would give him the necklace, but only in return for the spear he carried. This transaction was successfully completed, and she brought the spear back with her to Canada, where she often used to it to illustrate stories of her time in South America.

Later in life, Klassen married Peter Wiens, a minister from the Filadelfia Colony in the Chaco, on September 28, 1979. Wiens, a widower, had six children, and Ann took on the task of being a mother to them.

Klassen passed away on June 23, 1988 of cancer while on the mission field and was buried in Yalve Sanga. Her funeral took place on June 25 in the Filadelfia Mennonite Church, with a memorial service on July 3 at the Community Fellowship Church in Newton, Kansas.

Based on information from the following publications:

Huebert, Susan. "Ann Klassen Wiens: Missionary Advocate and Friend.” Profiles of Mennonite Faith. No. 57, Spring 2015.

Isaak, Jon. “Artifacts of Honour.” Mennonite Historian, March 2015, page 7.

Isaak, Jon. “Ann Klassen and her Moro Spear.” Mennonite Historian, September 2014, page 7.

Custodial History

In August 2014, Arli Klassen (Ann’s niece) donated several items belonging to Ann Klassen, including a photograph of Ann, several pages of reflection on her life, a painting, and the spear obtained from the Ayoreo (Moro) people.

In January 2015, Tamara Klassen donated further artifacts pertaining to Ann’s missionary career, namely, a warrior-hunter headdress, feathered necklace, and carving tools. Ann was Tamara’s grandfather’s sister.

Scope and Content

This collection spans her career as a missionary in Paraguay (ca. 1961–1979) and her later life as a Director of Nursing at the Filadelfia Colony, Chaco, Paraguay. It consists of biographical information on Ann Klassen Wiens, photographs, portions of interviews conducted by Arli Klassen, as well as information pertaining to the Ayoreo (Moro) tribe and their customs.

The artifacts included consist of: a painting by W.M. Klassen, completed in 1959, which was acquired by Ann in 1965; 1 box containing a tribal headdress; Ann’s Grace Hospital badge from her time in nurses training at Grace Hospital; 1 box with 16 separate tribal items (including carving tools, beads, and a feathered necklace); and Ann’s Moro spear.


• Volume 1108.
• Described by Phil Enns, April 20, 2015.
• Language: English.
• Photographs: NP208-01-01, NP208-01-02, NP208-01-03, NP208-01-04, NP208-01-05.
• Artifact Collection: AF001-01, AF001-02, AF001-03, AF001-04, AF001-05, AF001-06, AF001-07, AF001-08, AF001-09, AF001-10.
• Accession numbers: 2014-20, 2015-01.
• No restrictions to access.
• See also Bob Unruh, “A Visit from Morro Indians,” Canadian Mennonite (April 19, 1963), 10.

File List

Volume 1108

24. Family remembrances relating to Ann’s ministry. -- 2011, 2014.
25. Copies of articles featuring Ann’s life and ministry. -- 1971, 2014, 2015.
26. Booklet and articles related to the missionary interaction with Ayoreo (“Morro”) people. -- 1962, 2009, 2010.

Photograph file list

• NP208-01-1. Klassen behind fence [196-?]. This photo is of Wiens standing behind a fence, wearing a blue dress with multi-coloured stripes and flowers.

• NP208-01-2. Funeral program [196-?]. This photo is a professional close-up of Ann in black-and-white, wearing a floral print dress, with an inscription on the back, presumed to have been taken at Napoleon Photo Studio in Winnipeg.

• NP208-01-3. Ann Klassen Wiens holding Moro spear [198-?]. This photo is of Wiens standing in front of an hibiscus flower bush wearing a white dress, holding her Moro spear.

• NP208-01-4. Ann Klassen Wiens gravesite [199-?]. This photo is of Wiens’ gravesite beneath a bottle tree in Yalve Sanga, surrounded by a white picket fence, with a soccer field in the background.

• NP208-01-5. Close-up of Ann Klassen Wiens headstone [199-?]. This photo is a detailed close-up of Ann’s headstone in Yalve Sanga, displaying her birth and death dates.

Artifact Collection file list

• AF001-01. Spear. 178 cm long. This item is a spear acquired by Anne Klassen. It has a long wooden handle with a wedge-shaped end. The long metal shaft has a sharp point at the tip. Metal and natural rope fibers wrapped around the spear holding the wood and metal together (see Profiles of Mennonite Faith, No. 57). The metal tip was likely made from the cast-off steel that was left behind by oil and gas explorations in the area. There is some evidence that one factor contributing to the hostility directed toward early missionaries was that they were associated with the oil and gas explorations that altered the traditional way of life of the indigenous peoples (see MH 35/3 [Sept. 2009]: 1–2 and Profiles of Mennonite Faith, No. 19).

• AF001-02. Chest. 58 cm (long) by 42 cm (wide) by 45 cm (high). This item is a [1940-] vintage "hope chest"(?) belonging to missionary Ann Klassen (1930–1988). The chest was made by Ann's father (Johann P. Klassen). The contents were likely things she brought from Paraguay. See items listed in this collection.

• AF001-03. Painting. 29 cm by 39 cm. This item is a painting done by William (Bill) P. Klassen of an aboriginal male. Bill was Ann's uncle. The painting came to the archives along with her "Morro" spear. Inscribed on the back is “Ann Klassen 1965.”

• AF001-04. Warrior-hunter headdress. 30 cm by 23 cm round; worn as a band across the forehead. This item is a headdress made of jaguar hide, parrot feathers, and falcon feathers. In correspondence with Paraguayan archivist Gundolf Niebuhr, CMBS archivist Conrad Stoesz learned that the Ayoreo held their warrior-hunters in high esteem. Only by killing a jaguar would an Ayoreo hunter earn the right to wear a headdress like this. In many native cultures, the wearing of animal skins or feathers was a way of transferring some of the attributes of the animal to the warrior-hunter (see MH 41/1 [March 2015]: 7).

• AF001-05. Carving tool. 24 cm long by 3 cm wide. This item is a carving tool, likely made from the same cast off steel—left behind by oil and gas explorations in the area—that was used to fashion the sharp spear that came into Ann’s possession (see MH 41/1 [March 2015]: 7).

• AF001-06. Feather necklace. 35 cm long. This item is a decorative necklace made of parrot feathers and natural rope fibers (see MH 41/1 [March 2015]: 7).

• AF001-07. Necklaces of beads, feathers, and thorns. These items (untagged) are various necklaces, some made of beads, others of feathers, and even thorns, each strung on a string made of natural rope fiber.

• AF001-08. Wooden whistle. 8cm by 5cm oval. This item is a wooden whistle carved in the shape of a medallion and strung on natural fiber rope (necklace).

• AF001-09. Cloth badge. 8cm by 5cm diamond shaped. This item is a cloth badge with three large letters (GHW) sewn on a white cloth fabric. Presumably, this is the crest of the Grace Hospital in Winnipeg and appears to be a badge that may have been stitched onto Ann's dress or nursing uniform.

• AF001-10. Shoulder bag. 25 cm by 17 cm. This item is a shoulder bag made of woven natural rope fibers dyed red and black with a shoulder strap made of the same material.

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