Supporting transformation for years to come: Why Jacob and Hella Harder supported RJC with a gift in their will

Nov 19, 2021 | Alumni & Friends Story

For his Grade 12 year, Jacob Harder (1946) was determined to go to RJC. But he had two big problems. One was that he didn’t have any money to pay for tuition. And the second was that his father believed any education past Grade 9 was a waste of time.

His mother, on the other hand, believed strongly in the value of education. And though Jacob was never quite sure what she said, she somehow convinced his dad to send him. “How she managed to win dad over to her cause I’ll never know,” he wrote in his memoir. “I do know that she had to scrounge even harder to find the money it would take to pay the school costs.”

And though he only attended for one year, his time at the school felt transformative.

He loved playing sports, and living with friends at the House of Lords, (a student residence about one kilometre from the school). He also loved being with other young people who had similar values to his own, and he found it broadened his horizons.

Jacob’s wife Hella (Dahl) Harder, attended the school a few years before Jacob for Grade 11 in 1943. She loved the year she spent there, and made fast friends with three other young women. Hella was very social, earning the nickname “bubbles,” and she forged friendships that lasted for decades. “[It] was very good for me. I came out of my shell and had a great year socially,” she wrote in her memoir.

While each only attended the school for a year, they remained connected and supportive of RJC throughout their lifetimes. Both their daughters, Leila (Harder) Olfert and Rhonda Harder Epp, attended the school, and three of their four grandchildren did as well.

Jacob also served on the board for 12 years. Having gone on to become a teacher, and then achieving a doctorate in education, he led the program and policy committee of the board. He and the committee pushed for changes to the school that would enhance the Christian atmosphere, formalize and uphold school policies, make the school more accommodating for students who weren’t strong academically, and shift athletics away from a model built around star players. Jacob recalled in his memoir that his recommendations caused tension at the school. But the conversation resulted in good response from students and constituents and led to a stronger relationship between the board and staff as they worked to develop the school.

Hella supported the school as well, in ways that were not always as visible. For example, when the Chorale came to Camrose, Alta. on tour when their grandson Stefan was a singer, Hella helped bake enough buns to provide sandwiches for lunch for a group of approximately 40 people.

Jacob and Hella also supported RJC financially over the years, for example they had a fund that supported tuition payments for students every year. And they made plans to support the school after they were gone by leaving a gift to RJC in their will. Jacob passed away in October 2019, and Hella in May 2020.

They valued the school, and the role it had played in their lives and that of their children and grandchildren.

Jacob also was passionate about supporting education, and they appreciated the Christian, Mennonite values the school could provide. “It isn’t an evangelical fervor,” says their daughter Rhonda, “but it is very much [wanting to] have people who are of this background knowing what that background is, knowing what the identity is.”

“I think it was just a real natural thing,” says their daughter Leila Olfert of the gift they left to the school in their will. “They gave money to RJC every year, and so it was just kind of a given that that’s what they would do.”

In writing his memoirs, Jacob touched on what his time at the school had meant to him. “The year in Rosthern was one that changed my perception of the world and my place in it,” he wrote. “I was living and learning with Mennonite young people like myself. There was a diversity of life-styles, but a uniformity of moral standards and philosophy among them…. It gave me a feeling of freedom to be myself.”

Jacob and Hella’s generosity will help future generations of RJC students have that same transformative experience.


If you’re interested in leaving a gift in your will to RJC, please contact the development office at or 1-306-232-4222.