In Honour of Dr. Ken Dresser

Rev. A Donald MacLeod


When I think of Ken Dresser certain words come to mind. “Integrity” is one of the first. “Simplicity” is another. I particularly like the word “uncluttered.” He was straight as an arrow, a man who was single-minded, leaving all to follow Jesus, not looking back, totally surrendered to the claims of his Lord and Saviour. He was truly crucified with Christ if ever anyone was. And he would be the first to say that the life he lived was by the power of the Son of God.


Although he seldom spoke of it, Ken was born in 1933 into a Windsor Ontario home of considerable comfort.. His parents were church people, attending Riverside United. In his teens Ken became involved in Inter School Christian Fellowship and started attending a Baptist church. At the tender age of fourteen he attended the first Urbana and went on to Queens medical school not much later, graduating in medicine at the age of 23. While at Queens he was active in IVCF and found time to play the French horn in the Queens orchestra.


It was at a Montreal football game that he, aged 19, and Sylvia from Rosedale had their first date, introduced because they were both interested in missions. The last clear thing he said to Sylvia, a couple of days before he died was, "It's been a good marriage”  as he held her hand and fingered the ring he gave her 55 years ago. Indeed they were a team and it would be hard to think of the one without the other: united in their faith, united in their loyalties, united in their sense of mission and purpose.


That this young couple, married at twenty-one, with many opportunities at home that could have given them a life of security and ease, would venture out to provide medical services to a Stone Age tribe of aboriginals in the jungles of what was the Netherlands New Guinea is incomprehensible unless you know something of their love and obedience to what they regarded as a clear call of God to serve in such a challenging environment.


And they stuck it out - for forty years, through many challenges, through children's health crises, the loss of a daughter, and every kind of obstacle. They were supported through it all by this church and Ken, as a member of the Knox missionary family, was always loyal to his church. He didn't simply collect a cheque at the end of each month. When he was home - and later when retired - he was here, working in the congregation, attending services morning and evening. Greg Scharf remembers the Isaiah 6:8 group which supported young adults in their sense of call..


Ken was ordained an elder in 1979. John Vissers recalls his time on Session: Ken, he says, had spiritual depth and wisdom, nothing frothy but a solid commitment to living out the gospel in community. In my thirty-five years of knowing Ken in the context of this church I marvelled that he never got caught up in political manoeuvring, never gossiped, was always positive, and maintained through it all a delightful sense of humour. Who can ever forget his wry chuckle?


He was generous with his time, talent, and money. He took on our thirteen year old as a summer project, shipped out to Irian Jaya as an adventure. I will always remember how, after back-to-back funerals of both my parents from this church, Ken and Sylvia were the ones who pitched in and helped me close out their apartment in two days. He drove down to Buffalo with a station wagon full of family treasures that were sent on to Boston where we then lived. He knew all about my third culture kid psychology and understood my loss as no one else could. Amazing.

Because of his faith, Ken always rode lightly through life's peaks and valleys. That terrible day when both his parents were killed as they were returning home to Windsor just before Christmas having been with Ken and Sylvia, anxieties about his children, and the illness that ultimately brought him down and the clinical interest he had as he would describe its pathology.


In 1964 at the Knox Missionary Conference a forty-something woman, who had been dumbfounded by Jesus the previous January through the ministry of William Fitch, saw some pictures Ken was showing of eating grubs as a way of being accepted by the local tribes people. Margaret Avison was utterly amazed by this incredible demonstration of faith and saw in Ken and Sylvia an expression of the love of an incarnate Lord who offers us a new feast of bread and wine. “For Dr and Mrs Dresser” made its way into high school canlit texts in the 1970s and is known by school children everywhere as one of the classics of Canadian literature. I quote some lines:  “The gorge that finds your natural good

            in food that squirms is

            given aptitude, surely, by grace ...

            As that doctor, Lord,

            learned to subsist, in order

            to love first-hand, for you, and tell

            how God, to His plain table                                                   

            invites them too, and will

            dwell among them who offer Him their all,

            You once for all,

            Offered and dwelt ...

            Without one queasy tremor ...

            could wholly swallow our death ...

            flooding us with your risen radiance,

            and bid us, now, in turn, O gentle Saviour:

            ‘Take, eat -



As Ken and Sylvia ate those grubs, the Saviour he served has indeed swallowed death. For us. He invites us to join Ken and all the twice born whom his ministry introduced to Jesus at His banqueting table where his banner over us is love.

            [1] Avison, Margaret. Always Now: The Collected Poems. Volume 1. Erin, Ontario: The Porcupine's Quill, 2003. 204-205.

Read PEACE CHILD online. Don Richardson tells about the work of Ken and Sylvia in this amazing Best Seller!