Iva Taves — Pioneer Pathologist

Iva Sherk was a person who spoke her mind plainly and without adornment. Perhaps she got this from her father, J. Harold Sherk, a Mennonite Brethren in Christ preacher, and a life-long advocate for peace theology within his denomination and the larger Mennonite world.

She lost her husband, Harvey Taves, when she was only 37, with two daughters still at home. Harvey had been another visionary leader within Mennonite Central Committee Ontario who launched many new service initiatives.

Iva’s life took another direction–the service profession of medicine at a time when women still made up only a small percentage of students in medical schools.

This article can be seen with bibliography in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO)


Harvey and Iva Toews with their daughters, ca. 1960. Family photo

Iva Ruth Sherk: physician and pathologist, was born 6 May 1928 in rural Maryborough Township, Wellington County, Ontario to J. Harold Sherk (20 December 1903-28 February 1974) and Mila (Senor) Sherk (3 December 1900-13 January 1983). Iva was the oldest child in a family of two daughters and two sons. On 2 June 1951 she married Harvey Taves (22 March 1926-11 May 1965). They had two daughters, Mila and Mary. On 16 November 1991 she married John W. Snyder (20 September 1925-2 October 2012). Iva died 29 March 2011 at the Freeport Health Centre in Kitchener, Ontario. She is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener.

Iva was born in the home of a young Mennonite Brethren in Christ pastor serving in his first congregation, though her mother was of Wesleyan Methodist background. Because of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ polity that required pastors to change pastorates every three to five years, the family moved frequently prior to World War II. Iva was an excellent student, attending mostly rural public schools and graduating from high school at Kitchener Collegiate Institute in 1946. Following an goal held since childhood, Iva Sherk applied to the University of Toronto Medical School in 1946, and was accepted one week before classes began in the fall. Of the almost 200 students in the entering class, the nine female students all received their acceptances at the last minute. The attitude remained strong in those immediate post-war years that women students were “taking a man’s place.” Although money was short, Iva was able to complete her medical degree in six years, which included two years of pre-med and four years of medical school.

Harvey Taves and Iva Sherk met in June 1948 when Harvey was touring Ontario as part of a Goshen College peace team whose Canadian itinerary was directed by Iva’s father. After their 1951 marriage, Harvey worked in Toronto during Iva’s last year of medical school. Iva graduated in 1952, one of seven women in a class of 107. When she undertook her junior internship the following year, this essentially meant living at the hospital. Harvey returned to Indiana to study at Goshen Biblical Seminary. In early 1953 at the request of Orie Miller, Harvey returned from his studies to become the director of the Canadian office of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) located in Kitchener, Ontario. Iva went on to undertake a specialty in pathology, a profession she believed would provide more regular hours for a young family. Initially Harvey and Iva were members at the Bethany United Missionary Church, but then joined Preston Mennonite Church. In 1960 they became early members of the new Rockway Mennonite Church in Kitchener.

Although Iva and Harvey originally envisioned overseas service, Harvey’s increasing health concerns made this dream impossible. The Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital (later Grand River Hospital), within blocks of her home in the MCC house on Union Street, engaged Iva as a pathologist in 1956. As a  pathologist she worked especially closely with surgeons, a medical profession then completely dominated by male colleagues. Her self-confidence and high professional standards allowed her to survive in a work environment that would have challenged many. In 1964 she became the head of laboratory services at the hospital, utilizing her considerable administrative skills. She was respected for being very well organized and for her firm style of leadership.

In 1967 Iva Taves became the first female member of the Hamilton Society of Pathologists after some resistance. The group held its meetings in the Royal Hamilton Military Institute, which had previously allowed no female guests. In 1972/73 Iva became the first female president of the Ontario Association of Pathologists. She also served on Hospital Laboratory Accreditation Committees. During her 37 years of service at the hospital she saw many medical advancements and development of new techniques in her field. She retired in 1993.

With high energy and a plain-spoken manner, Iva Taves combined her profession with raising her two young daughters after Harvey’s early death in 1965. She enjoyed camping with her daughters and listening to classical music. She lamented the loss of the latter in later years as she suffered significant hearing loss. She was grateful for her second marriage of almost 20 years; Harvey and Iva had been longtime friends of John Snyder and his first wife, Lois. Her no-nonsense manner continued even in her last days, as she dismissed any heroic treatment for the cancer she had learned of only weeks before. She said she had a good life but the time had come to go.

Iva Taves was a pioneer in a medical profession that brought her great satisfaction. She faced with determination the numerous challenges in life that altered her plans. Having grown up in a pastoral family with limited financial resources, she became a generous contributor to her church and to charities that aided the less fortunate. She is remembered with respect.

— Sam Steiner

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