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Collection 637 - Donn G. Ziebell Papers

Identifier: CN-637

Brief Description

Oral history interviews, correspondence, reports, e-mails, memos, budgets, strategic plans, audio and video recordings, and photographs relating to activities of Ziebell, a retired American businessman, as a senior executive at Slavic Gospel Association and other ministries. The material in the collection documents the work of SGA in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and other countries; the reorganization of SGA in the late 1980s and early 1990s; Christianity in Russia during the same time period and the repercussions of the breakup of the Soviet Union.


  • 1981-2008



A segment of the interview on T2 of approximately 2.25 minutes is closed to researchers until May 23, 2028. Until that date, any user copy of audio file must have that segment removed or blanked out.

Three segments of the interview on T3 totaling approximately 7 minutes are closed to researchers until July 7, 2028. Until that date, any user copy of the recording must have those segments removed or blanked out.


FULL NAME: Donn G. Ziebell

BIRTH: 1934 in Chicago, Illinois


  • PARENTS: William and Bernice Tobler Ziebell
  • SIBLINGS: One sister
  • MARITAL STATUS: Married in 1956 to Jean Maureen Johnston
  • CHILDREN:2 sons and a daughter

    CONVERSION: Ca. 1959 while attending Capelgate Lane Presbyterian Church in Marriottsville, Maryland under the ministry of Robert C. Smoot, Jr.

  • 1957 Bachelor of Science in Metallurgical Engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla
  • 1972 Masters in Business Administration from the University of New Haven
  • 1992 Doctorate in Cross Cultural Management from The Union Institute of Cincinnati, Ohio

  • 1957-1960 Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp., metallurgist
  • 1961-1966 Martin Marietta Corp, Nuclear Division., manufacturing engineer group leader
  • 1966-1971 Huyck Metals Company (later renamed the Brunswick Corp.) chief applications engineer
  • 1971-1973 Warner-Lambert, Schick Safety razor division, production superintendent
  • 1973-1977 Brunswick Corp., plant manger, manager of production
  • 1977-1981 Talley Industries, Inc., director of general time service, Westclox U.S. division; assistant director of corporate manufacturing
  • 1981-1986 Ziebell Associates, Inc, a consulting firm
  • 1986-1991 Slavic Gospel Association, executive vice president
  • 1991-1992 Slavic Gospel Association, acting president
  • 1992-2003 Plesion, one of the founders and a major leader
  • 1992? Evangelical Missions Information Service, part-time staff on administrative duties
  • 1993-1995? Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society, executive assistant to the president,
  • 1997-2003 Pacific Garden Mission, Chicago, vice president of administration

    OTHER SIGNIFICANT INFORMATION: Member of American Psychological Association (associate), Midwest Member Care Network (charter), Christian Therapists Bible Study, Association North America Missions, American Association of Christian Counselors
  • Extent

    8 document cases : 3.2 linear feet

    9 Video Tapes : VHS

    14 audio_recording : 3 digital .wav files, 11 audio cassettes

    Language of Materials


    Arrangement and Description

    Paper Records.

    The materials in this collection are almost wholly concerned with Ziebell’s period as an executive with Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) from 1986 to 1992. His oral history contains a brief segment describing his work with other Christian organizations after he left Slavic Gospel. Beside documenting his own ministry activities, the materials in the collection contain information on Evangelical churches in Russia, the political upheavals in the late 1980s and early 1990s that led to dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the efforts of the Slavic Gospel Association and other Evangelical ministries to respond to the changing situation. In addition to several hours of oral history interviews with Zibell, the collection contains paperwork documenting SGA’s work through correspondence, minutes of meetings, memos, emails, reports, long range plans, budgets, and clippings, as well as audio and video recordings. Ziebell’s own activities on a day-by-day basis and to some extent his reactions to events are recorded in his personal notebooks.

    Ziebell joined SGA after a career in business to help bring American business management techniques to SGA. Throughout his time with the mission, there was a continual tension between business practices and ministry traditions. The administration and the work of Slavic Gospel is illustrated almost every folder in collection, especially in memos and correspondence between Ziebell and Peter Deyneka, Jr., Anita Deyneka, Evon Hedley, Andrew Semenchuk, and Roman Dechtiarenko. Among the basic documents are annual reports and financial statements (folders 1-1, 1-2), minutes of the president’s cabinet meetings (meetings were held even when the president was not present, 1-5, 7-5 to 7-7). Folders 8-7 and 8-8 contain Ziebell’s weekly reports, first to Peter Deyneka, Jr., and then after Deyneka left to the board of SGA. Some board minutes and documents from board retreats are in folder 5-1. SGA newsletters can be found in folders 3-1 and 7-1.

    Folder 2-3 contains position descriptions of the senior officers of SGA from the late 1980s and early 1990s. SGA's three-year strategic plan, prepared in 1985, can be found in folder 8-4.The same folder contains memos and other documents about the continuing restructuring of SGA in the 1980s and the 1990s. A strategic plan prepared after Ziebell left SGA is in folder 5-1. Organization charts and proposed organization charts are in folder 3-2 and 5-1. Similar materials on strategic planning and SGA’s organization can be found in what Ziebell called his “memory” notebook, found in folder 4-4. This notebook covers his years with SGA and includes memos, strategic plans, budgets, personnel documents, and correspondence. Similar materials are in folder 3-2. Folder 2-4 contains an organizational audit of the SGA done by the outside firm EnterChange in 1991 after the Deyenekas left. For more on this audit, see also folders 3-4 and 5-1.

    Letters, memos and other documents about the changes in SGA’s top leadership, from Peter Deyneka, Jr., to Donn Ziebell in 1991, and then from Ziebell to John Aker in 1992, can be found in folders 1-8, 3-4, 3-5, 5-3, 7-8. There is some material about Peter Deyneka, Sr., the retired founder of the mission, in folders 2-5 and 2-1.

    There is a great deal of information on the day-to-day operations of SGA in folders 2-5 through 3-6 and 5-4 through 6-4. The folders in boxes 2 and 3 contain many different types of documents, including budgets, memos, correspondence, and reports. These cover all aspects of SGA work, including reports on trips to Russia an Eastern Europe, notes on SGA chapel services, lists of Bibles and books of Christian literature printed for distribution in Russia and countries with Russian speaking populations, and handwritten notes by Peter Deyneka, Jr., and Ziebell. The folders in boxes 5 and 6 contain Ziebell’s personal notebooks. These are his personal record of his activities, arranged in chronological order. In this notebook are brief summaries of meetings, records of conversations, notes on his classes and studies (Ziebell was working on his doctoral degree during his time with SGA), records of travels, and Bible studies. Actual or copies of documents are also scattered through the notebooks. SGA activities, book distributions, events in the Soviet Union, management concerns, fundraising, newspaper clippings, phone messages, thoughts on Scripture, Christian life, and management. Most notebooks have a partial index in the front, highlighting certain topics and people, as well as contact information for significant people.

    One major project that Ziebell worked on during his years with SGA were the business seminars he arranged in Russia in 1989 and 1991. These were intended to provide Russian managers and businesspeople training and insight into American business practices. They were held in the city of Nizhny Novgorod (the ancient city had been renamed by the Communists Gorky after the writer Maxim Gorky and then returned to its original name when the Communist regime fell). The planning for the seminars began when the Soviet Union still existed and a major purpose was to provide a means for SGA staff to enter the country and do what ministry they could, including distributing Bibles. Because Peter Deyneka, Jr., Anita Deyneka and many other SGA staff were forbidden to travel in the Soviet Union, this provided an opportunity for SGA staff like Ziebell who were not so banned to go to Russia. Ziebell wrote a book about the experience, which can be found in folder 1-3. Folders 4-1 and 4-2 hold materials from the two sets of Gorky seminars, Ziebell’s notebooks from the second set of seminars including descriptions of the contents of the sessions and his notes of his activities while in Russia. See also notebooks in 6-2, 6-3 and transparencies used during the seminars in folder 8-5. Pastor Vasily Semyonov's church in Nizhny Novgorod hosted the seminars. His correspondence with Ziebell in folder 2-1 details some of the details of that but also continues afterwards with friendy exchanges of news and stories about the condition of Christianity in Russia. Vladmir Kalmykov was one of the sponsors of the seminars, but his e-mails with Ziebell in folder 1-7 occur later and are mostly concerned with the history of Nizhny Novgorod. Michael Dashikov was Ziebell’s translator in Russia, but his correspondence with Ziebell in folder 1-6 is also after the seminars and mainly about his staying in the United States to study at Moody Bible Institute.

    The files also contain numerous trip reports, mostly by Ziebell but also by Peter and Anitia Deyneka and other SGA staff to the Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union and to a much lesser extent to Eastern Europe. These reports can be found in folders 3-1, 8-1, 8-2, 8-3, 8-6. Folder 5-1 includes a report on Ziebell’s trip to South America to visit SGA activities there. Folder 8-2 contains a report on Ziebell’s attendance of the 1987 Moscow International Book Fair, where SGA had a booth. The audio tapes also contain many trip reports made to various audiences.

    Throughout the collection there is some general information about the political and social situation inside the Soviet union, primarily Russia and specific information on the situation of Cristian churches in the country. See particularly folders 2-1, 3-3, 3-4, 4-4 and the trip reports mentioned above.

    Plesion was a separate non-profit company that Ziebell help start when he was still with SGA to help provide medical supplies and then to provide equipment to generate sterile water for use in hospital IVs, something for which there was a great need. At first Plesion worked in conjunction with SGA and then as an independent NGO in Russia and other countries, including Vietnam. Newsletters, correspondence, e-mails, and contracts can be found in folders 6-5, 6-6, 7-1 through 7-4. Folder 7-4 has material specifically on the Water of Life project to supply sterile water.

    Ziebell’s book on his experience in Russia in folder 1-3 provides some of his personal history and there is an autobiographical statement in folder 2-5. The front material from his 1992 dissertation is in folder 5-1. The dissertation was largely based on his experience with the business seminars.

    Oral History Interviews.

    T1. (114 minutes) mily background; early memories of Chicago; lack of family religious background; memories of the Great Depression; boyhood activities; World War II memories; family began attending Lutheran church in Des Plaines when Ziebell was 13; a mystical experience while in high school; vocational ambitions; University of Missouri - School of Mines; bull sessions with Lutherans and the Apostle’s Creed; meeting Jean, his future wife through Scouting; learning metallurgy and mining engineering; hazing at the university; problem solving in metallurgy in Baltimore; attending Chapelgate Lane Presbyterian Church with neighbors and hearing evangelical messages from Robert Clarence Smoot; Ziebell's praying for forgiveness of sins; the Holy Spirit coming into his life and the changes it brought; assurance of salvation; study of the Bible; impact on his parents; impact on his business and neighbors; preaching at the Baltimore mission and the jail; his three baptisms; his spiritual developments over the years; problem solving in his Bible study; listening to God's direction; interaction of his faith and his business; faith affirmed by science; summary of his business career; evaluation of his personality; shutting down a plant; supervising manufacturing; stating a consulting firm; Keebler and the irregular cookie problem; joining Slavic Gospel Association as chief operating officer; Warren Wiersbe.

    T2. (128 minutes) Reason for his hiring by SGA; structure of the mission; personnel and activities in different countries of the mission in 1986 introduction of better planning and costs control; secrecy in SGA; Ed McCarthy in Development; sources of support - individuals, foundations, churches; individualistic personality of the mission; conflicts in the organization; Peter Deyneka, Sr.; Peter Deyneka, Jr., as a visionary and encourager; Anita Deyneka's influence; Andrew Semenchuk; introduction of standard business practices; Orest Holovaty; SGA chapel services; problems in the management in a Christian organization; the disintegration of the Soviet Union; setting up business seminars in the Soviet Union; distributing Christian literature and Bibles in the Soviet Union; disappointments of the seminars; Bible studies with the seminar support staff; driving from Moscow to Gorky; attending Gorky Baptist Church; witnessing during the seminars; Pastor John Warton; the dream of Pastor Vasily; the Russian Baptist Union (All-Russian Evangelical Christian Union) and libraries for Russian pastors; impressions of Russian life; the 1992 attack on the Russian Parliament; SGA as a catalyst for ministry in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union; antisemitism in Russia; opposition from the Orthodox church; printing Bibles in Russia; problems with the work in France and Austria; cutbacks in field personnel; the board meeting that resulted in Peter Deyneka, Jr., becoming emeritus and Ziebell becoming acting president; hiring of John Aker as president a year later; effect on the mission of the leadership changes; resignation of Peter Deyneka, Jr., from the missions and other senior missionaries

    T3. (99 minutes) Corrections for errors on tapes T1 and T2; applying business practices to Christian organizations; his resignation from SGA; the presidential selection process; involvement with the Evangelical Mission Information Service (EMIS), involvement with the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society; involvement with Pacific Garden Mission (PGM) from 1997 to 2003; the board of PGM; use of the King James translation at PGM; the organization and management of PGM; problems at PGM; his accomplishments at PGM; Dave Fuller; pressure from the city of Chicago to move to another property; PGM’s medical and dental ministry; disfunction between ministry and administration departments; problems with education programs; leaving PGM; the creation of nonprofit Plesion (Greek word for helping your neighbor) to provide pure water and supplies for hospitals in Russia; Robert Watt; struggling with the Russian hospital authorities and local governments; developing a program to provide pure water in many countries; lessons learned from starting a non-profit; corruption in Communist countries; going for a doctorate in cross-cultural management; critiques of the board of directors of Christian organizations; use of children in Christian organizations for fundraising; effect of his experiences on his faith


    The materialin this collection were donated to the Archives by Donn G. Ziebell in 2008.

    Collection 637 Papers of Donn G. Ziebell
    Bob Shuster
    Language of description
    Script of description
    Roman Script

    Repository Details

    Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

    501 College Avenue
    Wheaton IL 60187 US