Making a career out of helping others
by Sandra Tonn Photos by Carmen Schmid
After 30 years natural health pioneer Siegfried Gursche has retired from his position as the publisher of alive. While no longer at the helm of the nation’s much-loved natural health publication, his entrepreneurial spirit lives on as the magazine continues to inform and educate.
While Siegfried is best known as the publisher of alive, he was also a true pioneer of the health food movement in Canada, with a career that spanned more than 50 years and that continues today. “There is no one more dedicated to the health food industry than Siegfried. He lives and breathes it,” says Deane Parkes, president of Preferred Nutrition. “alive is an extension of him,” he adds.
Many people, including manufacturers, health food store retailers, and readers alike are thankful to Siegfried for his contribution to the health food industry. Sam Graci, formulator of Greens+ and a best-selling author, says, “Siegfried Gursche, to me, represents the backbone and the highest integrity of the natural food movement. He is a man who has set the ethical standard by which we now gauge each of our performances. He deserves a lifetime of ‘thank yous.Ҕ
Pioneering Natural Health
Seemingly destined to become a health pioneer, Siegfried was born in Germany to vegetarian parents, who had adopted the diet for health reasons. The kids at school used to stare at his lunch with disbelief and tell him he would die if he didn’t eat sausages. To defend himself, Siegfried began reading about nutrition.
He remembers being inspired by Gayelord Hauser’s best-selling book, Look Younger, Live Longer, (Farrar, Straus, 1950). He learned about health foods such as brewer’s yeast and blackstrap molasses and went on to study herbs and organic farming and to apprentice in a health food store. Both his grandfather, a flax and potato farmer, and his entrepreneurial father greatly influenced his path.
Like Father, Like Son
Siegfried credits his adaptability and unique way of thinking to his father, who was creative in finding ways to feed a family during a time of political turbulence. His father set up a delivery business for farmers who could not afford a store. He brought fresh milk, oil, cheese, and nut butters to customers. When his own grocery store business closed due to war rationing, he manufactured baskets for farmers. When sweaters were unavailable he set up a knitting mill. “If it was needed and he couldn’t get it, he did it himself,” Siegfried explains.
Siegfried, too, is a true entrepreneur. His personal path was laid according to his ability to recognize a need and his dedication to fulfill it. After buying a bookstore in Canada, his customers enjoyed reading about herbs but complained they could not find the herbs to purchase–so Siegfried imported them. He was not only the first to mix herbal tea blends for sale, but he also pioneered the first colour-printed tea packaging.
A Quest to Help
Siegfried prompted many “firsts” on his quest to help where he saw a need: he was the first person to import German phonograph records and even gathered musicians together to produce original recordings; and, as a talented photographer, he was the first to publish large-format Canadian gift calendars.
One of the greatest voids Siegfried filled, though, required not only his natural health, publishing, and photography experience but also a good deal of diligence and perseverance to overcome the many roadblocks along the way. He recognized that Canadian health food manufacturers believed in their products, but they had no way of advertising them, and that health food store retailers needed to educate the public so they would buy natural health products.
During a time of little natural health awareness or support from policy makers, Siegfried created a way to promote natural health products and educate the consumer–he published alive magazine. “From day one,” explains Siegfried, “it was alive’s philosophy to help readers take responsibility for their own health.”
A Living Legacy
“Siegfried Gursche’s contribution to the natural health movement in Canada is well exemplified by his two major legacies: alive magazine and the Encyclopedia of Natural Healing,” says Croft Woodruff, health journalist, activist, and owner of Croft’s Health Products store in Vancouver.
While Siegfried has produced a wealth of work over the years, it seems that his ability to provide hope and a solution when it’s most needed is his most valuable contribution. In the early days, for example, Siegfried spent much of his energy ensuring that government policy makers respected the consumers’ rights to purchase health products.
Lorna Hancock, founding member and director of the Health Action Network Society, says of Siegfried, “He always stood up for the little guy, the consumer, and people needing help. His desire to do not necessarily the most popular thing–but the right thing–proved he was a man of true grit.”
Siegfried’s son, Chris Gursche explains that his father “was never motivated by money. If it was the right thing to do, he did it, even if it meant personal sacrifice. Perhaps it wasn’t always the smartest way to run a business, but that’s how he helped and created opportunities for so many people.”
Aside from helping literally hundreds of thousands of readers over the years, both indirectly and personally, Parkes says, “His dedication made it possible for a lot of people to find success in the industry, from health food store retailers and manufacturers to best-selling authors such as Lorna Vanderhaeghe and Udo Erasmus, who both got their start through alive.”
“Siegfried’s commitment to natural health and his loyalty to his readers are legendary,” says alive president Ryan D. Benn. Terry-Lynn Stone, editor-in-chief at alive, agrees, “Whatever Siegfried focuses on–be it an article on a specific topic, the distribution of coconut oil, or the task of supplying alive employees with fresh vegetable juice each day–at the heart of his goal is always the desire to help people…to make their lives better. Helping others is his underlying motive in life.”
Donna Herringer, former president of the Canadian Health Food Association, says, “Siegfried is what the health food industry is about. He should be applauded for the years he’s given, in so many different ways and areas.”
“I am not a rich man, but I’ve had a good life,” Siegfried says. When asked what he has found most rewarding about his career in natural health he says, with a sincere smile, “The many stories I hear back from people about how they’ve healed or improved their lives, knowing that I’ve helped people–that is my reward.”
|Highlights of a Career of Giving|
|1954||Purchases a book store in Vancouver, where he sells rare books, including those about natural health and nutrition.|
|1954||Imports and wholesales German natural health products, including a decongestant oil, plant juices, and bulk herbs.|
|1956||Packages herbal teas, supplying health food stores across Canada.|
|1968||Incorporates a company to manufacture and supply quality herbal remedies and natural supplements for distribution in Canada.|
|1974||Introduces devil’s claw root to the Canadian market.|
|1975||Creates alive magazine.|
|1976||Aids in bringing a high-quality evening primrose oil and vegetal silica to the Canadian market.|
|1978||Begins a series of alive Tours and Healthy Vacations to Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Italy, and Israel and also goes on to lecture in Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore in the years that follow.|
|1978||Creates the alive Books department, publishing and distributing leading natural health and nutrition authors.|
|1983-84||Serves as president of the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA).|
|1985||Educates Canadians about the benefits of flax as his company produces flaxseed oil.|
|1992||Creates the alive Academy of Natural Health.|
|1993||Creates the alive Award of Excellence industry recognition program.|
|1993||Writes and publishes Healing with Herbal Juices, (alive Books, 1993).|
|1996||Accepts his Master Herbalist degree from the Dominion Herbal College.|
|1997||Enters CHFA Hall of Fame as the father of the natural health movement in Canada.|
|1998||Wins the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Award for the alive Encyclopedia of Natural Healing, (alive Books, 1997)—the first health publisher ever to do so.|
|1999||Writes and publishes Fantastic Flax, (alive Books, 1999) the first of 35 titles in the Natural Health Guides book series, which also includes another Gursche-authored title, Good Fats and Oils, (alive Books, 2000).|
|2005||Retires from Alive Publishing Group, Inc., three decades after the day he founded the magazine.|
|2005||Embarks on new venture to support economically sustainable living for third world villages through distributorship of extra virgin coconut oil.|