Fridsma Passes Away
updated October 13, 2005
Calvin's oldest living professor emeritus has passed away.
Bernard J. Fridsma Sr. celebrated his 100th birthday on January 15, 2005 at Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church, where he was a member for over 70 years.
He passed away October 12 while in hospice care just a week after moving from his house on Sylvan Street in Grand Rapids, a place he had called home for almost 60 years!
Longtime friend Henry Baron says the former professor of germanic languages at Calvin was sharp until the end.
"We celebrated communion together this past weekend," says Baron. "We prayed and we sang Jesus Loves Me. He sang that song with all he had left."
Fridsma joined the faculty of Calvin College, his alma mater, in 1946 and taught at Calvin for 24 years, retiring in May 1970. Prior to Calvin, Fridsma, who earned both his master's and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Michigan, had a 17-year career as a teacher of German, Latin, French and Spanish at Grand Rapids Christian High School.
All together he had a 41-year career as a local educator.
His son, Jim Fridsma, who worked at Calvin for 17 years, says his father had nothing but fond memories for the college that he called alma mater and employer.
"He thought the world of Calvin," says Fridsma. "He was very dedicated to the school, and always thought about his time at Calvin as a student and his time there as a professor in nothing but good terms."
Ironically Bernard Fridsma had decided to become an educator after a short stint in clerical work after high school because his goal was to find a profession that might lead him back to Friesland, where he had been born and had lived until the age of six when his family immigrated to the U.S. And while that return to his native land never happened Fridsma instead spent much of his life bringing Friesland to the U.S.
Indeed friends of Fridsma say he leaves behind two great legacies: the first his career at Calvin; the second his longtime love for the language and culture of the country of Friesland, and his desire to share that love with others.
Fridsma was born in Friesland on January 15, 1905 as Bearend Joukes Fridsma, the youngest son of Jouke Fridsma. He and his family immigrated to the United States when Bernard was just six years old. But Friesland was never far from his heart.
As a Calvin student he wrote a paper for a Dutch History course on "The Place of the Frisians in Dutch History," a paper that addressed a multitude of topics and later was published by Eerdmans. The brochure soon was discussed in various journals in Friesland and the U.S. and jumpstarted the young Fridsma's reputation as an advocate for all things Frisian.
Among his many publications is "Introduction to Frisian," a book that includes 16 language lessons, glossaries, some fairy tales and a set of brief introductory essays on Friesland and the Frisians.
Fridsma also was part of organizing the first Frisian language church service ever held in the U.S. It took place in Grand Rapids in the fall of 1935 and drew some 500 worshippers. The annual service continues to this day.
Another project was translating over 130 of the Christian Reformed Church's Psalter Hymnal songs into Frisian, something he began at the request of Rev. William D. Buursma, who thought they might be useful for the annual Frisian service.
Baron, a professor of English emeritus at Calvin, notes that today those songs are used at churches throughout Friesland.
And, he says, that project displayed another side of Fridsma.
"That is a tremendous feat to translate songs," Baron says. "You have to be aware of meter and rhyme, all the while staying true to the text. It's not easy, but he was a master at it. His poetic gift, displayed already as a teen when he wrote Frisian poetry, was very evident in those translations."
Fridsma's many efforts to promote Friesland were recognized there decades ago when the town of his birth, Scharnegoutum, named a street in his honor. And on the occasion of his 100th birthday Fridsma's hometown created a variety of tributes to Fridsma, including a booklet filled with stories and essays and a special church service in his honor.
Baron says it was a fitting honor and meant a lot to Fridsma.
"He was very grateful," says Baron.
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