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Fridsma, Bernard J. (1905-2005) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: Fridsma, Bernard J. (1905-2005)

Historical Note:

Bernard J. Fridsma was born on January 15, 1905 in Skearnegoutum, West Friesland. Fridsma's father was a turfskipper, and as a little boy, Fridsma grew up on his father's barge transporting peat all over Friesland. At the age of 6, Fridsma and his family immigrated to the United States, settling in Passaic, New Jersey.  After graduating from high school and working at an oilcloth factory for a while, Fridsma received a scholarship to Calvin College. He took a two-year teacher training course, afterwards began to teach 7th and 8th grade in New Jersey. He returned to Calvin to receive his B.A. in 1929 with a major in English. After graduation, he received a teaching position at Grand Rapids Christian High. There he taught Latin and German and occasionally French, Spanish, and modern European history as well.

      In 1946 Fridsma accepted a faculty position at his alma mater, Calvin College. He was hired as an Associate Professor German, and later was a pointed chairman of the Modern Languages Department in 1958. During this time, he also went on to further his own education at University of Michigan, earning his master's and doctorate degrees. Fridsma also kept busy by serving in some of the college's committees, including the Education Policy Committee, Publications Committee, and the Library Committee. Fridsma still found time to write articles for various Netherlands publications as well as The Banner, Calvin Forum, and the Young Calvinist.

      Fridsma's most notable interest was in Frisian language, history, and culture. He became interested in his homeland as a teenager, and before he was even married he was the president of the Frisian Society of Grand Rapids, and later served as its vice-president. He was also co-founder and director of the Frisian Information Bureau, which ran a monthly bulletin called Frisian News Items. Fridsma even wrote his own textbook to teach Frisian at Calvin College called, "Introduction to Frisian" because no textbook on this subject existed. He also got the honor of representing Friesland for a Bicentennial presentation to Gerald R. Ford in the Oval Office.

    Fridsma retired from Calvin College in 1970, but still continued to teach Frisian. Once he retired he enjoyed travelling through Europe, including Friesland. On October 12, 2005 Bernard J. Fridsma passed away. He was preceded in death by his wife, Dorothy Van Dyke. They were survived by their three sons Bernard Jr. James, and Charles.

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