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Oldest living Calvin College professor emeritus Fridsma dies at age 100

Tireless Frisian heritage promoter

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – Multi-linguist Bernard J. Fridsma who recently died at the age of 100 was widely known as the North American champion of the Frisian language but it were other European languages which put bread on the table at the home of the language teacher and lecturer. Fridsma who at age six immigrated from Scharnegoutum with his parents, taught German, Latin, French and Spanish at a Christian High School before he as professor of Germanic languages returned to Calvin College, his alma mater.

Fridsma who in recent years several times was honoured in Friesland for his literary achievements in the Frisian language, passed away while in hospice care just a week after moving from his house where he had reside for 60 years. His mind remained sharp until the end.

The Scharnegoutum native earned his BA degree at Calvin College and obtained both his master's and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Michigan. He taught for17 years at Grand Rapids Christian High School and lectured 24 years at Calvin College.

Ironically Bernard Fridsma had decided to become an educator with the goal to find a profession that might lead him back to Friesland. While that return ‘home’ never happened, Fridsma instead spent much of his life bringing Friesland to the U.S. through his writings in the Frisian News Bulletin, published by his Frisian Information Bureau. He also gave his home province a linguistic legacy through his poetry and the translation of 130 Psalms in Frisian which first were used in an annual Frisian church service in Grand Rapids.

As a Calvin student Fridsma 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 participated in 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, although its attendance has dwindled to about 100.

Scharnegoutum named a street in Fridsma’s honour, some years ago. On the occasion of his 100th birthday in January, it created a variety of tributes to Fridsma, including a booklet filled with stories and essays in his honour.