Friedrich a ‘wonderful family man’

John Friedrich, who served for 27 years as the chair of the health, physical education and recreation department at Duke, died April 2 at Duke Hospice. He was 87 years old.

Raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friedrich spent his youth heavily involved in sports and went on to earn a doctorate in health, physical education and recreation from Michigan State University before coming to Duke in 1964 to chair the department at Trinity College. As a teacher, Friedrich came in contact with countless students over the years, but according to his son, John Friedrich Jr., each one was special.

“[He really] cared about other people and I believe as a teacher he really cared about the students at Duke,” his son said.

Friedrich arrived at Duke when Trinity College and the Woman’s College had separate faculties, but took charge of both departments when the two colleges merged in 1972. Friedrich remained at his post until he stepped down in 1991 and retired a year later.

By creating the Center for Living Campus in the Duke Forest, which hosts health and wellness programs, and establishing the first Vita Parcours course in the United States, Friedrich left a lasting impact on the Durham community and the University alike.

“He was a leader in physical education and a fine chairman. We all enjoyed him,” said Al Buehler, former coach of the Duke Track and Field Program from 1955 to 2000. “Just to show you how tough he was, John survived [lymphoma], and never missed a day of work. He’d take a shot of radiation and still come in and teach.”

Freidrich’s passion for fitness and exercise was shared by his wife, Kathryn, who was a nutritionist at Meredith College in Raleigh. Outside of athletics, Friedrich loved to play the trumpet, and often found ways to share his talents with his family and friends. Whenever a member of the family was celebrating a birthday, Friedrich would always call and play his own rendition of “Happy Birthday” over the phone.

As director of Camp Arcadia, a Lutheran family camp in Michigan, Friedrich would also use his musical talents to wake campers by playing “Reveille” over the loud speakers and serenaded them with “Taps” at night.

A devout man, Friedrich was also heavily involved in Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church in Durham, about half a mile from The Forest at Duke retirement community, where Friedrich lived since 1992. He made an indelible impression on the congregation.

Late in life, due to physical ailments, Friedrich was forced to sit in the last pew closest to the door—his “special pew” as Diane Archer, lay minister at Saint Paul’s, called it. At the end of services, each member of the church would walk by and greet John on the way out.

“He was a wonderful family man, devoted to his wife and his children. He was devoted to his church, and devoted to Duke,” said Barbara Anderson, a fellow member of the church. “He was always a voice of reason, a positive voice.”

Services will be held today at 2 p.m. at Saint Paul’s. At the service, a hymn Friedrich wrote will be played.


Share and discuss “Friedrich a ‘wonderful family man’” on social media.