A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Dr. Don Yoder: A Remembrance

From C. Kurt Dewhurst, Ph.D. MSU Museum University Outreach & Engagement:

Don Yoder holds an example of printed fraktur from 1848.
Lancaster Newspapers file photo, 1974
Last week we lost a remarkable scholar and friend of folklife. Dr. Don Yoder passed away after a lifetime dedicated to giving voice to the rich traditions that were so often overlooked and rarely valued. I had the good fortune to know Don Yoder and benefit from his passion for learning and his groundbreaking work in creating the internationally recognized, Kutztown Folk Festival in 1950. He influenced and encouraged many of us during his long and productive career. In the 1970s, Marsha MacDowell and I were working on the exhibition, Reflections of Faith: Religious Folk Art in America. We were inspired by his scholarship and he kindly spoke at the opening conference for the exhibition in New York City. A true gentleman scholar, he has a way of encouraging his students and guiding them to be better scholars and educators.

The following is a brief version of his obituary:
 “Dr. Yoder was born on August 27, 1921, in Altoona, Blair County, Pennsylvania, and proudly accounted himself 'an incurable Pennsylvanian.' He received his PhD in 1947 from the University of Chicago in religious studies, and in his early career he taught at Franklin and Marshall College, and later at Muhlenberg College.

Emeritus Professor of Folklife Studies, Religious Studies, and American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he taught for forty years (1956-1996), Dr. Yoder directed over sixty PhD dissertations. He was largely responsible for the introduction of the term “folklife” to its present academic use in the United States, and he helped to found the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. In 1949, Dr. Yoder co-founded the Pennsylvania Folklife Center with Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker and J. William Frey, and together they established the Kutztown Folk Festival in 1950, considered among the first ethnic festivals of its kind. Dr. Yoder has published seventeen books, and countless articles on Pennsylvania Dutch folk culture. He was elected a Fellow in 1972, and served as AFS President 1981-1982. He was widely known in Europe and his work was influenced the important music of composer Paul Hindemith. He continued his distinguished career following his retirement in 1996, with significant contributions in the areas of American ethnic and regional cultures, American immigration history; genealogy, particularly of German and Swiss families in Pennsylvania; folk religion, sectarian cultures, religious folk music, folk medicine, folk costume, folk cookery, foodways, folk arts, and material culture after his formal retirement from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996. The Don Yoder Lecture in Religious Folklife at the AFS annual meeting sponsored by the Folk Belief and Religious Folklife section of the Society honors his central role in these areas of study. He was awarded the AFS Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2006.

He will be remembered as a splendid teacher, an impeccable scholar, and wise and gentle presence on our midst.”
Image courtesy Mainline Today article, "Folklife Tour de Force." 
Don Yoder’s influence on our work at the MSU Museum had a lasting effect as he inspired us to build collections of religious folk and popular art—and regional folklife. For example, the gift of the major Robert Beseda collection religious popular art to our museum (among others) is a valued source for teaching, exhibition, and research.

This fall we will be welcoming a new curatorial colleague to our museum, Dr. John Keune, who is a joint appointment between the Department of Religious Studies and the MSU Museum. John will help us expand our collections, exhibitions, publications, and educational programs exploring the role of religion in society…a topic of ever-greater importance in our diverse world of the 21st century. Scholars like Don Yoder paved the way for man of us as he helped us understand the rich cultural dimensions of religion— as well as the power and persistence of folk traditions in our lives.

C. Kurt Dewhurst, Ph.D.
Michigan State University Museum
Director of Arts and Cultural Initiatives, and Senior Fellow for University Outreach & Engagement
Director Emeritus and Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Co-Director, Great Lakes Folk Festival
Professor, Department of English