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Then and now: the legacy of a Douglas College professor

Esteemed scholar and researcher Dr. Rhoda Friedrichs always had a passion for history, even as a young child.

“She had carefully saved her favourite history books written for children because they’d meant so much to her,” says Christopher Friedrichs, Professor Emeritus History at UBC, of his late wife. 

Past and present

Rhoda grew up in New York City, the only child of parents who fled Nazi Germany to build a new life in the United States. She received her bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and PhD in medieval history from Columbia University. During her studies, she met fellow history student Chris Friedrichs and they married in 1970. A few years later they moved to Vancouver, where Chris had been appointed to a faculty position at the University of British Columbia. After taking on a full-time role at Douglas College in 1989, Rhoda quickly became a successful and respected member of the History Department at Douglas, where she taught for 25 years.

“When I started teaching at the College, Rhoda was Chair of the History Department,” says Dr. Gail Edwards, a friend and colleague of Rhoda’s. “Rhoda was a patient and encouraging mentor for new faculty, and supported other women colleagues as together they sought a work-life balance in their careers. She had a real impact on her colleagues.”

Celebrating a legacyPortrait of a woman in a white shirt and a vest

Two months after teaching her last class at Douglas, Rhoda died of cancer. After her death in 2014, her family, friends and colleagues worked with the Douglas College Foundation to create a fitting legacy that would support the students Rhoda had spent much of her career teaching. These funds created the Rhoda Friedrichs Memorial Bursary Endowment, from which a portion of the investment income is distributed each year to one or two students who have taken at least one course in history.

“We originally operated on the assumption that donations would come in for the bursary and they would be spent down and that would be the end of it,” says Gail. “But reports from the Foundation demonstrated ongoing support for the fund. I thought that maybe it would be possible to raise $30,000 to permanently endow it.”

Gail’s idea quickly gained steam. The Friedrichs family – including Chris and their three children, Ellen, Jonathan and Jeremy – as well as Rhoda’s friends and colleagues were eager to support the fundraising initiative. In 2019, enough funds were raised to permanently endow the bursary. “I think this achievement was possible because people knew Rhoda and they knew that the money was going to support students in need,” says Gail.

Dedicated to education

Rhoda was not only a respected faculty member, colleague and friend but a favourite professor amongst students as well. Shortly after becoming a full-time faculty member, Rhoda introduced a second-year medieval history sequence that quickly became a popular set of courses. “Rhoda mentioned that she’d look around the classroom on the first day and see a lot of students she recognized,” says Chris. “Students were always eager to learn from her again.”

Throughout her time at Douglas, Rhoda developed a fondness for her students and admired those who had to balance their studies with work or family commitments. “She recognized that students at Douglas College were achieving education but not always under easy circumstances. She was committed to the idea that equitable access means that everyone gets a chance to succeed,” says Gail.

“Being able to give these students a boost with some financial help is exactly in the spirit of Rhoda’s tremendous respect for Douglas College students,” adds Chris. “So I was thrilled when Gail proposed endowing the bursary. Due to Gail’s initiative, year after year Douglas students will benefit from this bursary in Rhoda’s name.”

After her death, Rhoda was posthumously awarded faculty emeritus status by Douglas College, in recognition of her outstanding work as a scholar, mentor and instructor.

Five professors celebrating the retirement of a colleague. They are in front of a house.   Pictured: Douglas College colleagues Elmiro Argento, Jeff Schutts, Gail Edwards, Rhoda Friedrichs and Frank Leonard celebrating Frank's retirement from the History department in 2009.

History in the making 

As Douglas College celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year – a milestone that coincides with what would have been Chris and Rhoda’s 50th year of marriage – it is incredibly appropriate that the 2020 winter semester also marks the first year students will receive the newly endowed Rhoda Friedrichs Memorial Bursary.

For many years to come, Rhoda’s legacy of excellence and passion for education will live on not only in her friends, family and colleagues, but the students she continues to support.

Visit the Humanities and Social Sciences bursaries page to learn more about the bursary itself, or contribute to Rhoda’s legacy by giving a gift today