The world lost an amazing man this week.
Alfred Emanuel Friedl passed away at the age of 92. He came from humble beginnings to become a successful author, college professor, community leader, athlete and coach. But most of all he excelled at his favorite jobs of husband, father and grandfather. Al had a terrific sense of humor and seemed to be equally adept giving a lecture or driving a tractor. He had a gift for teaching. His way was always encouraging, challenging and ethical. He had great humility but was a man you did not want to disappoint.
Born in a rural Minnesota farmhouse with no electricity, Al was the first of his entire family to attend high school. He did not squander that opportunity and armed with the GI Bill after serving in the US Army during the Korean War, he ran the table on schooling by earning his Doctorate in Education.
He served in educational administration in San Diego where he met Phyllis Anne Lambert. They married in 1961 and in 1966, they relocated to the idyllic Rootstown township in Northeastern Ohio for him to become a professor of education at Kent State University, where he taught a generation of elementary school teachers how to teach science to children.
Al learned to fly and earned a pilot's license, once flying with two of his children over Rootstown to take photos of their property, only telling them after they landed that he had been doing the flying. In the 1960's he wrote and produced an award-winning television series about teaching children about space science. Note to Bill Nye: Al Friedl preceded you as the Science Guy.
Along the way, he became a successful author of science textbooks widely used across the country. When one son walked into his new high school and spotted Modern Physical Science on the teacher’s desk he inquired whether that was the book for the class. When the teacher answered “Yes, why do you ask?”, he quipped, “my dad wrote it” as he sauntered to his seat.
A gifted natural athlete, he played college football and semi-pro baseball, once striking out 20 batters in a 9-inning game when his curveball was working (and, he acknowledged with a wink, aided perhaps by the waning sunlight). In the army, he finished second behind a collegiate miler in a companywide footrace. His prize? a half a carton of cigarettes!
At the university he was a competitive golfer known for his power off the tees, but he dropped golf in 1979 when he discovered that distance running was going to do more for his long-term health. He thus embarked on an athletic career that took him into his late 80’s. He was a competitive age group runner and also a standout racewalker and discus thrower. Indeed, at age 60 Al finished in the top ten in his age group in both events at the US Senior Olympics. He finished half marathons and countless 5K and 10K races, winning many age group awards. He was my first running buddy, and always my first call after I finished a race. He reveled in race reports of his kids, grandkids and the people he coached or encouraged.
Al retired from Kent State in 1991, but served his community as a volunteer Rootstown High School track coach, and as a member of the community zoning and water boards. In his retirement he bought a metal detector and became and accomplished treasure hunter, finding thousands of old coins and occasionally unearthing a lost ring and tracking down its rightful owner.
Al was the rarest of individuals who had a craftsman’s ability to work with his hands, the intellectual capacity to understand science, history, geography and politics. He took trivia to a new level.
As a couple, Phyllis and Al quietly helped many people who found themselves in difficult circumstances. They did so not for attention or accolades but because it was the right thing to do. Al was a man of deep and abiding faith that he endeavored to live in his daily life. The man knew how to set an example.
His beloved Phyllis passed away in November 2020, three weeks after their 59th wedding anniversary. A month after that, he moved to Bellingham, Washington to be closer to family. He is survived by the five good citizens he and Phyllis raised: Stephen (Jaimee) Friedl of Tustin, California, Michael (Melissa) Friedl of Laguna Hills, California, Jeffrey (Fumie) Friedl of Kyoto, Japan, Marcina (Marty) Kreta of Bellingham, Washington and Alan (Natalie) Friedl of Huntersville, North Carolina. He left eight grandchildren and a host of friends and admirers that are better off for having known him.
Neither Al nor Phyllis wanted the hubbub of a funeral, but some time soon several of the children plan to return to Rootstown and 'pour one out' in honor of them both. We will post something and invite anyone with a thirst to slake and a memory to share.
RIP Alfred Friedl - 1/31/1931 - 8/28/2023
|Dad grew a beard for the first time at age 86 and Mom loved it.
Who says old dogs can't learn new tricks?
|October 21, 1961 - St. Martin's Catholic Church in La Mesa California.
|December 2022 with 7 of his 8 grandchildren (and a photo of the 8th, who lives in Japan).
|1986 - 25th anniversary portrait.
|1961 Engagement photo
|1974 Yet another of Mom's crazy Family Christmas Card photos.
|May 1982 - Me finishing my 3rd marathon in Cleveland. Dad had run the 10k that day and met me at 25 and ran the final mile with me. I was SO TIRED here but I loved his support that day an every day since.