Union College mourns the loss of Dr. Chuck Freidline
“Although he had recently been very sick with his kidney issues, when I was 18 and met Dr. Freidline for the first time as a prospective student, he acted the same as when he met everyone,” said Carrie Wolfe, chair of the Division of Science and Mathematics and Union College chemistry graduate. “He was so pleasant, informative and happy to talk to me and my parents.”
Charles “Chuck” Freidline, beloved professor of chemistry at Union College, mentored and instructed students in his general and upper division chemistry classes for almost thirty years. Known locally as “the singing professor,” Freidline utilized many of his numerous talents, including singing and song writing, to help clarify concepts and generally aid his students’ learning.
“He was genuinely concerned with whether we understood the material,” said Cara Flemmer, 2013 Union College chemistry graduate. “He took a lot of time for one-on-one instruction and had many ways of explaining the same thing. That always struck me as a quality of a good teacher.”
Since coming to Union College in 1984, Freidline devoted much of his life to guiding thousands of students that took his classes. “He had kidney failure right after he came to teach at Union and he shared that fact with some of his students,” said Beth, his wife and companion of almost 53 years. “That put everything on a different footing. He really felt the support of his colleagues and students and was inspired and encouraged by them. He felt a difference in Union College’s mission and support and when he got better was very enriched because of it."
After a major operation in 1985, Freidline cultivated his own unique teaching techniques and blossomed into the inspirational professor for which so many admired him. “He developed his ministry and deeper relationships with students,” said Beth. “He was a caring teacher before, but this incident helped enrich and develop that even further.”
Students acutely felt Freidline’s personal ministry to others as he paid forward encouragement and support to all those he interacted with. “He’s always been an amazing help, molding me and reminding me to be kind and gracious,” said Wolfe. “I was his student, office worker and lab assistant all four years while studying at Union. Even when I was in graduate school or at my first job, I would often communicate with Dr. Freidline to ask for help or advice. When I was working at Columbia Union College, I called him up to ask for help teaching analytical chemistry, and he sent me his lab manual and said ‘use it as if it were your own.’ So every week I’d call him up, asking for tips on teaching the labs.”
Although a highly accomplished chemist with many years of experience, Freidline was enormously humble and uplifting to those around him. “When I came to work at Union I was supposed to be a peer with him,” said Wolfe. “In the science building, we’re not each other’s bosses; there’s no hierarchy so faculty are all equal. But here I was coming to work with the man who was my advisor, boss, mentor and spiritual mentor and suddenly I’m supposed to be his peer! That was a big deal to me and I didn’t see how he could handle the transition, but somehow Dr. Freidline managed to always treat me as an equal and colleague. That impressed me in him."
When Wolfe was asked to chair the division a decade later, Freidline acted with as much grace and encouragement as before. “All of a sudden I became his ‘boss,’” said Wolfe. “Before I’d go home in the evenings we’d plan or chat about stuff bothering us so were in communication a lot. Somehow, even when I was his ‘boss,’ he was always supportive, proud of me. When I was told to have meetings with faculty to talk about their development, I’d send out an email and he was always one of the first to sign up and say ‘of course I’ll come to the meeting with you; let’s talk about my development.’”
Born in San Francisco, Freidline’s family moved to the San Joaquin Valley when he was a young boy, where his father raised chickens and grew almonds. He gained an interest in chemistry from an early age when given a chemistry set in the fifth grade. “His mother let him set up a lab in his bedroom upstairs,” said Beth. “That’s surprising to me, but he developed his interest from there.”
He studied chemistry at West Mount College in Santa Barbara, where he met Beth, an English major. “When I was a freshman, I chose to go to a small church in another town with friends, and he was driving the car,” she said. “He sat behind me in church, and I could hear him singing. He had such a beautiful voice.”
When he graduated at the end of her sophomore year, they married and moved to Minnesota, where he pursued his master’s and PhD in inorganic chemistry at the University of Minnesota and she finished her degree. Having considered teaching high school, as he obtained his advanced degrees, Freidline decided to instruct at the college level and was given a position at Central Methodist University (CMU) in Missouri.
After working at CMU for 17 years, he joined Union College’s faculty. “He really, really loved working for and with Union College,” said Beth. “He considered it his mission field.”
Having contemplated a career in music, Freidline used his keen wit and melodic talents to write numerous musical mnemonic devices to remind his students of key chemical concepts. "… hopefully, on a test, the students are going to think of the song and know the answer,” he explained to Micah Mertes of the Lincoln Journal Star in 2011, when the newspaper wrote a feature on his unusual musical methods. “They're not allowed to sing the song during the test. But they can hum it."
Freidline’s poetry and music were not restricted to the college classroom alone as he shared his many abilities with the class of kindergartners he periodically taught on Sabbath mornings at the College View Church. “He really enjoyed kids,” said Beth. “I suggested he teach one of the Sabbath school classes shortly after we came, and he did it ever since.”
Freidline continued teaching children in the kindergarten II class three months out of the year up until the beginning of his final illness at the end of January. His manipulation of chemical reactions fascinated the children and his original songs engaged them.
As news of his passing was announced on Union’s Facebook page on Thursday, July 4, friends and former students have been leaving comments, commemorating a man who touched so many lives with his love and talents.
“Dr. Freidline was the person who believed in me when I came to Union last year,” said Erika Meza, sophomore chemistry major. “He hired me in the chemistry department and it was a pleasure working for him in the stockroom. He taught me so many things about chemistry and to never give up. I am happy that we could share our love for chemistry, and I hope that one day I can get close to what he was: an honorable chemist who reflected Jesus in his teaching and research.”
A true scientist for his curiosity and appreciation of natural phenomena, Freidline never hesitated to make time for others in his professional and personal life. Even to the end his only concern was leaving those around him. He will be sorely missed.
Freidline's funeral will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, July 12 in the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church. Those who can not attend are encouraged to watch it streamed live at https://uclive.ucollege.edu.