HILLSBORO, Kan. — According to the registrar, Tabor College has graduated 106 students with the last name of Friesen. Of those, 25 come from one family.
The patriarch, Jacob Wall Friesen, was born Dec. 14, 1883, in Sagrodofka, South Russia. Sometime between 1883 and 1890, Jacob’s parents, Jacob (J.C.) and Cornelia, emigrated with their seven children from Russia to Minnesota, eventually settling in a two-room house on the plains of Kansas. In the fall of 1890 the family moved to a farm near Lehigh, where Jacob and Cornelia had two more children.
As a young man, Jacob Wall Friesen moved to a 40-acre farm of his own in Lehigh. On Oct. 7, 1909, at the age of 25, he married Maria Funk in Lehigh.
In September 1910, tragedy struck the couple when their first child, Rebecca, died two days after she was born. Just over a year later, on Christmas Day, while giving birth to their second daughter, Marie, both mother and baby died. Maria was only 29 years old.
Jacob healed his broken heart in June 1912 when, at the age of 28, he married his second wife, Kathrina (Harder) Friesen, who was born May 18, 1891, in Alexanderwohl, Molotschna, South Russia. The two went on to have 12 children: David, Arthur, Esther, John, Jacob, Ruth, Calvin, Martha, Herbert, Franklin, Paul and Marvin.
A tradition begins
In the fall of 1936, the tradition of attending Tabor College began with their fourth child, John.
At the time, the six Friesens were living in Inola, Okla., 250 miles from Hillsboro. Jacob was a pastor at a Mennonite Brethren church, and Jacob’s mother, Cornelia, lived in Hillsboro. With the family frequently visiting her in Kansas, the decision for John to attend the MB college was easy.
“I think the folks must have encouraged him to go because we lived in Oklahoma,” Calvin said. “John went because Dad and Mom thought it would be good for him.”
Once John came to Tabor, the rest of his younger siblings followed suit — and then some of their children, followed by several grandchildren. Siblings John, Ruth, Martha and Franklin all attended at least one year. Brothers Jacob, Calvin, Herb, Paul and Marvin all graduated from Tabor.
Calvin was an Army medic and came home to only one option for college.
“I’d been in the service for two years, and I got discharged in August , and frankly I didn’t know what else to do, so I went to Tabor,” he said with a smile.
His sister Martha was already at Tabor, and Calvin said he fit right in.
“A lot of friends from the service were there, and it was great,” he said. “I enjoyed Tabor.”
On Oct. 7, 1948, Calvin married Betty Suderman, and the two had four children. Their three boys — Larry, John and Joel — all attended Tabor. However, in spite of the family tradition, neither Calvin nor Betty pushed their boys to become Bluejays.
“In our case, Larry decided to go, and it was automatic that Joel and Rick went,” he said.
Every one of their boys paid their way through school.
“We never paid a dime for their tuition,” Betty said.
The next generation
Anna Friesen — Joel’s daughter and Calvin’s granddaughter — is a senior at Tabor, majoring in education. She will graduate in May.
“I came here on a visit, and I was just very comfortable,” she said. Anna stayed with a second cousin, Emily Wuest, Herb’s granddaughter. “We hung out that night, and I was like, ‘This is so fun.’ ”
In an effort to be different from most of her family, Anna had considered attending another college. She wanted to go into nursing, but when she switched to education, Tabor was the choice for both academics and athletics.
“I really enjoyed the soccer team,” she said. “The soccer ladies are amazing, so that’s been like a close family.”
Those in the Friesen family who chose not to attend Tabor are subject to teasing.
“Only one of my cousins in my immediate family didn’t go to Tabor, so we would always give him a hard time,” Anna said.
That would be Brian Friesen, Rick’s son, who went to the University of Oklahoma for his doctorate in astrophysics. But Anna says he’s been forgiven.
“My oldest cousin [Lisa] is about 18 years older than me, so ever since I was born, there has always been someone in my family attending Tabor,” she said. “Because of this, I have a lot of memories going up to Tabor or going to watch Tabor sports in Wichita.”
After Anna graduates in May, there will be a drought of Friesens at Tabor.
“I am the last of my cousins to go to Tabor, so after I graduate it’ll be the first time my family hasn’t had connections to Tabor in a long while,” she said.
The next potential Bluejay is Calvin Friesen’s 12-year-old great-granddaughter Josie, a seventh-grader in Lewistown, Mont.
Anna hopes that Josie and all of her younger cousins will decide to continue the Tabor tradition.