Michael D. Friesen dead at 63

August 17, 2017

Michael D. Friesen, 63, died June 19 in Denver, Colorado. He was born August 12, 1953, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he attended local schools. He attended Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana, graduating in 1975 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing degree. In 1977, he earned the master’s degree in international business from the University of South Carolina. As part of his degree work, he interned with Air France in Paris, using his weekends to visit the great organs of Europe by train. He later attended Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois, where he earned a master’s degree in public administration around 1991. In 2001, he completed a master’s degree in American history at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb.

After working in international marketing with the Addressograph Multigraph Corporation, Friesen began a career as a civic administrator. After developing an award-winning recycling program for the Village of Hoffman Estates, Illinois, he served as assistant village manager for Algonquin, Illinois, and village manager for Lakewood, Illinois, and later, Meade, Colorado.

Michael Friesen was married to Susan Werner Friesen from 1978 until 2001. They have one daughter, Elizabeth Ann.

Friesen had a life-long love of the pipe organ, beginning with organ lessons from his mother, Evelyn Friesen. He continued his organ studies while at Valparaiso University. He had developed his own master list of organbuilders by the late 1970s, compiled from The Diapason, The American Organist, and The Tracker, a list from which he planned to visit every builder’s shop. During their honeymoon, the Friesens visited three organbuilders’ shops, and each family vacation included a visit to at least one new builder.

Michael attended his first Organ Historical Society convention with Susan in 1980, in the Finger Lakes region of New York. They were charter members of the Chicago-Midwest Chapter of the OHS, establishing the chapter’s journal, The Stopt Diapason, for which they were the first editors and publishers. Friesen’s extensive research on the history of Chicago pipe organs in the 19th and 20th centuries was and remains highly respected; issues of The Stopt Diapason are archived at the chapter’s website and are still regularly used by researchers in their work today. When the OHS held its first convention in Chicago in 1984, most of the research for the convention handbook was carried out by Michael Friesen. He was a frequent contributor of articles to The Diapason, The American Organist, and The Tracker, as well as articles on pipe organ history for the journals of the Denver Historical Society and the Colorado Historical Society. He served as consultant for new mechanical-action organ projects, as well as relocation and restoration projects for historic pipe organs. He was active in projects commissioning new music compositions, especially “Introit Psalm and Alleluia Verse,” composed by Richard Wienhorst for the Friesens’ wedding, published by Chantry Press. He was dean of the Denver Chapter of the American Guild of Organists from 2010 to 2011.

Michael Friesen is survived by his former wife, Susan Werner Friesen, his daughter, Elizabeth Ann Roscoe (Avery), three grandchildren (Matthew, Julia, and Benjamin), his mother, Evelyn Friesen, two sisters, Sandra Henson (David) and Janice Kuske (Kevin), one brother, Douglas Friesen (Anna-Marie), five nephews and three nieces, three great nieces and three great nephews. A memorial service was held June 24 at St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Cathedral, Denver, Colorado.