Joe Friedman Eulogy


Bob Vartabedian


Dr. Joseph Friedman was born in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1920. And, he certainly had a remarkable life.


He was a war hero and liberator of Holocaust survivors. He also had a career as a well-respected local podiatrist. And, as we all know, he was a highly accomplished performer, writer, and researcher.


All the while, he always remembered his hometown and his alma mater, St. Joseph Junior College—now known as Missouri Western State University. All the while, he was incredibly philanthropic of his time, talent, and resources.


Events that many of us only read about in history books were directly experienced by Joe Friedman. As a hero during WWII, he helped liberate a number of Holocaust survivors.


The first time I met Joe was at a restaurant luncheon also attended my wife, Laurel; and Kim Weddle. Joe shared dramatic narratives of his wartime experiences, and there was not a dry eye in the house–including our restaurant waitperson. I knew then, as I know even more now, that this was a man who had a very interesting life-journey.


He came back from the war with what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But he had the wherewithal to finish podiatry school in 1949, and set up his practice in St. Joe. He had a successful practice until 1962.


Then, in his early 40s, he fell in love with acting and followed his heart first to Colorado, then to New York and Hollywood. In 1969, he married the “love of his life,” Gladys, and they were quite a team until her death in 1995.


One of his many acting claims to fame was his 2,840 performances in “Fiddler on the Roof,” which, ironically, we will be doing this summer. We will dedicate all performances to his memory.


Another of his claims to fame was his Emmy for his research for the 1986 documentary, “Secrets of the Titanic.”


Without question, Joe was a very busy man, but he has always made time for his numerous philanthropic causes. These causes include:

  • Missouri Western’s nontraditional students
  • His beloved Kiwanis Club
  • His alumni room in the Fulkerson Center at Missouri Western
  • Numerous scholarships in areas such as voice, theater, and engineering technology


Even our graduation ceremonies have been enhanced by his generosity. The university mace, my presidential medallion, and the six processional banners were all provided by Joe.


If I were to list all of his honors in his 95 years of humane service, we would be here for a long, long time. I will give you a few examples.


His Military Awards included:

  • Seven letters of commendation
  • An Army Commendation Medal
  • European, African, and Middle Eastern Campaign Medals—with three battle stars
  • An “Army Occupation in Germany” Medal
  • WWII American Campaign Medal
  • A Victory Medal
  • and, a State of Missouri Medal for Service in WWII


His Civic Awards included:

  • Three keys to the city of St. Joseph, Missouri
  • A Second Harvest award for furthering the mission of the food bank
  • The Jefferson Award for outstanding community and public service to our nation
  • The Walter Zeller Fellowship Award from Kiwanis International,
  • and Missouri Western State University’s Distinguished Alumni Award

His artistic honors included:

  • Nearly 3,000 performances in New York and Los Angeles of “Fiddler on the Roof”
  • The Mayor’s Award for artistic achievement from the Allied Arts Council
  • and, an Emmy Award, as mentioned, for National Geographic’s Secrets of the Titanic


Finally, in 2013 Joe received the highest honor our university can grant: an honorary doctorate of humane letters.


The life of Joe Friedman was a wonderful gift to St. Joseph and Missouri Western, and a wonderful gift to anyone fortunate enough to know him. As Shakespeare once wrote: “Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”


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