Benjamin S. Friesen

Benjamin S. Friesen passed away on April 13, 2020. He was born in 1928, in Garden City, Kansas, to Henry and Wilhelmina Friesen. Together with his four siblings (Ruth, Harry, Al, and Walt) the days were filled with Christian faith, hijinks and singing. In the middle of a dust storm, during times of hopelessness, anguish, and boredom, the family sang.

Ben became the first from his family to attend school outside of the German Mennonite community in Meade, Kansas, attending Meade High School. There he excelled in academics, and glee club. He even played on their undefeated football team.

After completing high school, and a year of college, he taught in a one room school house near Meade. (On his 90 th birthday, he could still name every student.)

Ben attended the University of Kansas for undergraduate and Master’s studies, where he became an avid Jayhawk fan. While there, his cousin Nelda introduced Ben to her roommate from nursing school, Joyce. They were married for 67 years.

After being an itinerate graduate student (Iowa State, Cal Tech, and U-Cal Berkeley), he returned to the University of Kansas where he spent his entire working career (1960-2005), driving students crazy by making up viruses on tests and setting very high expectations. As a result, his students nominated him to the Health Physics Society which resulted in him becoming a Fellow (a little like being in the hall of fame). Ben believed the goal of teaching is to capture the student’s imagination.

Ben even taught in his spare time—teaching Sunday School at First Southern Baptist Church, twice creating the largest classes the church has ever seen.

And always there was faith and music.

Along the way, his four children were born —Stanley, Richard, Karen, and Judith, plus one daughter-in-law, Lynn. And later, six grandchildren: Aryn, Ben, Josh, Emily, Chris, and Maggie. During all that time there was music, whether comin’ round the mountain, hearing the bells, or working on the railroad.

Later, Ben and Joyce became world travelers, not just touring Europe, but China, Egypt, Israel, Australia, and Uzbekistan, following a trek his grandmother had made as a girl.

And to the end, whether singing and playing guitar at bedtime for his children and grandchildren, playing in a Mandolin-Guitar Ensemble, singing in the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus, playing classical guitar, or singing old hymns and Carter Family tunes with his brothers, there was always faith and music.

A memorial service will be held at a later date. Please make memorial contributions to the American Red Cross in lieu of flowers.


15 Condolences

  1. Doug & Barb Rich on April 15, 2020 at 11:01 am

    Joyce-Keeping you close in our hearts and prayers during this time. We are all feeling the loss of this dear Godly man. He left so many memories for each of us that knew him. He was a great teacher, leader and friend. Above all he loved God and shared that love with anyone he crossed paths with. His family was so important to him, especially you Joyce. We know Ben is in his heavenly home and what a joy and comfort this is. Our love to each of you.

  2. Rhetta Noever on April 15, 2020 at 11:45 am

    I am so sorry to hear of your dear husband and father passing. I know Ben has had a difficult time in the last many months and he is now at peace. All of you will miss him greatly, please know you are in my thoughts.

  3. Carl on April 17, 2020 at 9:54 am

    I took a class as a graduate student from Ben in the old Nuclear Reactor Building in the mid-sixties. Later, I joined the Environmental Health faculty who resided in the same building. Ben was an gifted teacher and a very friendly colleague. It was obvious he was a believe in Jesus because of these qualities and it was always a treat to meet him (and Joyce) whenever we would see each other at different occasions. Our latest meeting with Joyce was when my Joyce and she were in LMH. May the Holy Spirit bring His comfort to your family in Ben’s passing. He will definitely add to the joy of heaven; that’s for sure!

  4. Kay Jenista on April 17, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    Joyce, Judy and Karen,
    I’m so sorry to hear of Ben’s passing. I enjoyed knowing him and I know he will be missed. That lovely voice is now singing with the angles. My heart is heavy for all of you and your family. My prayers are with you.
    Kay Jenista

  5. Roy and Gloria Pennel on April 18, 2020 at 9:23 am

    Joyce and Family:

    We are very sorry for your loss!
    Ben was a very special Christian friend. He will be missed.
    We are remembering you and your family in our prayers.

  6. Edna Galle on April 18, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    Dear Joyce and family:
    May God’s love and peace surround you and your family as you morn the loss of your loved one.

    Peace be with you.

  7. Cheri Armbrister on April 19, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    So sorry to hear of your loss. Will be thinking of you.

  8. Susan T Masih on April 22, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    Richard and I will miss hearing from Ben and Joyce at Christmastime, just knowing Ben was still alive in this world, even if he plagued us with imaginary viruses on tests all those years ago! Ben was such a great support to us when Richard needed a faculty member at KU to be “anchor PhD advisor” when his research was off-campus. We will miss our anchor, no matter where we go or how high the waves get in life. We remember him with joy and thankfulness for having known him. Joyce, you and family are on our prayer chains now, Sincerely, Susan T. Masih and Richard J. Massoth., PhD.

  9. Larry Beach on April 22, 2020 at 7:18 pm

    Ben was a great colleague and teacher. He was both warm and detailed on various PhD oral exams I was privileged to work with him on, and our research discussions were always fruitful. We also shared a love for the mandolin. Our thoughts are with his lovely wife, Joyce. Larry (faculty) and Carol (PhD student) Beach.

  10. Michael Lemon on April 23, 2020 at 9:53 am

    One could not have had a better health physics mentor and friend than Ben Friesen! God’s work in Ben’s life was evident. He was born in Kansas of a Christian family, believed that Jesus was the Savior of sinners, met a special young lady in Joyce, and then crossed paths with Dr. Frank Hoecker at the University of Kansas. There he found his interest in radiation biology and physics. Radiation Biophysics at the University of Kansas was/is family! Dr. Ron Johnson, a former student of Ben’s, and a professor of mine at Malone College, opened the door for me to Kansas to work with Dr. John Zimbrick. I am indebted to Ron’s counsel, and treasure the twenty years that Ben and I worked together. Ben taught me how to teach, to look down the road, to promote prudent practice, to choose right over wrong even in a bind, and to serve faculty. I am proud of how Dr. Friesen lived life and how he cared for those around him.

  11. Brent Nasca on April 23, 2020 at 3:29 pm

    Ben was a gentlemen to love. I will always cherish the time spent with him as a friend and while he helped improve the radiation protection program at the old Kansas City Plant. Ben was our consultant for a few years and became a friend ever since. Doug, Mary, and I would get together with Ben once in a while just to catch up. Ben was truly a blessing to all who knew him.

  12. Tom Conley on April 24, 2020 at 8:20 am

    While I only met Ben a few times during my early years in nuclear power, his reputation always preceded him. The Health Physics community is far better off due to his contributions to the field. Health Physics has lost a great friend, mentor, teacher, and advocate. He will be missed by all in the field.

  13. Wayne Gaul on April 24, 2020 at 1:10 pm

    I remember Dr. Friesen quite fondly as a great intellect and detail oriented. He would always be available to answer questions and provide detailed explanation so you got “the rest of the story”. He inspired me at a Health Physics meeting in Boston when I was taking Part of the Certification exam by saying something like. “You have been taught the fundamentals so always go back to them and you will answer any question.” I remembered that throughout my career and paid the knowledge forward to many young HPs. I also remember him talking about the Dust Bowl days. Meade was the center of the worst part but his Faith kept him going. May God Bless his family with Peace in knowing he is with Jesus.

  14. Ken Wheeler on April 26, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    The first time I met Ben was in the AEC/NSF Summer Institute in Radiation Biology for High School Science Teachers in 1964. He instantly impressed me with the way he pursued his classroom teaching. Upon enrolling in the PhD program a year later, I nearly failed an hour exam in General Biophysics on one of his fantasy viruses. I sat for three quarters of the exam with nothing on my paper, because analysis of the data kept telling me the genetic material was a protein that used a doublet code. None of the other data made any sense for an earth virus either. Finally, I recognized this was a MOON virus, not an earth virus a successfully finished the exam.

    Ben was a good athlete and was the only faculty member to join in the softball and volleyball games at department picnics. When I joined the faculty in the mid-80s during the discontinuance process, Ben was a ferocious fighter against eliminating the departments degree programs, often at the risk of damaging his faculty position and reputation. Recently, I had the privilege to stop almost every year and visit with Ben and Joyce, at first with my kids and then alone. Ben always challenged me with an intellectual exercise; sometimes it was religious, sometimes, philosophical. Invariably, he had thought and written a lot on the subject before posing his challenge. As a man of deep faith, I am sure he will continue to intellectually challenge those he meets in his present journey. To Joyce, his children and grandchildren, I want to express my deepest sympathy for your loss. It was a privilege and an honor to have known Ben as a mentor, colleague and friend.

  15. Waldo Wiens on April 29, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    I have appreciated his friendship through the years and cherish the fond
    memories of our times together. Ben was a knowledgeable and
    remarkable teacher. I always looked forward to spending some time
    with him.

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