If you have any interest in Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, you’ve almost certainly heard the name Don Yoder. This giant of the folklore world died on August 11, 2015, and the world lost a man who probably did more than any single individual to promote and document Deitsch culture.
Yoder wrote and published numerous books on all aspects of Deitsch culture, including its music, holidays, art, language, beliefs, stories, customs, and more. With colleagues, he founded the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center, which later became the Pennsylvania Folklife Society. He also started the publication “The Pennsylvania Dutchman“, which would go on to become “Pennsylvania Folklife Magazine”. The Kutztown Folk Festival, a 9 day celebration of Pennsylvania Dutch culture, was begun as the first folk festival in the country by Yoder in 1950.
Throughout his long career as a professor, researcher, and writer, Yoder tirelessly documented and promoted Deitsch culture. He interviewed community elders and preserved their knowledge of Deitsch traditions in recordings and written interviews, and shared that knowledge with the world.
Yoder’s contributions have had a direct impact on both my appreciation of the culture that I come from and on my spirituality. Thanks to him, the knowledge that might have been wiped out by prejudice and diaspora lives on, available for those of us who our finding our way back to our Deitsch roots. Tonight, I take time to remember Dr. Yoder, and honor his incredible contributions to our people, and the study of folklore as a whole. May he ever be hailed!