Roger Rietberg ’47
Roger J. Rietberg was united with his loved ones on Tuesday, May 19—the postlude to 97 years of service on earth and prelude to eternity. Born in 1922 to Jay and Katherine Rietberg of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Roger was the oldest of four children (Eleonor and Verna, who predeceased him, and Warren, who lives in Grandville). He graduated from Lee High School in Wyoming and enrolled at Hope College in 1940. Returning home to Eighth Reformed Church to play the organ for the Sunday evening service in 1942, he saw the service stars hung in the sanctuary and felt a strong call to enlist. He joined the U. S. Army Air Force in November of his junior year in college and, following basic training in Florida, served in Italy in the 4th Troop Carrier Squadron 62nd Group as a radio operator. Following the war, he returned to Hope to complete his B. A. with a major in music in 1947.
In 1949 he earned his M.S.M. degree from Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music. While earning his degree, he studied with Vernon De Tar and played the organ at the Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue. He continued his studies throughout his music career at the Juilliard School, Syracuse University, Harvard University, and numerous summer choral institutes in the U.S. and England. He served as the minister of music at First Methodist Church in Red Bank, New Jersey, from 1948 to 1950 and as adjunct professor and director of the Men’s Choir at Western Theological Seminary shortly after. He was appointed minister of music at Third Reformed Church in Holland in 1950, the beginning of a 45-year ministry and lifelong friendships with that congregation. He met his wife, Evelyn Huizenga, when he strategically invited her to sing for a Sunday service. Upon meeting her and hearing her voice, he “knew right away that she was the one.” They were married at Third in 1955 and had four children – Jon, Tommy, Robbi, and Amy. Tommy was in third grade at Southside Christian School when he died following surgery for a brain tumor in 1968. Their 60-year marriage was founded on their deep love for each other and their shared passion for music.
Roger joined the Hope College music faculty in 1954. From 1964 to 1968, he served as Director of Admissions at Hope, recruiting students from the East Coast and promoting the college he loved. In 1968 he was appointed Associate Professor of Music (becoming Full Professor in 1977). Roger served for many years as the director of the Hope Chancel Choir (now College Chorus) and as director of the Men’s Choir. In 1973 he took a sabbatical leave to study organ with Bernard Bartelink in the Netherlands, bringing his wife and family on one of the most memorable adventures of their family life. Roger also taught music theory, choral conducting, church music, music appreciation, and organ lessons and served as college organist and chair of the Christmas Vespers program.
Upon Robert Cavanaugh’s retirement in 1974, he directed the Chapel Choir for 15 years, which became one of his life’s greatest joys. He led the choir on tours throughout the U.S. and Canada, two tours to Europe and one to the Soviet Union, along with performances at area churches and campus convocations and services. His greatest legacy, however, was the relationships he formed as “Coach” (a term of endearment that stayed with him throughout his life). He earned that name by building a strong, unified team of diverse talents and taking special interest in their individual lives. His humor, high expectations, commitment to student voice, and appreciation for a job well done earned him deep respect. He had an amazing capacity for remembering all of the names and details of his choir members’ lives and for keeping in touch long after they left campus.
He was co- director of the “Sounds of Friendship” Choir from Western Michigan on their tour of The Netherlands in 1982 in observance of the Bicentennial of Dutch-American relations.
He was a long time member of the Holland Rotary Club, the Century Club, and several musical organizations, including the College Choral Directors Association, the American Guild of Organists, and the Hymn Society of America. His influence on music in the Reformed Church included serving on the Worship Commission of the RCA and on the Hymnbook Committee with Erik Routley, which curated the hymnal Rejoice in the Lord. He retired from Hope College in 1990, following 36 years of teaching, and from Third Church in 1995. “There are lots of things I wish I could have fit in,” he said upon retiring from both, but to all who had the privilege of working with him, it is hard to imagine a richer life or career.
In his years of retirement, Roger was honored to play the organ for chapel services at Western Theological Seminary and for countless weddings and funerals of former Hope students and church friends. He devoted most of his energy, however, to being a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather to his children, grandchildren (Becky Dykema and Katie Rietberg; Ryley, Sarah Kate, and Pieter Hartt; Maddie and Taylor Van Allsburg), and great grandchildren (Bella and Shane Dykema and Rhys Hartt). Following a fall and hip surgery in 2011, his quick step was slowed a bit, but he still made it religiously to JP’s for coffee, “kletzing” with old and new friends. After Evelyn’s passing, he resided at Appledorn North, where he formed deep ties with his caregivers and enjoyed reconnecting with many past colleagues. He was known for his twinkling eyes and warm greetings (as well as his love of Junior Mints).
Roger was buried with military honors on May 21 at Pilgrim Home Cemetery, following a small family ceremony. ( To view the graveside service, please visit www. langelandsterenberg.com