Burton David Fretz '62

Submitted by Craig H. Morgan

From The Olio

2621 College Ave., North Newton, Kansas
Prepared at Newton High School
Phi Delta Sigma, Vice President
Sailing Club, IRO,
STUDENT, Assistant Managing Editor

Burton David Fretz '62 died April 5, 2001.
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In Memory

Burt has been gone for over ten years now. Sixty is too young an age to die. But not too short a time to make a difference.

I asked Anne and the children, Nathan and Rachel, if Burt had the time and the inclination to set down in writing what he felt the significance of his life had been. It turns out he had, and he has left his family and us with a wonderful legacy.

Burt came to us from Kansas out of a Mennonite heritage where peace and justice are the guiding principles. In fact, Burt left Amherst in his first year and pursued educational opportunities at a Mennonite college.

But he came back. He overcame the culture shock of his initial taste of liberal New England education, to say nothing of big trees and mountains. He came back to prepare himself for the fight for peace and justice in the real world.

Burt didn't see any contradiction between "fighting" and "peace and justice". Always good humored, always with a smile and an easy laugh, Burt was tenacious in argument. He was equally at home at the Saturday night "keg" or in trying to make some sense out of English 1-2. He quickly earned the title "Mennonite Warrior" which I am just beginning to appreciate was a tremendous oxymoron.

At Amherst Burt learned to channel the passion he felt for social justice into the disciplines of rigorous academic inquiry. He left Amherst with the tools he needed to carry forward the fight for social justice. He also met the love of his life, Anne Jordan (Mount Holyoke '64), whom he married after she graduated.

Burt's professional career was divided into two parts. The first, from 1968 through 1977, was in Santa Maria, California with California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), one of the first programs in the "War on Poverty". Burt represented farm workers and the rural poor seeking protection against employers and benefits from the government. There he rubbed elbows with the likes of Caesar Chavez and then governor Ronald Reagan.

Burt's track record in pursuit of justice in California included barring non-attorney judges from hearing cases, establishing voting-rights for ex-felons, and prohibiting growers from spraying with pesticides while workers were in the fields, On the advocacy side, Burt worked to replace unsafe, unsanitary farm worker housing, helped set up a new Legal Services Corporation, and authored a federal statute making growers and labor contractors liable for farm worker abuse.

For the last 20 years of his career he was the Executive Director of the National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC), in Washington D. C. It was here that Burt achieved the pinnacle of his reputation as a civil rights advocate and litigator. He worked through the Social Security Administration and the Department of Agriculture to assure that SSI recipients received their full quota of food stamps. He won a monetary award plus job opportunities for 90 Foreign Service workers fired on the basis of age. As an advocate, Burt worked to prevent the defunding of Legal Services programs and at the end of his life, he was working with the National Indian Council to launch a project to help tribes develop long-term care for frail Indian elders. The testimonials at his memorial service spoke to the respect he had earned for fairness, compassion, and persistence.

No one wants to be remembered solely for the time spent at work and Burt did enjoy his private life. He loved the outdoors. Burt, Anne, and the children took camping trips from Maine to the West Coast. He also visited Manchu Picchu, Mayan and Aztec temples in Mexico, the ruins at Ephesus in Turkey and a final trip to Norway with Anne. Burt enjoyed mountain climbing, whether in California or on a special trip to Nepal in the Himalayas. He and Anne shared an interest in geology, inspired by a close relationship with Professor Gerald Brophy of the Geology Department at Amherst, who also happened to be the Phi Delt faculty advisor. When he wasn't off to some exotic ocation, he got his exercise walking along the C & O Canal or biking in Rock Creek Park. Burt still found time to give back to the community through numerous volunteer projects. In his private life, as well as in his professional career, Burt maintained his optimism, consideration for others, passionate love of life and family and the traditional Mennonite values in which he was raised.

When Burt realized that his time might be drawing to a close, he was able to reflect on all these interests and accomplishments, let his family know what was important to him and achieve a peace within himself that his life was both full and complete. No man could ask for more.



Link to National Senior Citizens Law Center In Memoriam

In Memoriam: Burton D. Fretz 1940-2001