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Dave Fredrickson

David A. Fredrickson

(1927 – 2012)


Roger Werner of Stockton shared this memory:

    I walked onto the Sonoma State College campus the second week of January 1976. I was living in Guerneville at the time and a fellow denizen of Western Avenue was making the trek to campus to meet with his adviser and asked if I wanted to come along for the ride. As I was doing nothing else I opted in. I thought I might check out the History department with an idea of taking a class or two. A few weeks before the beginning of the Spring semester, the History department was closed; in fact, most of Stevenson was closed and I thought perhaps the library might be open. I walked past what seemed like the only lighted room on the entire second floor and to my surprise, it exhibited activity. Above the open door I saw ‘Archaeology Laboratory’ and I poked my head in. I observed perhaps a half dozen students working with stuff on counters around the room’s perimeter. Students were walking back and forth into an adjoining room and in the middle of the room, sitting at a student desk, was a man wearing a pair of dusty jeans, cowboy boots, a blue denim shirt, and a leather vest. I stood in the doorway and when noticed, I walked in and introduced myself, explaining why I was visiting Sonoma. This was my introduction to Dave Fredrickson. He gave me a tour of the Archaeology Laboratory where some students were sorting bags of shell collected during an excavation the previous summer, an introduction to the fields of anthropology and archaeology, and then spent the next 90 minutes talking with me about my field experiences in geology and geography, and my history interests and training, and how they might fit into a career in anthropology. By the end of our discussion, I had met several students, signed up for volunteer work, had a spring semester course of study worked out, and an appointment to meet with Dave the following week. Most importantly, although at the time I had not yet realized it, this total stranger lit a fire in me that hasn’t burned out after 37 years. For many university faculty, 90 minutes is an eternity and Dave gave it to me freely, a kid he did not know and might never see again. It was 90 minutes that literally changed my life.

    During my first year at Sonoma, January 1976 to January 1977, I maintained a ‘day job,’ which was I suppose my way of remaining tethered to what was familiar and comfortable. As I immersed myself into what was literally a new world, my day job tether began to feel anchor-like but I was still just a volunteer and I had to have funds for the basics. I moved to within a mile of campus, which freed up time for courses and volunteering, and Fall 1976 I began earning my first archaeology dollars. I recall thinking how cool it was to get paid to do something I’d be doing for free. I had confided to Dave the previous summer that I was certain about a career in archaeology and we talked about what that would require, in particularly a graduate degree. In my 20s, I was always in a hurry and I wanted to quit my job and focus on archaeology. That was not very practical at the time but some six months later Dave was influential in advising me to leave my last ‘job,’ enabling me to devote full time on my career. This was a big step as it meant giving up the notion of a regular pay check. Having been in the profession for more than 30 years, I have seen many a young archaeologist reach this point, only to back away. The decision to devote one’s full energy and time to archaeology with no guarantee of a pay check was one of the scariest and most important I’ve ever made. I could, I would not have made it without Dave’s constant and as I learned much later behind the scenes assistance. Once I left my regular employment, and, for as long as I was associated with Dave’s program (through summer 1982), I never lacked for interesting work to do and I always earned enough funds to pay my school fees, purchase books, and with enough funds left over to live in reasonable comfort. Dave instilled in his students the idea that archaeology wasn’t employment, it was akin to a calling, and if one followed this calling, one would learn to appreciate simple living and the personal pleasures gained from the unique working circumstances offered by the profession. Those of us thinking about our futures circa 1977 had no idea the extent CRM would change the face of American archaeology and make careers for many of us possible.

    In June 1977 and January 1978, Dave recommended me for my first full time archaeology employment: I felt as if I had won the lottery. In winter 1977-78, I told Dave of my intention to apply to graduate school. We talked about this and his advice was to apply to a program with a doctorate if my goal was a career in academia, which at that time seemed the only viable option. Dave told me his belief that in a few short years the profession of archaeology would be in dire need of individuals trained in Cultural Resource Management and that work would be available in both government and the private sector. He told me about Sonoma’s pending university status and a pending graduate program in CRM. If I was interested in CRM I would be welcome to be part of the first class. I seem to recall feeling a great deal of relief because I would have had a difficult time leaving Sonoma.  I could write pages about Dave’s efforts on my behalf. Suffice it to say that much of what I learned about archaeology and CRM was a result of Dave’s teachings and training. Although I knew how to write, Dave taught me a more concise writing style. He had nothing but encouragement for my tangential studies in geology, geography, and history. He encouraged my association with the History Department’s historic preservation laboratory. In 1979, Dave worked closely with his graduate students in writing proposals for various government and private contracts. There were no research or teaching assistanceships at Sonoma, and so Dave felt obligated to help his students fund their education through writing contracts. Many of us in fact earned our way through graduate school through contract archaeology.

    Thinking back to those years, it’s clear to me that Dave understood the abilities of his students, not merely our technical abilities but our levels of maturity and the degree with which we could be relied upon. As far as I could tell, he never gave anyone more than they could handle successfully and never allowed anyone to rush into failure. When he gave his students opportunities, we were always well prepared. Furthermore, we had each other for encouragement and to use as resources. Failure was simply never an option. Among his students, I dare say he was revered to the extent that none of us would or could let him down. As far as I know, in my 6+ years in the Sonoma program, I never once heard anyone mention to idea of failing at a task. The idea that one could overrun a budget was never an option. Dave would hand you a project, a budget, and ask for a draft report by a certain date. He was available when needed. That was it. Dave imparted to his students an amazing work ethic: Once one took on a responsibility what counted was completing the task. When the budget was gone, the project director finished the work. Anything less would have been unacceptable to Dave and those of us who were with him in the mid-1970s we learned his work ethic. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it would have been difficult for anyone not to become a better person for having had an association with this remarkable man.