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Columbia Missourian

German scholar Adolf Schroeder helped Missouri residents connect with their heritage

By Shannon Robb
April 4, 2013 | 8:43 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Adolf "Dolf" E. Schroeder had a passion for German history. He was the son of German immigrants, lived in Germany for 16 years, and was one of a few people who could read the old German script used in pre-World War II bibles and letters, his son Richard Schroeder said. 

He shared this pride and passion for his heritage with the large population of immigrant descendants he found when he moved to Missouri in 1969.

Dr. Schroeder of Columbia died Friday, March 29, 2013. He was 97.

Dr. Schroeder was born on Feb. 1, 1916, in Covington, Va., to German immigrants, Richard Ernst Schroeder and Rosa Kordula Schroeder. At the age of five, he returned to Germany and was placed in the care of foster parents, Ernst and Hildegard Hempelmann.

After returning to the United States in 1938, Dr. Schroeder graduated from the University of Illinois in 1941. He then began working on a master's degree at Louisiana State University and received his doctorate in German literature from Ohio State University in 1950. 

After teaching at several universities, Dr. Schroeder began teaching at MU in 1970 until his retirement in 1985; he was named professor emeritus of German upon his retirement. 

His son said Dr. Schroeder's time living in Germany fueled his desire to teach others about German heritage. He especially enjoyed teaching those who had little knowledge of it, the result of anti-German sentiment after World War II, Richard Schroeder said.

"A lot of the Germans here in the state deliberately wouldn't talk about their history," Richard Schroeder said. "They wouldn't speak their language."

As the author and editor of many books, including several about Missouri towns rich with German history, Dr. Schroeder tried to change that sentiment. After his retirement from MU, Dr. Schroeder also led groups to Germany so they could reconnect with their places of origin.

"People are interested in their own backgrounds," Richard Schroeder said. "They're interested in their histories and their families, and he helped them."

Dr. Schroeder also helped to reestablish the Missouri Folklore Society in 1977. Cathy Barton, who knew Dr. Schroeder and his wife through the society, said he was a "cultural gem."

"Those are the people you're glad to know in your life," said Dave Para, Barton's husband and Missouri Folklore Society treasurer.

Dr. Schroeder is survived by his wife, Rebecca Boies Schroeder; son Richard Schroeder and his wife, Leah of Washington, D.C.; daughter-in-law Betty Schroeder of Baton Rouge, La.; and two grandsons, Michael Schroeder of Washington, D.C., and Luke Schroeder of Baton Rouge, La. 

His son Christopher Schroeder died earlier. 

Services will be held in late May at Lenoir Woods, 3710 S. Lenoir St. Memorial contributions can be made to the Lenoir Woods Benevolent Fund, the Rotary International Scholarship Fund or St. Andrew's Lutheran Church.