Roger Rietberg of Holland, who retired from the Hope College music faculty in 1990 after 36 years at the college, died on Wednesday, May 19, 2020. He was 97.
Rietberg, who was a 1947 Hope graduate, taught at Hope from 1954 until retiring as professor emeritus. Among other service in the Department of Music, he was college organist; directed the Hope Chancel Choir (now College Chorus) for many years and the Men’s Choir; and directed the college's Chapel Choir during his final 15 years on the faculty, succeeding long-time director Robert W. Cavanaugh. His roles at the college through the years also included serving as associate director of admissions and director of admissions in the 1960s.
The Rietberg classroom in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts, which opened in 2015, is named in his honor. He was one of three retired music faculty – along with Joan Conway and Dr. Robert Ritsema – featured as “living legends” in a panel discussion during the Department of Music’s annual opening convocation on Aug. 31, 2017. He received a Meritorious Service Award from Hope during the college’s Winter Happening event on Feb. 7, 1998.
An early 90th birthday celebration was held in his honor at Hope during the college’s Alumni Weekend in 2012, during which the classroom-naming recognition was announced. Choir alumni were invited to share reflections and sing under his direction during the event; videos are available on YouTube of the group performing the college’s “Alma Mater Hymn” and John Rutter’s “A Gaelic Blessing” (the latter of which was a signature part of the choir’s touring repertoire during Rietberg’s tenure). Also available on YouTube is a 2017 video in which he shares reflections at age 95.
He was a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Force, serving in Italy during World War II. Prior to coming to joining the Hope faculty, he was the minister of music at First Methodist United Methodist Church in Red Bank, New Jersey, and was an adjunct professor and director of the Men’s Choir at Western Theological Seminary. He was also minister of music at Third Reformed Church in Holland from 1950 to 1995.
Among other community activities, he was a member and past president of Holland Rotary and a member of the Board of the Holland Area Arts Council. He served as an elder at Third Reformed Church, and was on the Hymnbook Committee for the Reformed Church in America in the publication of “Rejoice in the Lord.” He was also interim minister of music at Central Reformed Church in Grand Rapids from February through July of 1997, and had volunteered as chapel organist at Western Theological Seminary.
In addition to his degree from Hope, Rietberg held an M.S.M. from the Union Theological Seminary School of Music, and had done additional study at the Juilliard School of Music, Syracuse University, Harvard University, and numerous summer choral institutes in the U.S. and England.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Evelyn, in 2016; and by a young son, Tommy, who died in 1968 following surgery for a brain tumor. Survivors include a son, Jon (Phyllis) Rietberg ’80; two daughters, Robbi ’83 (Robert ’84) Hartt and Amy ’92 (Kurt) Van Allsburg; and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The family was served by Langeland-Sterenberg Funeral Home. For his full obituary and to leave condolences, please visit his page on the Langeland-Sterenberg Funeral Home website.
He was buried with military honors at Pilgrim Home Cemetery following a small family ceremony (to view the graveside service, please select the multimedia tab on his page on the funeral home’s website). His memorial celebration will be postponed until a later time.
Memorial gifts may be made to The Roger and Evelyn Rietberg Music Scholarship Fund at Hope and to St. Baldrick’s Foundation for childhood cancer research.