Friedhelm Kirchfeld: the Passing of an NCNM Legend

PORTLAND, Ore. (July 22, 2011)–Library Director Rick Severson just received word from Germany that NCNM’s beloved founding library director, Friedhelm Kirchfeld, died from complications of Alzheimers on July 14 at the age of 71. He lived in Germany with his wife, Sarah Stein-Kirchfeld and is survived by his sons, David and Aaron, and his sister, Andrea Fischbach and her family.

(Sarah and Friedhelm—as he was affectionately known by all at NCNM—are shown below.)

Friedhelm served NCNM as its first library director from 1978 until 2006, and was one of NCNM’s longest tenured employees at the time of his retirement. The first naturopathic librarian in North America, Friedhelm was often referred to as “NCNM’s institutional memory.” His dedication to preserving the history of the naturopathic profession in America led Friedhelm, along with co-author Wade Boyle, to write what has become the classic history of naturopathic medicine in America, Nature Doctors: Pioneers in Naturopathic Medicine.

Stories of his dedication to building NCNM’s library abound. One story, apparently vintage Friedhelm, ran in the spring issue of Nexus (“Donation of Rare Botanical Books Enriches Library”): No account of the NCNM Library collection is complete without a nod to Severson’s predecessor, Friedhelm Kirchfeld, who shepherded the library in its early years. Severson laughs in relating how Kirchfeld, now retired, began collecting books for the library.

“They couldn’t afford a library budget, so Friedhelm was resourceful,” Severson said. “He used to dumpster-dive outside the library of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) campus. He collected a number of homeopathy journals that they discarded.” Severson wrote to UCSF to tell its librarians how the ever-growing NCNM collection was started with their discards—and now UCSF is sharing information with NCNM about digitalization. “It’s a small world,” Severson said. “Friedhelm would be proud.”

Friedhelm returned for the last time to NCNM’s campus with Sarah in March 2010. They wanted to deliver one last collection of books to the library that Friedhelm had served with great dedication and love for 25 years. NCNM captured this great shot of Friedhelm, clearly enjoying himself with his NCNM friends.
(From left to right: Dr. David Schleich, Susan Hunter, Sarah Kirchfeld, Drs. Sussanna Czeranko and Glen Nagel.)

Friedhelm’s legacy to the NCNM library is profound, including the collection he amassed of the many volumes of books about naturopathic medicine that fill the library’s rare book room.

Dr. Sussanna Czeranko, who’s spent many, many happy hours in that room doing research, said, “NCNM has one of the richest collections of historical and rare books than any other naturopathic school in North America. We were truly blessed by Friedhelm’s wonderful contributions and his dedication in securing a firm foundation for our library and college for many generations to come.”

NCNM is indebted to Friedhelm for the legacy he created for NCNM.