HISTORY OF ROBERT NORMAN FRIEDERICHS
Author: Bradley Alan Friederichs, son
Date: November 24, 2013
Robert was born December 15, 1925. His father was Arthur Friederichs who was originally from Iowa. His
mother was Florence Gustin. Florence’s mother died when she was young so she was raised by her father’s
brother. I don’t know what happened to her father other than her parents were divorced. At about 15 years
of age she married William Lawton Ripsom. They had two children, Lawton “Bud” and Harriet. William and
Florence eventually divorced.
Robert was the only child of Florence and Art Friederichs.
Robert as a young boy
ROBERT GROWING UP
Robert grew up in Oakland. He had a dog named “Tige” that was his companion during his teenage years.
Robert also appeared to be close to his half‐brother Bud.
Leslie (Robert’s niece), Art and Robert
After completing high school in April, 1944 Robert was drafted into WWII.
High School Graduation and Army Induction photo
Robert with his car
Upon his return from Germany in April, 1946 he met Alice Buttyan. They courted for 16 months and were
married in August 1947.
Robert and Alice on their wedding day, August, 1947
FAMILY OF ROBERT AND ALICE FRIEDERICHS
Robert became an Oakland policeman in 1949. I’m sure that my mother and father very happy for the stability
and security that this job brought to the family. He retired from police work in 1974.
Robert on his police motorcycle, c 1949
Within six years of their marriage Robert and Alice had three children—Kristine Elaine born November 28,
1948, Bradley Alan, March 24, 1952, and Eric Lawton, September 14, 1953.
Robert and Alice with Bradley, Kristine and Eric, c 1957
My father really loved his family. He came home from work to be with his family but he wasn’t there to sit
around. He always wanted to be doing something. If it wasn’t working, then it was having fun together. He
was a “ham.” He liked practical jokes too.
Robert and Alice at the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA, c 1959
Florence and Art Friederichs, Harriet Walkup (Robert’s half‐sister), Alice and Robert Friederichs and Kristine, c
Robert teaching Eric and Brad how to rototill, c 1958
My dad was pretty amazing. He couldn’t sit still so he always had a project. He didn’t know how to build
things but he wasn’t too proud to ask. He used to ask his policeman buddies, especially the corporation yard
shopman, how to do things.
He thought it was his job to teach us kids how to work. One project involved installing a heating/air
conditioning system (with ducts) in the attic and underfloor area of our house. There was lots of digging and
hauling duct. This was the days before “grabber” screws so first we had to drill a hole through two layers of
sheetkmetal pipe then take the drill out and drive the screw in with a hand screwdriver. I crawled way back in
the corner under the eave because my dad couldn’t. I was 7 or 8. I broke a tiny drill bit off once, and my dad
had to crawl all the way out of the attic to get another one. I felt pretty bad.
Robert and Brad working on a dune buggy
When we were 15/16, my dad brought home a 1959 Ford Fairlane. We started cutting it up with torches (Yes,
he taught us how to do that too) to remove the body down to the frame. Then we chopped the frame so the
wheelbase was about 6 ft. We took out the rear suspension and put big dually tires all around. It was a dune
buggy of sorts. It didn’t do well because all the weight of the engine was in the front, but the drive was in the
rear where it was light. My brother and I both learned how to weld doing this project.
Later on Eric became a welder and now owns a steel fabrication shop in San Jose, CA.
My dad was a good teacher. Whenever there was an opportunity he would have one of us do the work. And it
wasn’t just mundane things—he really tried to challenge us, but he didn’t overwhelm us either. Later on I
could see how my dad loved us in the way that he took care in teaching us.
Robert and Kristine crushing grapes to make wine
Kristine became a lawyer and the executive director for the California State Board of Equalization. She
managed 4,000 employees. She retired in 2012 and is now planting a five‐acre vineyard. She plans on making
her own wine.
And it wasn’t all work either. We would work on a project but then every weekend it seems we did something
fun. We’d go for bike rides up and down hills or go to the beach and body surf or go on hikes. During the
summer we went on 2‐3 week vacations in our trailer. We went up and down the national parks in California,
Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
Brad and Eric body surfing at Santa Cruz, CA
Brad and Eric at Pumpkin Harvest
When I was a teenager, my dad came up with the idea (from one of his friends no doubt) that we should learn
to skin dive. Once we learned, then we could dive in the ocean for abalone. Did I say yet that my dad was the
kind that didn’t want to spend any money (and I mean any) unless he had too? So he bought a kit to make our
wet suits (because the water is 50 deg F). We took the diving training at a local pool and got certified. It was
scary and cold that day, but I did it (and so did my brother).
Later we went to the coast on a weekend trip and met some other policemen for our first dive. We had to
haul our wet suits, 15 lbs weight belts, fins, mask and inner tube down a bluff to the water. What a struggle!
We got in the water and it was really hard even to see the bottom. I think we finally got some abalone so we
didn’t get “skunked.” We cleaned them, sliced them, pounded them and fried them. They are so delicious; if
you’ve ever had them, you know.
Robert and Eric diving for abalone on CA coast
We went on many more dive trips over the years. My dad just kept after it. If he wasn’t busy, he wasn’t happy
in one sense.
On the other hand it was hard for me to “connect” with my dad so as I got older it was hard to share with him.
With him it was always about doing or working or hiking together.
My mom on the other hand was very affectionate as am I. We had an excellent bond. We could talk about
anything and we both enjoyed it immensely. When she died in Dec 2012, it left a huge hollow spot in my
heart. Finding the Friederichs’ family in Iowa has been a godsend for me in that sense.
Anyway, as a child I was always taking things apart trying to figure out how they worked. At my grandpa
Buttyan’s house (my mother’s father) I took apart his alarm clock once just to see how it worked. However,
when I put it back together, it didn’t work and it never did work again. My grandfather wasn’t unhappy with
me. In fact, he said “leave Brad alone, let him take apart whatever he wants; that how he’s going to learn.”
Brad checking out how a camera is built (with Eric and Alice)
I was a pretty quiet boy, always thinking about how things were made. Sometimes I wouldn’t be interested in
the conversation going on around me so I’d find something to take apart and figure out—it could be something
as simple as a ballpoint pen (the one with the clicker). I was impressed with the ingenuity of the creator of
Brad “driving” tractor; Eric shoveling (later on I actually got the tractor running one Sunday morning—that got
my parent’s out of bed!)
When I was 12 or so, we had a pink Lincoln Continental that my dad got cheap somewhere. One day I was
wondering why is it that when you push on the gas pedal that the engine speeds up? So I decided to find out.
I poked my head under the gas pedal and found a rod and then a cable and then that connects to the
carburetor. Voila! I had discovered it. I was really happy.
Pink Lincoln, Kristine and surf mats
Alice and Robert at Widow Lake, Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA
Robert was a “ham” too
Robert just before “entry” into the pool!
I was always tinkering with things. I built an overpass/underpass in my backyard one day. I was imagining how
the cars would go around the curves and sloping road to go with the curve.
School came easy for me, but I didn’t try very hard because I could pass my classes without studying very
much. The crime is that because I didn’t study I didn’t learn much.
I hadn’t planned on going to college; but when I told my neighbor, he was surprised. Well that got me thinking
about it. I decided to go to Chico State College in Chico, CA. This is definitely a party school and boy did I have
a good time (I’m not proud of that either). I treated college like high school—I thought I could skate through it
without doing too much studying. That worked but then I didn’t like my major which was Forestry.
My roommate was an engineering major so I thought I’ll just change to that! What a shock! During my first
semester as an engineering student I flunked all three courses! Calculus, Physics and Chemistry. I’d never
failed at anything like this before.
I was really lost at this point. At 21 and without a job, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was getting
involved with people that were a bad influence on me. I became lazier. I moved to San Jose, CA and worked at
a place where I was previously employed. But I wasn’t a good employee. I didn’t do my job with my whole
heart. I didn’t pay attention to what needed to be done. I wasn’t very valuable to the owner.
Eventually the owner laid me off. This was another shock! I felt rejected and like I lost his approval of me. The
owner had also been my neighbor growing up so we had a long history and relationship.
This rejection really woke me up. I realized that I had let him down and wanted to regain his respect. I started
doing the “right” things and taking care of myself better.
Eventually he gave me an opportunity to work in his plant in Redding, CA, where he built houseboats. He was
giving me another chance. I felt like it was my last chance! I put my full effort into the job—painting, welding,
installing the engine, plumbing, electrical and delivering the boat to the lake. While at that job I had
aspirations to be the manager. I found out that the manager was an engineer so I decided that maybe I should
think again about studying engineering.
I started out slow at the junior college in Redding. I just took two classes but I studied as hard I could. I
wanted to learn it all.
Then I had to decide if I wanted to get an engineering degree which would take four tough years or a forestry
degree which was only two more years of college. I discussed it with my mom. We talked but she didn’t give
much advice. But in my talking it through with her I realized that I wanted to study engineering.
Once I made the decision I was determined not to fail—in fact I was determined to learn everything I could
about every class I took or book that I read. I outlined the books and learned everything that was assigned. It
wasn’t about the grade, although I got straight A’s over those four years, but about learning it all. That
attitude has been so, so valuable during my career which is now 34 years and counting. I can stand up against
any other engineer in court or anywhere else and be confident that I know what I’m talking about.
I decided to specialize in structural engineering because I could see and visualize structures better than
mechanical or electrical forces.
While I was in engineering school, I worked 15‐20 hours a week doing map drafting. I took summer school
each summer. I was so happy when I graduated. It just seemed impossible that I had done it, and it was
The focus and concentration I developed in school in order to graduate developed a lifelong ability to do the
same. My ideal job was to design tall buildings which to me was 10 stories or so.
Eventually I did that. I’ve spent 34 years designing or showing contractors how to build tall buildings, schools,
hospitals, etc. I really enjoy it. I feel like I’m helping someone get an economical but safe design.
The experience working with wood, steel and concrete that my dad taught us was invaluable. Engineering is
about showing others how to put things together so they are strong and secure.
My boss encouraged me to get involved in the Structural Engineers Association of California and I took his
advice. I joined committees and learned how to speak and run meetings at Toastmasters. After a few years I
was elected to the Board and then in 1989 I was elected president. Being president gave me a community‐
wide reputation that is very valuable today as a businessman and engineer.
Then my boss said I should join Rotary and I did. He said the people you meet are not important to you now
but they will be in 20 years or so. 25 years later I have to say he was right. The most important thing I learned
from Rotary is that there are so many professions out there—doctors, lawyers, contractors, insurance brokers,
health care professionals, architects, school administrators, trust fund managers, wholesale suppliers and
others. I met and got to know all of them. It broadened me so that I appreciated others even though they
were different from me. It helped me a lot in getting along with others.
I know that 25 years seems like a long time but it wasn’t a chore and time marches on no matter what you are
doing so do something worthwhile.
I spent 15 years at this firm. The last five years I learned to do marketing for engineering services. It was funny
that I was selected to do this because I did not like salesmen—I didn’t think they were truthful. But I had good
intuition about people and what they needed. I could perceive what it was going to take to make a sale. I
developed this intuition with the help of a coach (which I still use).
At this firm I had aspirations to be president. I’d been there 15 years. But about this time the firm became less
profitable, in fact only marginally profitable. I was 45 years old and I knew I would have to wait 10 years or so
in order to gain control of the company. I made the difficult decision to start my own engineering business in
1997 was a good time to start an engineering business; I had lots of contacts from my marketing; I had a good
reputation in the community; and I always tried to meet my commitments and promises. My coach kept
coaching me, helping me learn how to manage business and relationships.
I’ve worked by myself, except for a draftsman, since I started. I design pump stations, tear apart nuclear
power plants, design waste water plants, install new glass making furnaces, install conveyors and mechanical
equipment in food processing plants. I figure out how to build things. I’ve designed multi‐story buildings of
concrete, steel, wood and masonry. I’ve worked on the design for the San Francisco‐Oakland Bay Bridge. I’ve
testified in court as an expert witness explaining how a casino or other structure was or should have been
built. I’ve seen earthquake damage up close and “red” tagged buildings to prevent occupancy.
The Great Recession has been more of a struggle than I thought it would be. Prior to 2008, I had more work
than I could do. I was really stressed trying to get it all done. After mid‐2008 there were no more wastewater
treatment plants. These accounted for one‐half of my revenue per year; also there were hardly any calls. My
revenue kept going down. We moved the office to save money. I reduced my salary. I scrutinized my
expenses. I started making sales calls again. Things didn’t start to improve until Jan. 2013—5 years later.
That’s a long time. Now I have enough work again and I’m turning down jobs because I have too much. Ah!
It’s getting towards the end of my career as an engineer. My wife and I are looking into the next phase of our
life together. I enjoy mentoring young men to help them find their way in life, to be productive and accept the
MY PARENTS’ FINAL CHAPTER
In 1973, Robert retired from the police department at 49 years old. He had a lot of time on his hands. They
moved to Fiddletown, CA where they bought an 80‐acre ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills. They worked
together. They built a garage, a swimming pool and re‐roofed the house. They did all this work with their own
Robert loved gardening. He always had an abundance of tomatoes, green peppers, squash and cucumber
every summer. He cut firewood on his own property to heat the house.
In 1984 they decided to build a house on the northern California coast at Pt. Arena, CA, on a lot they had
bought in the 1960’s.
Beach house at Pt. Arena‐built by Robert and Alice
They constructed every piece, except the foundation, with their own hands. Robert used to say that Alice was
the brains behind it. It took them five years to finish it. This project was a challenge! They never gave up.
Alice was a talented water color artist. She painted for 50 years. Much of her work is on display at the beach
house and many other homes in California.
Robert died in January, 2004 from a massive stroke. Alice died in December, 2012. She just didn’t wake up
one morning. They have both been a blessing to all three of us, Kristine, Brad and Eric as well as their