Don Yoder, Folklife Studies, Religious Studies and American Studies

Don Yoder

Don Yoder, professor emeritus of folklife studies, religious studies and American studies at Penn, died of natural causes on August 11 at his home in Devon, Pennsylvania. He was 93 years old.

Dr. Yoder was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He received his PhD in religious studies from the University of Chicago in 1947. In his early career, he taught at Franklin and Marshall College and Muhlenberg College. In 1949, he co-founded the Pennsylvania Folklife Center with Alfred L. Shoemaker and J. William Frey. In 1950, they established the Kutztown Folk Festival, the first ethnic festival of its kind.

Dr. Yoder taught at Penn for four decades and directed 60 PhD dissertations. In 1956, he joined the Penn faculty as instructor and assistant professor of religious thought. In 1966, he became associate professor of religious thought. In 1974, he became associate professor of folklore and folklife and in 1975, he attained the rank of professor of folklore and folklife. In 1996, he became professor emeritus. Dr. Yoder chaired Penn’s graduate program in folklore and folklife from 1966 until 1969. He then served as co-chair of the graduate program from 1969 until 1971. In 1986, he won the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching (Almanac April 15, 1986).

Dr. Yoder was responsible for the introduction of the term “folklife” to its present academic use in the United States, and he helped to found the Center for American Folklife at the Library of Congress.

He was the co-owner of the Roughwood Collection with his cousin, William Woys Weaver. He has published seventeen books and countless articles on Pennsylvania Dutch folk culture. According to his colleagues, he was widely known in Europe and his work influenced the German composer Paul Hindemith and the German-American writer H. L. Mencken. Dr. Yoder was considered the dean of German-American genealogy. A self-described “incurable Pennsylvanian,” he devoted his life to the study and cultural preservation of the folkways of his native people and inspired new generations in reviving and maintaining the spirit of the Pennsylvania Dutch.
Dr. Yoder is survived by his cousin, William Woys Weaver.

A memorial service will be held at Haverford Friends Meeting, 855 Buck Lane, Haverford, PA 19041 on Saturday, October 24 from 10:30-11:30 a.m.