War veteran's family gives to keep lessons of the past alive

A lifelong love of history, coupled with a desire to keep the lessons of the past alive and relevant today, has fueled a generous gift to the University of Lethbridge’s Department of History.

Dr. Christopher Epplett, left, and Dr. Gerhard Driedger. The Driedger family donation to the Department of History will support lectures, guest speakers, conferences and the establishment of a scholarship.

Dr. Gerhard Driedger, forced as a teenager to participate in a war his family did not support, would later pass the lessons of history on to his four children. It was a message that resonated within the Driedger family, prompting his children to make a $100,000 donation in support of the Department of History.

“I will not say that the politician will learn the facts of history before they engage in warfare, but we can inform people to look at history, so they do not go blind into that adventure,” says Driedger, a longtime orthopedic surgeon in Lethbridge who emigrated to Canada following the Second World War.

Pushed into service as a young teen, Driedger worked in medical service before being taken as a prisoner of war by the British Army. His older brother killed in combat, Driedger served in various army hospitals until the war’s conclusion. He would leave West Germany with his wife Hilda and their first two children, steaming across the Atlantic aboard the Beaverbrae and eventually debarking in Saint John, NB with a scant $10 to their names.

“I will never forget, I was so proud. They did not refer to us as immigrants but as New Canadians,” recounts Driedger.

The Driedger family. Back row (L to R) Maria Kimber, Walter Driedger, Bernhard Driedger and Peter Driedger. Front row (L to R) Hilda and Gerhard Driedger.

After landing in Canada, Driedger worked in general medical practice for three years before he went on to complete his studies in orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. Later, he and Hilda put down roots in Lethbridge, where they have lived ever since.

“My father was an orthopedic surgeon, but he always had a great interest in history and wanted to do something to promote it,” says Walter Driedger, one of Gerhard and Hilda’s sons. “Fundamentally, he doesn’t want the next generation to be totally ignorant of the history of Eastern Europe.”

Half of the money will be used to support the history department for activities such as lectures, guest speakers and conferences. The remaining half will establish a scholarship that will be presented to fourth-year history students of high academic standing, covering 50 per cent of their tuition and fees. 

“Generous donations to the University of Lethbridge like that of the Driedger family, in addition to strengthening the programs offered by the departments which receive them, also allow some students to attend university who might otherwise not be able, or avoid falling into debt during their studies,” says Dr. Christopher Epplett, Chair of the Department of History. 

“I would simply like to thank the Driedger family for their exemplary generosity. Our department will certainly strive to use the Driedger bequest in as many ways as possible to further the study and appreciation of history, both at the University of Lethbridge and in the wider community.”