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Retired professor publishes volume of former Review PA Dutch columns
By: TIFFANY WOODALL Review Staff, Staff Writer
C. Richard (Dick) Beam’s 29-year career as a German language professor at Millersville University doesn’t end in retirement.
Since leaving the university Beam has worked on publishing a 12-volume Pennsylvania Dutch dictionary and a seven-volume collection of Pennsylvania Dutch columns written by Ernest Bechtel for the Ephrata Review.
Beam, 86, a native of Ephrata, compiled 18 years of Bechtel’s weekly newspaper columns into seven volumes with the help of Jennifer L. Trout, 30, a German language teacher. Together, they edited Bechtel’s writing for clarity and made it accessible to the public.
Bechtel wrote his columns from 1970 to 1988 about the beliefs and activities of the Pennsylvania Dutch.
"He himself was a very bright person with an excellent memory," Beam said about Bechtel. "A real Pennsylvania Dutchman has a good sense of humor — very infectious," he said.
The columns printed in each volume are presented in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect without accompanying translation. Beam encourages readers to learn the dialect, either on their own or with the help of an instructor.
"Something is expected of the reader," said Beam. "This isn’t third grade." He recommends Keith "Butch" Reigart as a local language instructor offering classes on Pennsylvania Dutch.
The primary purpose of publishing Bechtel’s columns is to preserve the dialect, which has thinned out over the years, but is still spoken by old-order Mennonites and Amish, Beam said.
"These columns are extremely valuable for the daily life of the Pennsylvania Dutch in the mid-twentieth century, and we’re helping the readership by making these columns available in separate volumes," he said.
Archiving Bechtel’s columns was a post-retirement project, but Beam had collected words for his dictionary for 50 years prior to publication. Beam noted that current speakers of the dialect may not recognize some words in his dictionary because a number of words included are no longer used.
"This has been a labor of love because I started learning the dialect as a little boy from my four grandparents," said Beam.
He began his study of standard German at Ephrata High School and he continued studying German at Franklin and Marshall (F&M) College after fighting in Germany during World War II. The late J. William (Bill) Frey, Beam’s mentor at F&M, inspired him to further his knowledge of the language.
"I saw through him what could be done," said Beam, who has since studied with experts in America, Germany and Austria. Studying abroad provided the European background for the dialect, he said.
Beam traveled as far west as Missouri and made 12 annual summer trips to Canada to research the dialect. He suspects he has covered more territory than anyone else in his research.
Any interested reader can find these volumes at Masthof bookstore in Morgantown or at the Cocalico Historic Society in Ephrata.