Last evening we had a presentation by Dan Rylance discussing Chester Fritz. This seemed like an appropriate time to blog about the early years of the man as well. Born in 1892, in Buxton, North Dakota, his family moved to Fargo, North Dakota, in 1898. Always living in poverty, his situation was exacerbated in 1902 when his father, Charles, was seriously injured in a threshing accident.
With the injury to his father, the family lost their main source of income. However, his mother was able to find work as a clerk and bookkeeper. As a result Chester Fritz was able to remain in school, and attended public school in Fargo from 1898 until 1905. It was during this time, in 1903, that the Fargo Carnegie Public Library opened and the young Fritz made daily visits, and consumed volumes of books. He was particularly enamored with Horatio Alger novels that gave the young man of no means hope for the future.
In 1905, when Chester Fritz was twelve years old, his mother apparently could no longer cope with the burdens of caring for a permanently handicapped husband and a young son. Anne Fritz disappeared in Februrary, 1905, and Chester Fritz never saw his mother again. As a result, he went to live in Lidgerwood, North Dakota, with his aunt and uncle, Katherine and Neil Macdonald. The change in his family status would change his life. The young Fritz excelled in Lidgerwood. He grew to become the high school football quarterback, and valedictorian of his graduating class.
Chester Fritz would go on to complete two years of higher education at the University of North Dakota, but he grew restless. Wanting to see more of the world he went west to Seattle, Washington. There he completed his baccalaureate degree in Commerce at the University of Washington. Shortly after he became employed by Fisher Flouring Mills, and it was while employed by that company that he began his journey to China. Selling flour in Hong Kong.
Want to hear Chester Fritz? Listen to a portion of his speech at our Omeka site from the original dedication ceremony in 1961: Chester Fritz Library Dedication Speech Recording
To learn more about Chester Fritz, check out this video with Wilbur Stolt, Director of Libraries at the University of North Dakota: