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Hank Frundt: Scholar and Advocate for Social Justice

Joseph De Meyer and Susan Opotow

Hank Frundt, 2009 (Photo: Susan Opotow)

On September 16, 2010, SPSSI United Nations Representative Henry J. Frundt passed away at the age of 70 after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Hank, a sociology professor for more than 35 years at Ramapo College (NJ), was a long time member of SPSSI, an influential social scientist, a dedicated teacher, and a tireless advocate for social justice and peace with a special focus on Latin America and agribusiness. 

Hank was a pioneer, sensitive to emerging social issues that are only now starting to reach the wider public. These issues include: the protection of the human and economic rights of farm labourers; corporate responsibility (researched with a SPSSI SAGES grant); the protection of the natural environment along with indigenous people and their culture and traditions; and peace and disarmament education.

Hank’s recent book, Fair Bananas!Farmers, workers, and consumers strive to change an industry (U of Arizona Press, 2009) offers a ground-breaking analysis of the potential for an alliance of famers, workers, and consumers to promote a fair-trade label for bananas—much like for coffee and chocolate. His other publications include the award-winning Trade conditions and labor rights: U.S. initiatives, Dominican and Central American responses(University of Florida, 1998),andRefreshing pauses: Coca-Cola and human rights in Guatemala(Praeger, 1987).

Hank served as: Special Expert at the UN for SPSSI, UN NGO Commissioner for Disarmament Education and Commission on Sustainable Development, Secretary of the Labor Section of the Latin American Studies Association, Secretary-Treasurer of the US Labor Education in the Americas Project, and President and State Council Delegate for AFT Local 2274. He has been honored for his work with awards from the Organization of American States, the Fulbright Association, the MidAtlantic Council of Latin American Studies, SPSSI and NJ Peace Action.

For the past five years Hank served on SPSSI’s United Nations and International Relations Committee. Because of his prior work at the UN, Hank was an experienced, knowledgeable representative for SPSSI. His advice at our meetings was treasured because it was consistently concise, lucid, and wise. Deeply committed to educating youth about social justice, he brought the Model United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to his college and, in turn, brought his students to the UN to report on their activities.

Hank was an activist who fought for social justice by helping to organize labour unions in Central America and participating in street demonstrations, sometimes at great personal risk. At an impressive, moving memorial for Hank in October 2010 attended by SPSSI members Michelle Fine, Susan Opotow, and Joseph De Meyer, hundreds of people -- Hank’s admirers, colleagues, friends, and family members – celebrated Hank and the trajectory of his life. The room was decorated with some of his T-shirts (which were hung like flags) from scores of political demonstrations that sought peace and worker, immigrant, and youth rights throughout North, Central, and South America. Born in a small Minnesota town (called, appropriately, Blue Earth), Hank was an Eagle Scout in his youth and enrolled in a Jesuit seminary to study for the priesthood. He ultimately left the order and married Bette, a fellow civil rights activist with six children. At the memorial service the children, now grown, spoke eloquently and lovingly about a mutual process of “adoption” as their lives became entwined with this unique person and loving father.

Appropriately, towards the end of this memorial, we joined hands and sang the beautiful Spanish song, De Colores, performed by the Solidarity Singers, in honor of a tireless advocate for peace and justice who the world lost far too soon and who will be deeply missed.

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