Honoring a father by supporting what he loved
Alice Spitzer (’66) learned the WSU fight song almost as soon as she could talk — her father made sure of it.
“Dad was a total, total Coug,” she said.
So when he passed away, she honored him in a way that she knew he would love with the establishment of the Hendrik Baarslag Jr. Study Abroad Endowed Scholarship. The scholarship provides support for WSU engineering students to study abroad.
Baarslag (CE, ’32) was born in Amsterdam in 1909. He emigrated with his family as a child, eventually making his way to the Federal Way area. He attended WSU, where he graduated with a master’s degree in civil engineering. For most of his career, he worked for the city of Tacoma, eventually retiring as superintendent of the water department.
Spitzer remembers how her father loved his time at WSU, which at that time was known as Washington State College. Every semester, he loved the freedom as he caught the train that took him to far away Pullman, and he enjoyed the challenging engineering programs. He was particularly fond of the friends he made living in Stimson Hall. When the school considered tearing down the residence hall in the 1970s, he got involved with saving it.
“From the time we could talk, he was teaching us the WSU fight song,” she said.
When it came time to go to school, Spitzer’s father strongly encouraged all of his children to attend WSU.
At the same time, Baarslag also loved to travel. With his European origins, he realized the importance of a global view, said Spitzer. He traveled around the world, including to Africa, India, Thailand, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and to his native Holland.
Spitzer, too, became interested in distant places from the earliest age. She loved to pore over the family’s National Geographic magazines, and a high school Spanish teacher provided inspiration for her course of study.
“I inherited my love of travel from my dad,” she said.
During her time at WSU, Spitzer majored in foreign language with a minor in anthropology. She spent time abroad, living with a Spanish family in Madrid, Spain, where she worked as a governess. Later, she travelled across Europe. After she graduated, she joined the Peace Corps and worked in Tanzania.
Having the chance to study abroad and to experience foreign cultures is something every student should have, she said. Spending time in another country helps students learn about different cultures and habits across the world and broadens perspective. For engineering students, a foreign study experience prepares them for an increasingly global marketplace.
Many of the students who have received Baarslag scholarships indeed had never been outside the United States or had the chance to travel much before these study abroad experiences. With the support, they have reached far corners of the world, including China, Japan, Cuba, Norway, Spain, Australia, and Ireland. Their experiences have included learning about music in Ireland, studying Swahili, working as an intern at a water treatment facility in Tanzania, and seeing businesses “stacked up like a game of Jenga” in Japan.
Spitzer said her father would have loved helping students gain perspective about the world and become more globally engaged.
“The American way is not the only way,” she said. “We aren’t necessarily better. We’re just different from each other.”