Fred Eyster

The humble servant

Remembered for his gentleness and devotion to his faith, Reverend Fred Eyster (UCC) served as the National Farm Worker Ministry’s Co-Executive Director with Sister Pat Drydyk from 1982 until 1986. It was a transitional time in the Ministry’s history. For the first time, the Ministry made the decision to expand its support for farm workers outside of California and the United Farm Workers, supporting the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s (FLOC) Campbell’s Soup boycott. It was the Ministry’s first national campaign and second farm worker partnership. 

“With Fred Eyster, the question was ‘where do we go, what do we do?’ There were farm workers all over the country,,” remembers Kathy Muguria who along with husband Lupe were involved with the Ministry and the United Farm Workers for many years. 

“NFWM got involved outside of California with Campbell’s Soup. We were gaining traction with the Catholic Church. Fred Eyster had become the Director [of NFWM] and Cesar [Chavez] gave his blessing for the Ministry to support the Campbell’s Soup boycott. FLOC went to La Paz and gave a presentation. Sister Pat [Drydyk] and Fred got involved on the ground at that point,” said Baldemar Valesquez, President of FLOC.

An ordained United Church of Christ pastor, Fred was born in Altoona, PA and grew up in Hagerstown, MD. He attended Marshall College and Union Theological Seminary in New York. He was ordained in 1965 and served in Keene, NH and Bethlehem, PA before joining the Ministry in 1972.

“Fred was my best friend at the time [when he became Executive Director],” said Richard Cook, an early NFWM staff member. “He died within 3 years of taking over as Director. He would have been somebody who could have made transitions to support other organizing efforts around the country. He was extraordinarily likeable.”

Fred served the farm worker movement in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and the Midwest. His work spanned a variety and diversity of campaigns to support farm workers, including a ministry he initiated for pesticide victims – the children who have cancer and birth defects caused by pesticides. “Fred was a great guy. He was very soft spoken. I worked for him for about 3 or 4 years,” said Roberta “Bert” Perry, a long-time NFWM staff person. “He was a gentle person but very firm in his beliefs and what he stood for. He was a lot of fun. He was a very good teacher. He was good at explaining the whys and wherefores of what was going on and why it was important. He was very patient. He wanted to make sure you understood what was happening and why – and what you could do. We became very good friends as the years went by.”

True to his gentle and faithful character so fondly remembered, Fred wrote in the NFWM’s 1985 fall newsletter: “Our ministry’s true calling is to servanthood. We must be ready to accept the fact that farm workers know very well what they need, and what works for them, in order to win freedom and dignity. Our place is not to dictate but to ask what is needed from us. As Jesus said to the woman who tugged at the hem of his garment, ‘What do you want of me?’ What the farm workers want of us now is to boycott grapes.”

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