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Willem A. Bijlefeld
(May 8, 1925 - December 15, 2013)

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Willem A. Bijlefeld

SOUTH READING, VT Willem A. Bijlefeld, 88, a resident of South Reading passed away Sunday evening, December 15 at the Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor following a long illness. He was born May 8, 1925, in Tobelo, Indonesia, the son of Jan and Johanna (Vandijk) Bijlefeld. For more than 20 years, Wim and his wife, Catherine, (Ineke) have lived in a house redesigned by Wim’s architect brother, Jan. They’ve been gracious hosts to hundreds of visitors – friends, family and former students and colleagues – from around the world. Many lucky guests were treated to Wim’s elaborate and colorful rijsttafel and the beautiful photographs he took on his travels. Prior to retiring in Vermont, Wim taught comparative religions in The Netherlands, Nigeria, Montreal and Hartford, Conn. He lectured internationally for decades, spreading his lifelong passion for inter-religious dialogue, particularly between Muslims and Christians. He traveled to Indonesia, Egypt, India, South Africa, Lebanon, throughout Europe and the U.S. His interest stemmed initially from his early childhood on a small island in Indonesia, where his parents were mission workers. He spent most of his career at the Hartford Seminary, in Hartford, CT, where he taught and served as academic dean and founder and director of the Duncan Black Macdonald Center, and he served as the editor of The Muslim World. He established the Islamic Studies program at McGill University in Montreal in 1975. He met Ineke while he was a student of her father, Th. C. Vriezen, his first teacher of Arabic. They were married in 1950. The young family lived in the Netherlands and Nigeria before coming to the U.S. in 1966. His family and friends remember him for his wit, gentleness, intelligence, eloquence, guidance and his genuine interest in whomever he was with. He encouraged his daughters and other young people to pursue higher education and fulfilling careers. He appreciated the simple things: time with his children, grandchildren and extended family; his book-filled log cabin in the woods; classical music; lively conversation; good food and beautiful scenery. He was predeceased by his parents and by one brother, Jan Bijlefeld, and one sister, Miek Wieringa. Survivors include his wife, Catherine Bijlefeld of South Reading, four daughters, Astuti Bijlefeld of Bluff Point, NY; Wilhelmina Bodine of Henniker, NH; Joke Trzaskos of Coventry, CT; and Marjolijn Bijlefeld and her husband, Robert Burke, of Fredericksburg, VA; one brother, Piet Bijlefeld of Amsterdam, Netherlands; twelve grandchildren, Raphael Wright, Joshua Wright, Micah Wright, Lydia Scheepsma, Johanna Wright, Nathaniel Wright, David Wright, Melissa Tobey, Courtney Harvey, Justin Trzaskos, Emily Burke and John Burke and eight great grandchildren. In addition, he is survived by a large and extended family of nieces, nephews, Vriezen family in-laws and Debbie and Robert Singleton of South Reading, an important part of his “Vermont family.” In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Wim’s honor to the Mt. Ascutney Hospital Hospice Unit at 289 County Road, Windsor, VT 05089 or the Reading Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad at PO Box 83, Reading, VT 05062 or to a charity of one’s choice. The family appreciates the tremendous level care he received at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and from the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of Ludlow. A memorial celebration will be held Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 11:00 AM at the United Church of Ludlow at 48 Pleasant Street in Ludlow, Vermont. The Rev. Donald Harpster will officiate. Committal services will be held at the convenience of his family in the Amsden Cemetery in Reading, VT. The Knight Funeral Home in Windsor was entrusted with the arrangements.

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