Freyberger Professor of Pennsylvania German Studies Faculty Fellowship

Dr. William W. Donner Appointed Freyberger Professor of Pennsylvania German Studies at Kutztown University

Professor holds open book while discussing it with student

Dr. William Donner, Freyberger Professor of Pennsylvania German Studies

June 06, 2023

KUTZTOWN, Pa. – Dr. William W. Donner, professor of Anthropology, has received a two-year appointment as Freyberger Professor of Pennsylvania German Studies, a newly relaunched Faculty Fellowship at the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, effective July 1.

The Freyberger Professorship has been relaunched for the 2023-24 academic year as a faculty fellowship for the two-year appointment of a Kutztown University professor to coordinate the interdisciplinary Pennsylvania German Studies minor, pursue grant funding for the Heritage Center’s physical and programmatic needs and showcase leading scholarly research through the development of an annual Freyberger Professor Lecture Series.

“It is a great honor to be appointed as the Freyberger Professor,” Donner said. “This honor does not belong to me as an individual, rather it belongs to the many, many people from the university and the community who supported the effort behind the Heritage Center and Pennsylvania German Culture. These include, of course, Ruth Freyberger who endowed the professorship; former KU president David McFarland, who originally supported our Heritage Center; Dr. David Valuska, who as the first Freyberger Professor, provided us with an extremely strong start; Patrick Donmoyer who as director of the Heritage Center, has done a fantastic job in presenting Pennsylvania German culture; President Ken Hawkinson who provided crucial support for the Center and in re-establishing the professorship, and also for his work with the KU Foundation to raise money for the new Delight E. Breidegam Building.

“There are numerous others who made invaluable contributions, including volunteers, participants, KU administrators and faculty colleagues, with a special shout-out to Dr. Jennifer Schlegel, who has been involved in many ways. I am so very grateful for all this support. I very much look forward to working with Patrick at the Heritage Center and my colleagues on the Pennsylvania German Minor Advisory Group to continue to record and understand the lives of Pennsylvania Germans and to provide opportunities to develop and express meaningful understandings and relevant cultural expressions for the 21st Century.”

The Freyberger Professorship was originally established in 1991 through an endowment created by Dr. Ruth M. Freyberger ’35 for the purpose of supporting and enhancing the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center through academic and classroom links to Pennsylvania German Studies at Kutztown University. The Freyberger Professorship was the first endowed chair position of its kind in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

For more than 30 years, Donner has demonstrated his dedication to the study of Pennsylvania German culture at Kutztown University, where he began teaching in 1988. Donner received his doctorate in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1985, after extensive fieldwork research studying the culture of the people living on Sikaiana, a small island in the Solomon Islands.

Beginning in the early 1990s, Donner was instrumental with the establishment of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University, serving as associate director from 1996-2005, alongside founding director, Dr. David L. Valuska. In 2005, Donner initiated and organized the Pennsylvania German Studies minor at Kutztown University and has served as coordinator of the program since 2015. Donner has served on the Advisory Committee of the Pennsylvania German cultural Heritage Center since 2013 and provides his expertise and collaboration in a wide range of projects, research and publications.

Donner has published numerous journal articles about Pennsylvania German heritage events and a book, Serious Nonsense: Groundhog Lodges, Versammlinge, and Pennsylvania German Heritage (Penn State). He has established a website on KU’s Research Commons that includes a broad variety of information about Pennsylvania German history, language and cultural events (

“We are grateful for this exciting opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Donner to enhance the Heritage Center’s academic and programmatic role in Pennsylvania German Studies at Kutztown University,” said Patrick Donmoyer, director of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center. “Dr. Donner’s outstanding achievements in the field of study and his three decades of service to the community uniquely position him to significantly advance the Center’s mission to preserve and celebrate the folk culture, history and language of the Pennsylvania Germans and the broader region, at a unique educational setting at Kutztown University.”

Donner has also been deeply involved in the Kutztown Folk Festival since the festival was renewed and affiliated with Kutztown University in the mid-1990s. Since 1996, he has managed educational programming at the Festival’s Seminar Stage, annually organizing and delivering presentations on Pennsylvania German education, folk culture and the history of the festival. The seminar stage is open daily at the Kutztown Folk Festival and running this summer July 1-9.