Reverend Dr. Robert (Bob) Frykholm, an alumnus of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS), also known as International Ministries (IM), passed away on January 17, 2024, in Louisville, Colorado, at the age of 87.
Bob was born on April 18, 1936, in Seattle, Washington. Looking back, one sees how God’s hand guided Bob’s life, even as a young boy. His grandmother, a devout Swedish Baptist, prayed that her young grandson would become a pastor one day. At the age of eight, Bob responded to an invitation to make Jesus his Savior and Lord. His family moved to New Jersey, where his Christian understandings were developed through the Sunday School of the First Baptist Church of Hackensack, NJ, and a neighborhood Bible club for children. Over four summers at Camp Brookwoods in New Hampshire, young teenage Bob came under the influence of the camp counselors, who modeled an appealing Christian walk. Bob was baptized at Camp Brookwoods by Dr. Harold Lindell.
Bob’s family moved to Mission, Kansas, where Bob attended Shawnee Mission High School. He was active in debate, music, and student government. He sang in a men’s quartet that performed regularly in downtown Kansas City venues. At Bob’s high school Baccalaureate service, the pastor spoke from the text, “For to me, to live is Christ….” Bob wrote, “I was convicted of my spiritual lethargy, knowing that if I didn’t get with it, I would wash out as a believer. I renewed my commitment to Christ during that summer. I determined that I would enter my college years as a conscientious Christian.”
Planning a career in teaching, Bob enrolled in Colorado State College of Education, now the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley. He was a speech major and a music minor. In one particular college stage show, he serenaded Miss Colorado with his beautiful tenor voice. Bob worked in the Office of the President and served as student body president. He spent his college summers on staff at Deer Valley Guest Ranch. During his sophomore year, Bob felt a call to the ministry. At Bethel Church in Greeley, he found a mentor and spiritual father in Pastor James Mason. It was also through Bethel Church that Bob met Marilyn Hooley. Bob wrote, “It was evident that our hearts, desires, and spiritual aspirations in life were drawing us together in Christ.” Bob and Marilyn were married during their senior year. After graduation, they moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where Bob enrolled in Bethel Theological Seminary and Marilyn taught in the Minneapolis public schools.
Upon graduation from seminary, Bob became the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He and Marilyn served this dynamic suburban congregation from 1961-1973. During this time, their four children, Stephanie, Jonathan, Jeffrey, and Peter, were born. Responsive to the times and always seeking the growing edge of ministry, Bob led Calvary’s involvement in city-wide ecumenical endeavors; Calvary built bridges with a neighboring Catholic church and the inner city New Hope Baptist Church. Bob and Marilyn provided leadership in the Faith at Work movement and the Shalom Conferences designed for pastors and their wives. Bob received his Master of Sacred Theology from Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1967.
In 1973, drawn to the challenge of reviving a dying downtown church, Bob and Marilyn accepted the call to First Baptist Church of Colorado Springs, Colorado. During this 17-year pastorate, Bob guided the congregation into a new vision and identity for itself as an historic downtown church. Bob provided leadership to Ecumenical Social Ministries, the collaborative social outreach endeavor of the city’s downtown churches. First Baptist became the home of the downtown soup kitchen. Bob naturally took on the role of pastor to the pastors of the downtown churches. He supported the emergence of women in church leadership roles. While a capable administrator, Bob always considered himself a pastor at heart. He received his Doctor of Ministry from Iliff School of Theology in 1980.
During these busy years, Bob remained a steadfast and faithful husband and father. Between the two of them, he and Marilyn never missed their children’s sports events or concerts. He coached Little League baseball, and he took his family on numerous camping and skiing trips, often preparing his sermons in the lodge at Ski Cooper. Bob and Marilyn frequently welcomed church members and visitors into their home for Sunday dinner or evening coffee. Their ministry extended beyond the church to their neighborhood, where they touched lives in the course of daily living.
After a visit to Haiti in 1987, Bob and Marilyn felt an awakening in their hearts. “Sometime in my life, I want to experience more of the world’s pain and of its promise,” Bob declared. As Marilyn put it, “I want to become a world Christian.” When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, bringing religious freedom to Eastern European Baptists, the way opened, and International Ministries invited Bob and Marilyn to represent the American Baptist Church in its mission interests in Eastern Europe and the USSR. Though the grandchildren were beginning to arrive, it was clear to the whole family that Bob and Marilyn must say yes to God’s call in that historic moment.
Headquartered in Vienna, Bob and Marilyn traveled extensively throughout the former Eastern Bloc, staying in pastors’ homes, meeting with church leaders, listening to their vision, and discerning how International Ministries might best support the people’s endeavors in what the people believed was a temporary window of freedom and opportunity. In addition to this work, Bob served for two months as the interim pastor of the International Protestant Chaplaincy in Moscow. He also directed the Baptist Theological Seminary summer program in Ruchlikon, Switzerland, where meaningful relationships formed as pastors from Eastern and Western Europe, the USSR, and Africa gathered for Biblical study, leadership training, and fellowship. Bob and Marilyn ministered to pastor couples, modeling a healthy marriage and a team approach to ministry. As one pastor told them, “For me and my wife, every day [your influence] makes a difference.” Time and again, Bob and Marilyn heard from the Eastern European Baptists, “Please, will the American Baptists send more people like you? You don’t patronize us. We feel genuinely supported by you.”
A farewell gift from First Baptist Church of Colorado Springs made it possible for Bob and Marilyn’s children and their spouses to visit them in Vienna. An expanded worldview infused itself into the family, bearing fruit in the lives of their grandchildren today. Bob and Marilyn’s time with International Ministries was a treasured season in their years of service to Christ.
Upon returning to the U.S., Bob became Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, reuniting the church after its fragmenting years without a senior minister. In retirement, Bob and Marilyn returned to Colorado to enjoy their family, friends, and the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
Throughout his life, Bob was an exemplary leader — a humble servant of God, free from guile, who lived out his faith with constancy, whether at the pulpit, at home, or on the baseball field. He treated all people with equal respect, from the Archbishop of Moscow to the homeless who came to the church seeking help. Bob stood out not only for his noble character, but also for his happy demeanor and his distinctive, resounding laugh.
Bob continued to touch lives even up to his last days. He declared that the two best decisions he made in his life were to go into Christian ministry and to marry Marilyn. Bob and Marilyn claimed Philippians 1:6 as the guiding verse for their shared life: And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Bob is survived by his wife, Marilyn, their four children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at noon on February 17, 2024, at the First Baptist Church of Colorado Springs, Colorado.