Making a Statement

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LBM_62_QA_Denny Freidenrich_By Jody Tiongco-8
Denny Freidenrich at home with his one thousand letters and commentaries. | Photo by Jody Tiongco

 

Denny Freidenrich has published more than 1,000 letters to the editor over the last four decades.

Since 1972, Laguna Beach resident Denny Freidenrich has been writing letters to the editor and commentaries on everything from politics to terrorism and sports. Raised in Palo Alto, Calif., he grew up in a political home—his father was a delegate for the Democratic National Convention in 1952, 1956 and 1960, and his grandfather was a member of the California Assembly. Freidenrich moved to Laguna Beach in 1970 after graduating from the University of Southern California and, two years later, he started working for Democratic Rep. Don Edwards in Washington, D.C.—the same year he wrote his first letter to The Washington Post.

 

Laguna Beach Magazine: How did you get started writing letters to the editor?

Denny Freidenrich: I was bitten by the writing bug after The Washington Post ran my first-ever letter to the editor in 1972. Several months later, the Los Angeles Times published my letter about the passing of former President Lyndon B. Johnson. I was hooked. What was once a hobby turned into a full-blown obsession after 9/11. Between 1972 and 2000, I had approximately 100 pieces, both letters and commentaries, published coast to coast. Since 2001, I’ve had more than 900. Most of my letters and op-eds tend to be about national politics. However, I also have written about being an older dad, California’s need for a water czar or my love of hot dogs.

I didn’t learn to write until I moved to Washington, [D.C.], more than 40 years ago. Since then, I’ve been practicing my trade in various capacities—first as a public relations and marketing director of two publicly traded companies, and second as a fundraiser for art museums, universities and many candidates.

LBM: Why are you so passionate about them?

DF: I’ve played golf since I was 10. I compare writing commentaries to hitting long tee shots. It’s my way of making a big statement. I think of letters to the editor as finesse shots. You have to say a lot in 150 words, just like you have to get close to the hole with a chip or putt. I guess you can say writing is my way of competing.

LBM: What were some of your most memorable letters?

DF: After reading a haunting piece by reporter Michael Kelly in The Washington Post, I wrote an op-ed on the topic. It was shortly after the 9/11 attacks here at home. My piece was … titled “Dead Language vs. Language of Death.” I still look at it from time to time. I also was struck by the passing of Nelson Mandela. After talking with several friends, I wrote a piece about creating the International Mandela Awards. Turns out I wasn’t the only one interested in the topic. Six months after my piece ran, the United Nations announced it was sponsoring something similar.

LBM: What are some things you’ve accomplished through the writing of these letters?

DF: First and foremost, I hope that my three grown children understand they should never give up on their dreams. I barely passed freshman English at USC, so I’m a self-taught writer. Clearly, if this 60-something dad can make it, so can they.

LBM_62_QA_Denny Freidenrich_By Jody Tiongco-18

LBM: Have you written any letters that have enacted change here at home in Laguna?

DF: I wrote a letter about environmentalist Jim Dilley after he died in 1980 that, I hope, inspired some to take action. Five years later, I represented the city during the offshore oil fight. One night, a woman I hardly knew approached me in the market and said, “You have to win this for everyone in town.” I was profoundly moved by her comment. More recently, I wrote a letter about ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Mich., and how it might be replicated in Laguna. My hope is the city’s Arts Commission will send one or two people to Michigan this fall to see it up close and personal.

LBM: Will you be writing any notable letters in the coming months?

DF: For the first time in years, the outcome of the California primary may have a dramatic impact on the presidential selection process. If that turns out to be true, then I’m sure I’ll have a few things to say about that.

LBM: What is the most rewarding aspect of writing letters to the editor?

DF: First, that editors believe I have something unique to say and, second, despite all the high-tech gadgets we live with, the written word still matters.

 

~Written by Ashley Ryan

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