ST. PETERSBURG — In the spring of 1978, at age 51, Huldah Bredenberg took a four-day bicycle trip through Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, equipped with crackers, a sleeping bag and some traveler's checks.
She left with clearly defined goals of mixing solitude with socialization, testing her fortitude and keeping a log.
She had planned some elements, like visiting a friend or two along the way. The rest just happened.
A teacher, mother and wife of a college professor, Mrs. Bredenberg had once thought she might become a missionary. In a way she did just that, albeit in a way that combined adventure and dance, foreign exchange programs and conversations struck up with strangers.
She introduced herself to the director of a San Antonio "Boys' Village" and ended up skateboarding with the young residents and sleeping on the floor. She had a fascinating conversation with a truck stop waitress. She wiped out while crossing some railroad tracks in Largo.
"I found my giggler again," she wrote in her log. "The natural high, the feeling of running, jumping, screaming, laughing, reminiscing, enjoying … "
A few years earlier, Mrs. Bredenberg had endured a tragedy when her son, Leif, died of natural causes. "It was a difficult time," said Ingrid Bredenberg, a daughter. "It caused her to really question a lot of things."
But at the same time she grieved that loss, other seeds were blossoming.
In a Presbyterian-sponsored program, Mrs. Bredenberg and her husband, Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd) education professor Richard Bredenberg, had spent the 1969-1970 school year teaching English at a girls' school in Nagoya, Japan.
The result was an exchange program that lasted four decades, bringing 60 girls a year from the Kinjo Gakuin High School to St. Petersburg and sending Eckerd graduates to teach in Japan. The couple also led a folk dancing group at the college and volunteered for or initiated eclectic international efforts over the years. Those efforts included trying to save flooded farmland in Holland and swapping living quarters with people in Russia and Turkey.
Huldah Dawson was born in Derby, N.Y., the daughter of a successful dairy farmer.
"She was quirky," said childhood friend Shirley Sparks, 85, who now lives in Treasure Island. As eighth-graders, Huldah and Sparks scandalized adults by dancing the jitterbug together at a school performance. The two women remained close friends.
Huldah married Richard in 1949. They had four children. "Dad was her hero, her king," said Ingrid Bredenberg, 61. His death in 2001 left her adrift, an isolation increased by Alzheimer's disease. She stayed active, even working out with a trainer until four years ago.
Mrs. Bredenberg died May 17. She was 85. She had left behind interment plans, including cremation, many years earlier.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727)892-2248.