On September 24 Gloria Irene (Wasielewski) Kreisher, one of the most effective English Language Teaching Officers ever to have served in the former United States Information Agency, passed away at her retirement home in Bakersfield, California just one month short of her 90th birthday. Gloria was born into a Polish-American family in Phoenix, Arizona. Her father was a building contractor and her mother and father were both loving and kindly but disciplinarians who carefully nurtured each of their children through their education. Gloria, the middle of three daughters, was always an outstanding student. She graduated from high school in Phoenix at the age of 16. Being this young her parents decided that she had better start her undergraduate education at a community college in Phoenix. She completed her associate degree at the age of 18 in 1944 and went on to the University of California at Berkeley where she majored in Spanish but also became fluent in Portuguese completing her Bachelor’s Degree in 1946 at the age of 20. Her building contractor father was involved in the development of what was dubbed initially as the American Institute for Foreign Trade and destined to become the famous Thunderbird School. He found out that it was the intention of the AIFT founders to admit only male students. He decided that needed to change and with Gloria in hand he approached the admissions office for the AIFT and Gloria and one other woman was enrolled in the pioneer class for AIFT. Gloria received her graduate degree from AIFT in June of 1947 before she had turned 21 as a member of the school’s first graduating class. AIFT quickly went on to become the largest school of international business and management in the United States. From its establishment some 50% of the student body has been from beyond our borders. Thunderbird was one of the first places in our country where American students could have a truly international experience on an American campus. Gloria later received her Master’s Degree in Linguistics from Georgetown University studying while she was on assignment in Washington.
Gloria credited one of her faculty mentors at AIFT, Professor William Shurz with launching her career as a Foreign Service Officer. Professor Shurz was familiar with the U.S. Department of State’s Bi-national Centers program which was responsible then for English Language Teaching Programs across Latin America. With his support and encouragement Gloria found her way to Washington, DC and into the Department of State office of the legendary Elizabeth Hopkins who was then in charge of recruiting English Language Teaching Grantees at State who would be assigned to teach at Bi-national Centers in Latin America. Ms. Hopkins was mightily impressed with Gloria, because of her proficiency in Spanish and Portuguese and also because of the outstanding academic record she had achieved holding a Thunderbird graduate degree at the tender age of 21. Elizabeth Hopkins was not only in charge of recruiting for the Bi-national Centers across Latin America. She had become the mother figure for the whole of the Bi-national Center English Teaching Grantee corps. Elizabeth told Gloria that she was too young to start a Foreign Service career and that she should get two years teaching experience in the U.S. and come back to her to re-apply. Gloria did just that returning to Elizabeth Hopkins in the summer of 1949. Her Foreign Service career began when she was offered a grant to serve as the Director of Courses at the US/Brazilian Bi-national Center in Porto Alegre. Four years later, in 1953, Gloria was transferred to Mexico City again serving as Director of Courses at the U.S./Mexican Bi-national Center. Her work in these initial assignments was pioneering. She developed the then novel practice of in-service education of teachers though professionally organized seminars and workshops often offered after hours and always at no expenses to the teachers.
During the 1960’s Gloria served as Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer/English Language Teaching Officer (ACAO/ELTO) at the U.S. Embassies in Ankara, Turkey and Seoul, Korea. Gloria met and married her Foreign Service Officer husband, Noel Kreisher, in Ankara. Soon after their marriage Noel was transferred to Seoul, Korea. Because of Department of State regulations then concerning married Foreign Service Officers, Gloria had to resign from the service. She continued her work in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages as a contractor while they served in Seoul. Sadly, Noel passed away all too early in 1972. Gloria rejoined USIA’s English Teaching Division just before her 1974 assignment to Warsaw.
Gloria was an active participant in TESOL the professional organization for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages throughout her professional life here in the U.S. and while she was serving on assignment abroad. While on assignment in Washington in the 1960’s she was active teaching at Georgetown University’s Department of Linguistics and writing and researching for both Georgetown and TESOL, the professional organization for teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Gloria was ACAO/ELTO at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw Poland from 1975 through 1979—the years immediately before Solidarity burst forth in the Gdansk shipyard triggering political change across Central and Eastern Europe. The mid-70’s came to be known as the period of détente in U.S./Soviet relations. Unfortunately, all too often our government has been confused, perhaps to say the least, about the value of the teaching of our language abroad. Such was the case during the mid-1970’s in Poland. Our Ambassador at the time and the people in his mission were certainly not part of this confusion but our supervisors in Washington at the time thought that the political situation in Poland had warmed sufficiently for us to be doing things that were supposedly more politically hard-hitting than the teaching of English. So we were badgered frequently about this by requests for one report after another justifying why we had 18 American Fulbright Professors of American Literature or Linguistics teaching at nine Polish universities that were preparing English teachers for Polish secondary schools and universities. The thought from Washington was that we might supply Fulbrighters to teach economics or political science—supposedly more “freighted” subjects at Polish universities. This despite the fact that Polish universities teach in Polish and recruiting American Fulbrighters who could teach in Polish on a regular basis would be impossible. So Gloria wrote one superb report after another throughout her nearly five years in Poland laboring to keep the strong English Language teaching Program alive there. Thanks to Gloria’s superb reports and the stalwart support of the Country Public Affairs Officer in Warsaw at the time, Leonard Baldyga, Poland’s English Language Teaching Program was able to survive—even prosper!
Gloria returned from Poland in 1979 to begin a seven year tour as the Chief of the English Language Teaching Division in USIA’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Less than two years later the New York Times carried on its front page an article by John Dancy, NBC European Correspondent, describing how Solidarity was exploding across Poland’s university system from one English Language Teaching Faculty to another. Dancy described the office of the Dean for English Language Teaching at Lodz University saying that the place looked like what he imagined an American professor’s office might look replete with American posters and crammed with books on American history, economics, government and all facets of culture. And, most of all, Prof. Ostrowski’s office was always crammed with Lodz University English language students.
Part of what Gloria had been writing about in the mid-70’s to justify the funding for English Language Teaching was that our Polish hosts had asked us to teach American government and culture as a regular part of the curriculum offered to budding English teachers saying that Polish students needed this coursework to be able to fully comprehend the English Language. It is not difficult to see why Solidarity found its home at Polish universities in English Departments.
Gloria’s final overseas assignment was as Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer/English Language Teaching Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. While in Rome, she mastered Italian becoming one of very few Foreign Service Officers fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. She received a U.S. Information Agency Meritorious Honor Award for her work in Italy in retraining a generation of Italian English teachers of across the whole of the country.
In 1992 Gloria was honored by her graduate alma mater, Thunderbird, as one of its “originals” having risen to the highest levels of management in her profession and at the U.S. Information Agency. In its February 1999 issue ESL, the magazine for ESL professionals, included Gloria as one of some two dozen American pioneers in the field of teaching English as a Second Language.
Gloria Kreisher rose to become the U.S. Information Agency’s senior English Language Officer. She began as a Bi-national Center Grantee with no regular employment benefits, and eventually was transferred into the English Language Teaching Specialist’s Corps of USIA when Bi-national Center Grantees were finally awarded career status employment. Individuals in that Corps, however, are still not allowed to rise to the highest grades in our Foreign Service. They are topped off at the Foreign Service Officer Grade One level. Our Bureaucracy still does not fully recognize the fundamental value of the teaching of our language abroad though the situation now is somewhat improved in that the size of the English Language Specialist Corps has increased in recent years.
Gloria Kreisher’s contribution over her 42-year career was nothing short of outstanding across much of the globe. The tasks to which she was assigned demanded that she have to have every bit as much substantive ability generalist Senior Foreign Service Officers WHILE ALSO BEING AN ESL PROFESSIONAL. Gloria set the standard for her profession doing this all the while with immense personal grace and compassion for her colleagues foreign and American. The thought that she was limited from promotion to the highest personal ranks within our Foreign Service is sad to say the very least. The fact that this practice continues to this day is even sadder.
The English Language Teaching Officer Corps has lost one of its pioneers but Gloria left behind a legacy of achievement that serves as a fine goal for all of us. And her passing reminds us that we need to labor on to get the Department of State to fully recognize the immense contribution that this function makes to the furtherance of short, medium and long-term American interests abroad.
Author’s note: I served as Cultural affairs Officer with Gloria in Warsaw for four years in the 1970’s….so, sort of in the truth in lending spirit, I must say that Gloria was one of my dearest friends. She became a life-long big sister to my wife and me. I began in USIA service as an English Language Teaching Specialist in Tripoli, Libya and Mogadishu, Somalia and later became an FSIO, as we were then called. Becoming a generalist I moved more than a bit, unfortunately, away from our international audience. Gloria spent her entire career working closely with that audience. Looking back I can see that she most likely got more done than I did over the years!