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International House Remembers Ellie Spiegel (1925-2022)

Since the announcement of her passing by family members, tributes to the late Eleanor D. Spiegel, former I-House Director of Programs & Resident Life who died October 18, have been posted on the House’s social media sites.

“Ellie was so kind and generous,” wrote Prudence McDaniel ’91. “She was the embodiment and heart of I-House’s goals to share understanding, compassion, friendship, love, and respect with each other.

“What a gift she was, and I am ever grateful for the many gifts of life lessons she shared.”

Such comments were not atypical regarding Spiegel, a beloved and inspirational role model for a generation of I-House residents and beyond. Alumni remembered her kindness, her genuine interest in them, and her empathetic nature.

Several recalled with fondness hikes from I-House across the George Washington Bridge to the Spiegel home in Leonia, NJ, for a welcome barbecue at the start of each academic year.

Many found their way to that residence, where Ellie and her husband Hans offered warm hospitality to I-House residents, alumni and staff over the years. They weren’t the only ones; former students, advisees and participants in international, educational and advocacy organizations with which they were affiliated returned time and again, for a few hours or a few days.

Spiegel joined the I-House staff as Programs Director in 1984, after experiences in cross-cultural training and teaching in the US, Kenya, the Philippines and South Korea, where she also worked in a women’s development program.

A fixture of the House decades beyond her nine years of employment, she is remembered especially by early participants of the Women’s International Leadership Program.

The WIL Program had its start in 1989, when Spiegel submitted a proposal to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, “to provide leadership training to exceptional young women.”

Reunion of 1991-92 WIL Program Participants, 2009

One year later, the proposal was approved. As the President of I-House wrote to Ellie: “Your leading assistance was essential to the development of this innovative program, and your principal guidance was indispensable to securing the grant.”

Spiegel led the program in its first year, and subsequently served as a member of the WIL Advisory Council and as mentor to some of its participants in the years following her retirement from I-House in 1993.

At the Candlelight Sunday Supper in May of that year, Spiegel and the late Herman “HR” Rottenberg were honored by residents as individuals who “best represent the ideals of International House.”

Following her retirement, the I-House Board unanimously passed a resolution which read, in part, “During nine years of outstanding and devoted service you have sharpened the curiosity, lifted the spirits, and touched the hearts of thousands of young people from throughout the world, and in doing so have uniquely personified the spirit of International House.”

As a measure of her unique status in the I-House community, Spiegel was elected to membership in the World Council of Alumni – the only staff member who never resided at I-House to be so honored – and a scholarship fund established in her name.

Spiegel continued to be involved with I-House and in other activities dear to her, including the United Nations Network on Migration, and Region X of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, which in 2010 gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing her dedication to the field of international education, her mentorships, and her extensive service to the regional NAFSA community.

In March of this year, Spiegel was honored during an I-House Zoom meeting to mark the 30th anniversary of the WIL Program’s inaugural year, during which alumnae of the program, along with President Sebastian Fries, trustees and current and former staff, paid tribute to her generosity, strength and inspiration.

One of the Zoom participants, Dr. Adeyinka Akinsulure-Smith ‘92, a member of the first WIL Program cohort, addressed Spiegel directly.

“Ellie, you taught us leadership by example,” she said. “You taught us about leadership, about understanding, respect, collaboration, humanity, tolerance, strength, give-and-take, support. About being a human being at a difficult time. You stood up for us by example, and we learned how to go forward and navigate.”

“It’s wonderful to hear from you all,” said Spiegel. “Bless you all, and hopefully together we can make a better world.”

The Spiegels (back row, seventh from left) with residents and staff at Training (now Leadership) Weekend, 1989