Longtime Cambridge resident and Chilmark summer resident Herta Loeser died at her retirement home in Canton on Sunday, March 2, just three weeks shy of her 93rd birthday. Herta spent many weekends and part of every summer since 1957 with her family at their summer cottage off Flanders Lane in Chilmark. She hated the ticks and poison ivy, but loved the tranquility of the Island.
Herta was born in 1921 in Berlin, Germany. Fearing the rise of the Nazis, her parents sent her out of Germany in 1937 to work as secretary to the directors of Stoatley Rough, a school for refugees outside of London. Her parents, Henrietta and Hans Lewent, and her brother Helmut followed her to England the next year.
Herta met and fell in love with her future husband, Hans F. Loeser, at Stoatley Rough in 1937. The family legend is that Herta first saw Hans on the tennis court and decided he was a young man she was interested in getting to know better. Herta stayed in the UK throughout the war years, spending time in Scotland and London. In 1944, Hans was granted temporary furlough to return to England and marry Herta. There was no time for a honeymoon.
When the war ended, both Herta and Hans worked for the U.S. Military Government in Bavaria. In their spare hours, Herta and Hans used their connections, resources and language skills to reunite families that had scattered all over the world. At that point, Herta was already putting her formidable networking skills to work.
Herta first came to the U.S. on a war brides ship. She and Hans settled in Cambridge in 1947. Their daughter Helen was born in 1948, sons Harris in 1950 and Tom in 1956. After Hans graduated from Harvard Law School, he and Herta took the very young Helen across the United States, considering where they would like to live. They ultimately decided that Cambridge was the ideal place to settle and raise a family.
Throughout her adult life, Herta constantly broadened her education and took great advantage of the classes at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. She especially enjoyed making enameled jewelry and set up a home enameling studio.
Herta also became an advocate for, and expert on, women in the workforce. She had a special interest in volunteering as a way for women to contribute, gain skills and possibly find new careers. Through her work at the Civic Center and Clearing House, a counseling and placement agency, she again put her networking skills to use, helping hundreds of people find interesting volunteer positions that often led to career changes or enhancements. She loved the personal connections she made through this work, and clients frequently became friends.
A stint as a research scholar at the Radcliffe Institute gave Herta the time and space to develop the ideas she laid out in her book Women, Work and Volunteering, published by Beacon Press in 1974. While she advocated for the potential benefits of volunteerism, she also acknowledged: “A proponent of volunteering can no longer write about how, where and when to volunteer, without first coming to grips with whether women should be urged to volunteer at all. And a writer like me, who believes that the feminist movement is necessary and must succeed, has the added burden of justifying her advocacy of volunteering in the face of the distrust of it felt by many in the feminist movement.” Herta argued in the book that volunteering can be the training ground for a career or it can offer a fulfillment not found in the home or through a paid job.
In 1979, Herta began working at the Society of Arts and Crafts on Newbury street. An organization with a glorious history that dates back to 1897, the society was struggling when Herta came aboard. She served as the volunteer executive director for many years, raising the profile of the organization, improving its financial condition, and helping dozens of artists sell their work. Many successful artists first showed their work at the society and also benefitted from Herta’s enthusiastic mentoring. Herta stated about her work at the society, “One of the great perks of this job is discovering and helping exciting young people.”
For the rest of her life, one of her greatest pleasures was finding new artists and makers. She and Hans traveled all over the world meeting and visiting with artists in their homes and studios. Herta would often tell her family that spending time with interesting and dynamic younger friends is what kept her and Hans going for so long.
Herta is survived by her daughter, Helen, and son, Harris, both of whom live in San Francisco, as well as her son, Tom, who lives in Madison, Wis. She has eight grandchildren ranging in age from to 15 to 32 years of age.
Donations in Herta’s honor can be made to the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston, 175 Newbury street, Boston, MA 02116.