Germantown High School * Philadelphia, PA. * Class of 1957


Elga Stalte


***I lived two lives almost from the time my mother, father, and two brothers, Vilis and Imants, and I arrived in Philadelphia from Sweden on July 1st, 1949. We had fled from Kolka, Latvia to Sweden on my father’s fishing boat on October 12, 1944, the day before Riga fell to the Russians.

***Pretty much after the first two years in Sweden, may parents, my father in particular, was anxious to relocate to America, to Philadelphia, where he had an aunt and an uncle. The American Embassy in Stockholm put us on a waiting list, and finally allowed us to immigrate to America, as “Stateless” persons, because the United States did not recognize the Soviet occupation of Latvia, and we were not Swedish citizens. I had gone to the first and second grade in Koping, Sweden.

***I was sent to McCall’s School in South Philadelphia for a year in 1949; there I learned to speak English, and was also taken on field trips to museums, libraries, historic sites, and generally oriented into the American way of life. I was given a test, and placed in the sixth grade in Bache Elementary School in September 1950, near our apartment on Corinthian Avenue in North Philadelphia.

***In 1951 I started Stoddard-Fleisher Junior High, and then transferred to Wagner Jr. High when we moved to Camac Street, near Broad and Olney in 1953.

***I remember quite clearly my first day at Germantown High – the feeling of being overwhelmed at being in “high school”, and also wondering if I looked “right”. I was fourteen, tall for my age, very shy, and always felt “different”, I guess, because I was “different”.

***I had started out in a small fishing village in Latvia where the cemetery was full of “Staltes” that had lived there for centuries. We then escaped to Sweden where I had to learn a new language, and again five years later, came to America, where yet again I had to learn a new language and a new way of life.

***I had loving parents who thought education was really important; both mother and father loved to read, and I like most Latvian children had been taught to read when I was about four. My mother loved poetry and could recite hundreds of them, and my father had written a novel that he had tried unsuccessfully to publish.

***My years at Germantown, with the exception of a few friends and incidents, are a gray blur. I can remember the names of only three teachers: Mr. McCoy, Mr. Wagner, and Miss Kohler. Mr. McCoy was my French teacher, and I had a crush on him. I can’t remember my connection with Mr. Wagner, except that there was a connection of some kind. I think he may have coached me in one of my poetry readings that I did from time to time, but I’m not sure. I do remember being intimidated by him. Miss. Kohler I remember with great fondness; she was my English teacher and introduced me to Shakespeare. I remember memorizing “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” from the Scottish play in her class, and after I recited it, she told the class, and me that she had never heard it recited better. Praise indeed for my thirsty ego.

***I also remember a chemistry teacher with very bad skin, and an ancient history teacher who was the bane of my high school life. He was always at me for not doing my best. (In later years when I visited Egypt I thought of him, and wondered if he or I was the problem, because I found ancient civilization and history fascinating, but did so badly in his classes; more of that in Part 11).

***The only other teacher I remember was a surly music teacher, who liked me. But I was terrified of her, because she hated pretty much everyone else, and I was afraid of the day she would turn on me – that never happened, thank God.

***I met Katherina Kripl, who like myself was an immigrant from Eastern Europe, and we became best friends. I had read “Forever Amber” by Kathleen Windsor, and went on to read “Kitty” by the same author, and said to Katherina that I thought she should be called “Kitty”, and she has been ever since! We are still friends after all these years.

***On the weekends, I would go to the Latvian Club for dances and concerts and plays, and to the Latvian Lutheran Church in West Philadelphia, where I was confirmed when I was sixteen. I sometimes had a Latvian boyfriend and an American boyfriend. I certainly had two groups of friends who almost never met, the only person who was part of both groups was Kitty.

***After I was graduated from Germantown, I applied to the University of Pennsylvania for their evening and summer school, and majored in English Literature.

Life After GHS

***After I was graduated from Germantown, I applied to the University of Pennsylvania for their evening and summer school, and majored in English Literature.

***I met a boy in the “Gilded Cage”, a coffeehouse at 21st and Rittenhouse Square Street where Kitty and I would go to listen to music, recite poetry and to meet boys, and I guess drink coffee. E. was a painter and a student at the then Museum College of Art on Broad Street. I was going to Penn at night and during the summer. E. worked at the University Museum making plaster replicas of ornamental and archeological artifacts.

***E. exhibited and sold some of his paintings - most of our friends were poets, painters, and musicians. Both E. and I liked jazz and would frequent “Peps” and “Showboat”, and stay to meet the singers and musicians after the shows were over. We were “beatniks’ but too cool to call ourselves that. (I wore only black clothes for years. My mother’s friends would ask me if there had been a recent death in the family.)

***We were given the opportunity of getting a Ford Foundation Grant to go to Tanganyika, East Africa, to work for the National Museum in Dar-Es-Salaam the capital city. We immediately went to New York and applied for the grant. I met a student from Tanganyika at the University of Pennsylvania, Anicet Nkwabi, who began to teach us Swahili, the lingua franca of Coastal East Africa. E. and I were married in Elkton, Maryland (a very un-cool thing to do in our crowd in those days) because the Ford Foundation encouraged us to get married in order to get the grant; a mixed blessing, that.

***The two years I lived in Africa were the most exciting and interesting of my life.

***Tanganyika was newly independent, and the National Museum was built to house the Zinganthropus skull that had been found in Olduvai Gorge by Dr. Lewis Leaky and Mary Leaky. The president of the country, Julius Nyerery, was very proud of the new museum and would bring many of the visiting dignitaries to see it. I had the pleasure of meeting Choi-en-Lai and Haile Salasse, and other heads of state. I also briefly worked with Dr. Leaky at Olduvai Gorge.

***There was an army mutiny soon after we arrived, and a revolution. The Sultan of Zanzibar was kicked out, and a new country was formed that included the Island of Zanzibar. The new country was named Tanzania. E. and I were living at the University just outside Dar-Es-Salaam, near the army barracks and could hear the guns and artillery. After a week of anarchy, President Nyerery put down the rebellion with the help of armies from Ghana, Nigeria and Britain, and life went back to normal.

***I had an herbalist, or witch doctor, living near me, and he and I would compare methods of Latvian and East African herbs for various ailments. I have inherited my grandmother Anna’s ability to read fortunes, and he and I would compare our various ways of telling fortunes.

***E. and I would drive up-country to photograph cave paintings and then come back to the museum and use plaster and chicken wire to replicate the caves and then E. would copy the paintings from the photographs. Since we were an anthropological museum with limited funds, we had to improvise in many ways like boiling dead monkeys and wiring the bones for display. Also, there was an erotic wood carving collection that only a few privileged visitors could see. That was in the storage area of the old museum.

***I also taught Mozambican refugees how to read and write at a missionary school; this was perhaps the most rewarding thing I have done in my life. I remember some of the children as if I had just seen them yesterday. They were so hungry to learn, knowing education made the difference between a hard and an easier life. I often wonder what happened to them. We had so many cases of children getting malarial fever, another teacher and I thought of painting a Red Cross on her white Volkswagen, because we would drive to the Aga Khan Hospital so often with a sick child.

***E. had an aunt who was a teacher in Shaker Heights, outside Cleveland, and her class and my students wrote to each other, and the Shaker Heights school sent us much needed books and supplies.

***We also traveled to many of the game parks in Tanzania, and climbed up to the first level on Mt. Kilimanjaro. I had a huge snake slither into my house, that was pronounced “Kali Sana” very poisonous, by the men who killed it. We came near death a few times; including one time when our little Volkswagen was chased by an angry buffalo.

***We made friends with Tanzanian and Kenyan artists, and observed some rituals up country that still send shivers down my back, including the circumcision of a young girl.

***After our two-year tour, we traveled to Kenya, Ethiopia, Greece, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Italy, France, Germany and England. We traveled very modestly, and stayed in each city or country as long as we wanted. The highlights of the trip back home for me were the walk from Jordan through the Mandelbaum Gate, into No-Man’s Land, and then into the Israeli side. We spent a month in Egypt -- taking an overnight train from Cairo to Luxor.

***When we got back to Philadelphia, we were asked to consider a second two-year tour by the Ford Foundation, but E’s father had terminal cancer, and we could not leave his family. Also, our marriage, which was never very strong or happy to begin with, was quickly unraveling. We moved to Washington, DC after E’s father died, and were divorced a few years later. I worked for three or four Labor Department non-profit organizations, and partied a lot.

***In 1973 I married again. A marriage that lasted about five minutes – actually three years. His name was C. and he was a writer, actor, and poet. I think I fell in love with his mother and father, and married him. His father was a diplomat and C. and his sister and brother had actually been raised in Athens. C. died of alcoholism a few years after we divorced. I think he was a schizophrenic as well.

***We had bought a hunter’s cottage in the woods near Fredericksburg, Virginia, winterized it, and I began to write a novel, and C. began to seriously drink. We had three dogs, a cat and a pet crow, named Buster. We owned four acres of land that was on the Rappahannock River and had a stream called Horse Pen Run -- running through our property. In the spring the woods were gloriously filled with dogwoods. We had many friends and family visiting, pretty much at all times, or the marriage would not have lasted as long as it did.

***In 1977 I returned to Philadelphia, and got an apartment and a job and went into therapy. Also in 1977, my old friend, Alan Mitosky, came to visit me from New York. He had been E’s best friend when I met both of them in 1958. I moved to New York in 1978, and Alan and I were married in 1981.

***Alan and his father worked in the entertainment field, and I soon got a job with a record producing company. I went from that company to working on a documentary film about Mother Teresa for three years and then on to being Raquel Welch’s business manager for five years.

***Alan and I had a wonderful marriage that was based on a long-standing friendship. I have never been happier than the years I spent with Alan. He was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer in December of 1986, and died a year later.

***I stopped working for a few months after Alan died, and then got a job with a Broadway producer, where I have worked since. We have produced 20 or more plays, on and Off-Broadway since I have been with the company.

***Let’s see what else can I add – my dear father died when he was 85,, and my beloved mother died at 91, in January 2000. My brother Imants died in 2001.

***I take singing lesson every Wednesday afternoon. I continue writing poetry, which I’m really not too interested in getting published. I am writing another novel, which I hope some fool will publish one day.

***I live in a 44 story building in New York City, that has 700 apartments and a health club with a swimming pool on the 44th floor. The building is right across the street from Lincoln Center. I am blessed with loving friends and family, and a few people who are not so loving. I also have a condo in Ventnor, New Jersey, right on the ocean, full circle from the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.

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Special Thanks to Lois Addison for Scanning Yearbook Photos &
Special Thanks to Katherina Kripl Bonner for sending Lois Her Copy of the June 1957 Yearbook
& to George Palmer for sending Lois His Copy of the January 1957 Yearbook.

This Page Updated 07/03/04 gwf