by Lou Mancinelli
Before living in Mt. Airy for 25 years, during many of which she ran Rohlfs Coaching, Consulting and Creativity LLC, offering a range of counseling services and life-coaching, Gloria Rohlfs lived in New York City and before that in Germany, where she learned the language mostly from studying books on German labor laws.
In 2013, Rohlfs, now 66 and semi-retired, finally had more time to spend making art. “Brooklyn Summer” is one of her fabric pieces showing this month at the Philadelphia Senior Center, 509 S. Broad St. Composed of various fabrics, “Brooklyn Summer” comes from when she lived in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood in the early 1980s.
(May is Older Americans Month, and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging is highlighting it with “Celebrate Arts and Aging,” art exhibits by senior artists at various locations in the city.)
It was Rohlfs’ first place in New York, after moving back from Germany, where she’d lived since 1972. Gloria moved into a loft with her new husband, a German artist and graduate from an elite Berlin art institute, whom she had met only months earlier. She was 31. The night they moved in, cops pulled up and told the newlyweds their new neighborhood was dangerous because of gangs.
Raised in Sioux City, Iowa, Rohlfs always had her creative pursuits, writing and playing bass guitar or flute, but in New York she started making her own art. One night her husband was run over by a car. When they finally got money from a settlement six months later she quit her job for a short period and dedicated herself more to her art. “The painting was like a therapy,” Rohlfs said. She showed her work in a New York City gallery in 1984.
Rohlfs could not know then that her destiny was to work over 20 years as a therapist. She had earned a bachelor’s in teaching from the University of Northern Iowa in 1970, but she graduated into a bad job market.
“On a tip,” she said, “Some friends and I headed to Denver in 1971 looking for jobs in schools. There, we met as many as 500 other teachers, who had all heard the same thing.” For a time, five of them lived in a one-bedroom apartment. Gloria wondered if she should go to grad school, but in line for food stamps or at the unemployment office, she met too many graduate-degreed people out of work.
She ended up in North Jersey, running an alternative school for a year, but she returned to Iowa and worked as a bartender until she saved enough for a roundtrip flight to Germany, where she’d heard jobs were available for Americans teaching English. She bought a roundtrip ticket for about $100 and flew Iceland Air.
Rohlfs didn’t know German at first, but she learned it and wound up representing teachers from the Berlitz Learning Center in nationwide contract negotiations. This sent her diving into German labor law books. “It was horrible,” Rohlfs said about living in a country where you don’t know the language at first or any of its people. “I went there out of desperation and poverty.”
After two years, Gloria returned to the U.S. because her parents were sick. In New York, she worked for a few international companies, and a job as career counselor stemmed from this. By 1984 she had divorced her husband and moved north to the Catskills, where she worked with disabled people.
In 1989 she moved to Philadelphia, where she took a day job while working towards a master’s degree in social work at Temple University. By 1999 she had developed her own practice as a counselor and career coach part-time. She eventually opened her own office on West Evergreen Avenue in Chestnut Hill, where she had a practice for several years. She employed cognitive therapy, mindfulness, psychotherapy, yoga and more.
Rohlfs is also a certified Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner (a style of acupressure that works with a set of 26 points along energy pathways). She has taught and taken classes at Mt. Airy Learning Tree. Now she has time to create art with fabric or acrylic paint and for photography and bass guitar.
When she looks back, Rohlfs sees the hardships she faced fresh out of college. “It propelled me out of the U.S. doing things I really would have never had the guts to do. It was worth the years of planning and saving …. ”
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