by Len Lear
Gloria Rohifs, 71, has lived in a Mt. Airy rowhouse for 29 years, but it was a circuitous route for this creative, multi-talented native of Sioux City, Iowa, to get there. She had earned a bachelor’s in teaching from the University of Northern Iowa in 1970, but she graduated into a bad job market.
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.
During her time in Munich, Germany, from 1973 to 1979, Rohifs (a Dutch name) definitely learned the pros and cons of being an immigrant.
“I didn’t speak German when I moved there,” she said, “so I felt very isolated at first — and it wasn’t in the German temperament to smile at strangers. I loved that I could get health care in Germany, which I hadn’t been able to afford in the U.S. I loved Germany’s universal health care (including choice of doctors), mandatory vacation (it was four weeks annually when I lived there and is six weeks now), protective labor laws (one cannot be fired from one day to the next), free university study (I studied law for two years), great public transit and how easy it was to visit other countries by train.”
Eventually, after learning German, Rohifs taught English to adults, mostly business people, doctors and politicians. After a year, she even was elected to a Works Council (“Betriebsrat”) to represent her colleagues in negotiations with the language school. She was eventually elected to chair the national Council, which negotiated a labor contract for all employees of this school in Germany. She also studied law for two years but did not graduate because she returned to the U.S. due to her parents’ health problems.
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. After earning the master’s, she was licensed as a Clinical Social Worker and eventually started a psychotherapy practice.
“That took time to accomplish because I studied part-time while working as C.O.O. of a non-profit with 300 employees that provided services for people with intellectual disabilities.”
By 1999, Rohifs 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 from 2001 to 2014. She employed cognitive therapy, mindfulness, psychotherapy, yoga, etc.
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 (“a fantastic resource for the community”).
Now retired from her career as psychotherapist and career coach, Rohifs still occasionally uses Jin Shin Jyutsu and has more time to make art with acrylics, fabric and found objects and for photography and bass guitar. She had two paintings in the “Salon Des Refusés” exhibit at Imperfect Gallery in Germantown, which closed last weekend. She has also shown her work in a New York City art gallery, and her work is currently in a show at the Off the Wall Gallery at Dirty Frank’s in Center City that ends Aug. 7.
Rohifs still makes music regularly and was honored to have been chosen to perform in the Folk Factory’s People’s Choice Concert in June (at the Unitarian Universalist Church in East Mt. Airy). She sometimes sings at open mics and also plays bass guitar and flute.
What does Rohifs like and dislike (if anything) about living in Mt. Airy?
“I love how friendly the people in Mt. Airy are, the diversity, the sense of community, the involvement in social causes, Weavers Way co-op and that the Wissahickon is so close. The only thing I dislike are the car drivers who drive too fast, are on their phones and not paying attention, don’t stop at stop signs and even run traffic lights —frightening when I’m cycling or walking.”
What is the best advice Rohifs ever received?
“Focus on what you’re grateful for, on what’s right in your life. Change what you can and accept what you can’t. I learned how to turn lemons into lemonade from my mother, whose parents immigrated from the Netherlands when she was little, who had to leave school at age 11 to help support the family and who married in the midst of the Great Depression.”
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