Board Member Spotlight: Carol Gelhaus

Carol GelhausCarol shares information about her international travels and her work at CCFI.

Whenever she travels, people comment on Carol’s unique accent from northern Wisconsin – a place influenced by German, Scandinavian, and Eastern European immigrants. Carol was born the third girl in a family of 12 children in a small town called Medford. It was the typical childhood of the fifties and sixties – freedom to roam the town, participation in high school activities, and music of Elvis, the Beatles, Peter, Paul, and Mary.  Carol attended Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Science. Two adventures during this time strongly influenced her life. The first was being an AFS exchange student to Germany for six months in high school, and the second was spending two years in the Peace Corps in Brazil after graduation from college. These events infused a desire to travel the world, appreciate other cultures, and build connections among different people and places.

After the Peace Corps, she and her husband taught school in rural South Carolina while integrating school staff. Even though she had come from a rural town, this experience broadened my understanding of the diversity among areas in the United States. After a move to Columbia in 1971, she spent eight years raising her three children – a boy and twin girls. Then it was back to teaching. This time with the Department of Defense schools at Fort Jackson, she found she loved fourth and fifth graders. She spent four years (1997 – 2001) being a teacher and then an administrator in the DOD schools in Japan. Once again, she discovered many beautiful aspects of Japanese life, relationships, and culture. These experiences encouraged her to find an avenue for international interests when she returned to the USA.

One day she ran into an old friend, Jim Byrum, at a Columbia restaurant. He asked if she and her husband might be interested in helping with CCFI’s furniture program. Unbeknownst to her, the person running the program was looking to retire. Within a few months, she became the chairman of the committee. She and her husband spent the next five years picking up used furniture from donors, taking them to a donated warehouse, and then distributing them to new international students. They usually assisted nearly 200 people a year with three oversized items and as many little things as possible in the truck. When the warehouse was no longer available in 2016, the furniture committee ceased to exist. Carol changed positions in CCFI to Recording Secretary. She also participated on other committees – Friday luncheons, Welcome Dinner, etc. – and is currently part of the Columbia International Visitors committee.

Here is one example of how CCFI has enriched her life. In 2015 a young man from Kyrgyzstan spent one week in our home while here with a Global Ties program. She and her husband discussed many ideas and shared many experiences. They told him we would visit him someday, so they did in 2019. What a unique experience! She wrote a short poem about a night outside their yurt in the high Kyrgyz mountains.

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