Education pioneers

Thursday January 20, 2011

GUILFORD -- Clarence and Alberta Giese love four things: travel, education, art and family.

After more 29 years working with IES Abroad, a non-profit academic consortium that offers 100 programs to 32 international locations throughout Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand and South America, the couple settled on a farm in Guilford, where they lived for 10 years.

Alberta worked for the Brattleboro Reformer placing classified ads and working on layout. Clarence did volunteer work.

To date, more than 140 IES Abroad alumni have contributed $68,000 for the Clarence and Alberta Giese Endowed Scholarship, commemorating two of the three original founders of the organization.

In 1950, as co-founders of IES Abroad, the Gieses took 23 students to Vienna on an inaugural one-year trip to study post-World War II Europe.

Clarence, who served in the Navy during the Pacific Campaign while courting Alberta, had recently graduated from the School of Art Institute in Chicago. The couple sold their furniture and worked various extra jobs to raise the $800 necessary for the first trip.

When they returned to the United States a year later, they began the institute from their dining room, one of their daughters, Sarah Giese, said.

"My parents are one of a kind," she said. "They were real pioneers, adventurous."

The Gieses, who have been married 63 years, had four children, Claudia, Ben, Sarah and Erika, all of whom attended school in Vienna after the couple moved there in 1959, Sarah said.

Clarence was asked to serve as the Dean of Students for IES Abroad. What was supposed to be a one-year term turned into 20, Sarah said.

"He made a real difference in the students' lives," she said. "He helped them assimilate, get involved and deal with homesickness. He showed them how the trip would open their minds."

Once a month they would host an open house and serve coffee and brownies, Claudia said.

"Sometimes only 10-15 students would come, other times it was 30-40 and a packed house," she said. "No matter what, though, it gave them a sense of life back home."

They would often work with the third founder, Paul Koutny, who Clarence met at the Art Institute in Chicago, to recruit students back in the United States, Claudia said.

Living in Vienna gave the Giese family ample opportunity to visit museums, and attend concerts and operas, fueling their love of the arts, Claudia said.

She and Ben moved to the United States to attend college and a couple years later Clarence and Alberta followed.

After nearly three decades in Europe, the couple moved to Guiilford, where they got involved as volunteers for numerous groups, including the Guilford Historical Society.

Clarence said his specialty was single theme exhibits at the society's museum, everything from old clocks to old lighting devices and equipment.

He said they moved to the Vermont, "so we could feel as though we had one foot in Austria and one in the United States."

"My work with the Reformer allowed me to connect with the community, coming to know almost everyone who worked at the paper and many in the area," said Alberta Giese.

In the early 1990s, they moved to Thoreau, N.M., where they began working with a Navajo mission and hospice for nearly a decade, Sarah said.

"They've always been very community focused," she said. "My parents don't know how to be anything but caring."

The scholarship will allow the couple to remain connected to people who choose to enroll in the program, something very important to both Clarence and Alberta, he said.

Always painting, Clarence as continued to create art, which is in exhibits in the United States and Europe.

Sixty years later, more than 5,500 students a year participate in more than 100 IES Abroad academic programs in 18 countries on six continents. The organization has close to 80,000 alumni worldwide. For more information visit

Josh Stilts can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext. 273, or


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