by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Grace Eva Katz Wolf ’55 has ventured to the front lines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and witnessed the oppression of the South African Apartheid movement up close. She’s admired the Egyptian pyramids by moonlight and the Israeli coast from a small aircraft, at 800 feet.
Adventures like these open a window to the fierceness and intellectual curiosity of this Dickinson woman and the adventurous life she and her husband, Abe, created together. We recently spoke with this Dickinson couple about their exhilarating approach to global education, lifelong learning and spiritual growth.
Grace Eva is the daughter of a Russian-born attorney-scientist who, facing conscription into the Russian army, crossed Siberia alone at age 17 and made his way to Japan. He arrived in the U.S. on St. Patrick’s Day—a holiday always well celebrated in her family.
Academics were important in the Katz household, and so was religion—Grace Eva still recalls attending Hebrew school twice a week. She found her intellectual home in Dickinson’s chemistry department, but did not connect with fellow students over her faith, in part because the Asbell Center’s founding was still decades away. She enjoyed getting involved in several clubs, however, and especially enjoyed the theater group.
A few years after graduation, Grace Eva was living in Philadelphia, near the University of Pennsylvania, and working in industrial relations at a Naval shipyard when a neighbor in her apartment building set her up on a blind date. Abe Wolf lived just a few blocks away and was earning his Ph.D. in social psychology at Penn. He joined Grace Eva and her neighbor—a friend from Brooklyn College—for coffee and dessert.
“She was pretty and smart and a very good listener,” Abe remembers with a smile. Their wedding was on Dec. 23, 1962.
Grace Eva continued working at the shipyard for a few more years, moving from industrial relations to textile and pharmaceutical purchasing, and she was involved in the community, volunteering as a docent at a historic site in Philadelphia. Abe taught in the Temple University Medical School's Department of Psychiatry, and later, he teamed up with several Penn graduates to establish a consulting firm, Arbor Inc. He retired in 2012.
The Wolfs enjoy flying—Abe, a licensed pilot, flew Grace Eva to Carlisle to attend several president's receptions, including President Margee Ensign's 2017 welcome reception. They also like music, and have taken in 300 performances, over 40 seasons, at the Metropolitan Opera. But it’s their world travels that they’ve relished most.
Because Abe is a WWII history buff, the Wolfs began with a 1966 visit to Normandy, Belgium and Luxenbourg, sites of the D-Day invasion and Battle of the Bulge, respectively. Travels to other historically significant spots in Europe and North Africa followed.
“Grace Eva is the perfect travel companion—very adventurous—and she’s always willing to go along with my itineraries,” says Abe. “She also has an amazing navigational skill.”
There were many memorable moments—that moonlight tour of the pyramids, courtesy of an Egyptian general; Grace Eva’s trip to an outpost on the Jordanian border, during wartime; a flight to Heathrow Airport via Concord; and Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in Australia, New Zealand and Morocco, to name a few.
“We plotted out our own itineraries, which sometimes meant renting dubious vehicles and driving on roads that you wouldn’t want to drive on, but that I decided might be interesting,” Abe says with a chuckle, recalling seat-clutching car ride ride in the mountain passes of Sicily and in the Golan Heights. “Grace Eva always sat there calmly as I navigated across the edge of a cliff, on a one-person highway. And we always managed to get where we wanted to go.”
The Wolfs also traced family roots in Russia, Ukraine and Poland, and made 30 pilgrimages to Israel, where they met with extended family. And they deepened their ties to Grace Eva’s alma mater during Dickinson trips to the college’s study-abroad centers in Bologna, Italy, and Toulouse, France.
Like their Israel pilgrimages, the Wolfs’ decadeslong connection with Dickinson is rooted in a deeply ingrained concept in Judaism—one that focuses not on individual gifts and charitable acts but on the idea of social responsibility.
“To us, philanthropy is based on the idea that your distribution of resources is the texture of who you are, and that you are obligated to further causes that are very important,” Abe says. And so, beginning with small contributions when Grace Eva was a recent graduate, they’ve been Old West Society members since 1993, and now give back through a private foundation, in ways that align with their global outlook, shared values and faith.
After contributing to Dickinson’s global campus scholar program, bringing promising international Jewish students to campus, the Wolfs now support Hillel programming, which enriches Jewish life for current students. They’ve also established the psychology department's Stephen D. Benson Scholarship Award. Steve was a member of Dickinson's class of '56, and he and Abe had met at Penn and had become good friends and colleagues.
As they look forward to their 58th wedding anniversary this winter, the Wolfs find meaning in this personal legacy, and in the joy they’ve shared while exploring the world.
“Not many people get to go off the beaten path, like we’ve done,” Abe says.
Grace Eva nods, then chimes in with advice for the interviewer. “So don’t wait to get started to travel,” she asserts. “Do what you can now, while you can.”
Published October 9, 2020