Celeste Ulrich, 1924-2011

By Van Oteghen, Sharon; Swanson, Allys | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, November-December 2011 | Go to article overview

Celeste Ulrich, 1924-2011


Van Oteghen, Sharon, Swanson, Allys, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Dr. Celeste Ulrich, teacher, mentor, distinguished administrator, eloquent speaker, prolific writer, and author died a few days short of her S7th birthday on August 4, 2011, in Eugene, Oregon. She served as president of the Alliance from 1976 to 1977, received the National Association for Physical Education in Higher Education Distinguished Administrator Award in 1977, and gained AAHPERD's highest award, the Gulick Medal, in 1983. Dr. Ulrich was recognized by many as the "silver tongue" of the HPERD profession. When she spoke at professional meetings, the room was filled with those eager to hear her dynamic insights and historical accounts of what she had experienced while serving in Alliance leadership positions, as well as her philosophical words of wisdom on numerous topics and issues through her creatively titled speeches.

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Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1924, Celeste grew up in a middle class family that spanned three generations. The Depression years required her mother to work outside the home to help support the close-knit extended family. Although at first embarrassed by Mrs. Ulrich's employment, the family began to take great pride in her accomplishments as she worked her way up to vice president of a company that made slipcovers. The Ulrich family regularly spent quality time together and did marvelous things on weekends. During "family council meetings," input from their children was encouraged. Celeste learned early on that her opinions had merit. Her mother also introduced her to the concept of service and to the idea that she was to serve whatever was most important to her first, her job second, and herself third--a practice to which she adhered and that she passed on to her students.

In Celeste's elementary school, students were required to stand up and answer questions in complete sentences, speak extemporaneously on topics, and memorize and recite passages from Shakespeare, Browning, and others. This early training in oral composition and extemporaneous speaking is where Celeste began to learn how to express her ideas, A common response from her teachers became, "Celeste, you do things with such expression." She reveled in academic challenges and readily accepted constructive criticism--likely excellent preparation for the more than 500 speeches she later gave worldwide.

During junior high. Celeste experienced her first "real physical education" class in a gymnasium. Her teachers, Louise Burnett and Iria Ryssy, were graduates of Sargent College and Boston-Bouve respectively. One day her teachers were called to the office during class. Miss Ryssy gave Celeste her whistle and told her to take charge. "She put that whistle around my neck, and I felt as if I were being knighted," Celeste recalled. After deliberating for a moment about what to do, she blew the whistle To her surprise, everyone stood at attention. When she commanded her peers to line up, they obeyed. "It was like being empowered all of a sudden with that whistle. At home I was just one of the gang, but I liked the concept of being boss." Celeste participated enthusiastically in physical education classes and earned letters playing on teams in junior high and high school. She knew that physical education would be her college major and decided to enroll in what is now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). It was there that she was first introduced to Mary Channing Coleman, chair of the physical education department, who brooked no nonsense and held the female students to high academic and behavioral standards. Miss Coleman greeted the new students in a rather austere way and said, "My dears, you are now at the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. I expect you to act accordingly. These are the things we do; these are things we do not do. Goodbye."

Celeste graduated from Woman's College, Greensboro, in 1946, was awarded a master's degree in 1947 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and received her Ph. …

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