Rachel Andresen (April 8, 1907 – November 3, 1988) founded Youth For Understanding (YFU), a non-profit organization dedicated to international exchanges of high-school students, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.
Andresen was born in Deerfield, Michigan on April 8, 1907. She was the daughter of Reverend Earl R. Mills, a Methodist minister, and Josephine Mills. Her parents motivated their five children to be highly focused and productive, particularly with education. By the time Rachel was fourteen, she had read and consumed the Harvard Classics and the entire works of Shakespeare that her father had encouraged her to read.
She was very lively in high school and had participated in sports, drama, and music; she was also an accomplished pianist. Her nickname at Adrian High School was "Rollicking Rachel". She also did the unthinkable, she bobbed her hair—much to the dismay of her conservative parents. She graduated top of her class when she was sixteen years old. It was also at this time that she met her future husband, Henry Rose. Rachel attended the Detroit Conservatory of Music and received a BFA in music.
After Rachel and Henry were married, she helped to support their income by giving piano lessons while he attended the University of Michigan, Rachel and Henry were one of the few married couples on campus. They had three children and Henry was beginning to establish himself in engineering when tragedy struck.
Henry Rose died in the encephalitis epidemic of 1934, at the height of the Great Depression. Rachel was left with three children to raise alone and not too many people opted to spend money on piano lessons at that time. So Rachel decided that the only way she could make it was returning to school and she decided to study social work; she received her MSW (Masters in Social Work) in a year and a half.
She began her work with the YWCA in Detroit and she also became the director of Camp Talahi. During the rest of the year she did a lot of inner-city work in Detroit. In 1942 she purchased a large farm house on eighty two acres near South Lyon, Michigan and this would become known as Pinebrook.
It was transformed into both a summer camp and a hostel for international travelers year around. She met her second husband, Arvid Andresen, a Danish landscape architect, who was on excursion and stayed at the hostel. Rachel became involved with the Michigan Council of Churches at this time and by the end of WWII, the Council was responsible for helping to re-build Europe by providing Michigan cattle and humanitarian assistance. Rachel was approached by the Ann Arbor Rotarians to set up an exchange student program in 1951 to help bridge the enormous rift of post-war hatred.
It began with a handful of German students who would live in Michigan for one year. Rachel was apprehensive of how well this concept would go over, American families taking in students of a former enemy. She managed to place all the students, many of whom barely had enough clothes to fit into one small suitcase. At the beginning of the school year they stayed at Pinebrook before they went to their host families to attend high schools in various communitites in Michigan. At the end of their academic year they stayed at Pinebrook again speaking perfect English and the American culture had envelpoed them completely.
On the day the students left for home, hundreds of people - host families, teachers, and students from their schools - turned out to say good-bye. The students left with suitcases of new clothes, lifelong friends, and understanding. Rachel realized it was impossible to hate someone (or even a country) you actually know and understand on a family and community level. This was the basic concept of Youth For Understanding. Rachel was YFU's founder and first executive director.
The YFU program began at a very grassroots level and it evolved and snowballed into a giant organization in the twenty five years she was at the helm. What began with a small group of students from one country ended up a vast and global network of peace and understanding. She called the kids student ambassadors.
She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. She championed volunteerism, local politics and empowerment programs but she also relished having a lot more time with her family and with her piano and her gardening. She also continued to travel extensively abroad and in the states. When she was 78 she even rode the mechanical bull at Gilley's Club, wearing a cowboy hat no less, while visiting her eldest son.
- "Founders Day - April 8" (PDF). Youth For Understanding USA. 2009-04-08. Retrieved 2012-02-14. "Rachel Andresen’s work in the field of international youth exchange earned her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 1973"
- Wojtanik, Linda (1989). "Finding aid for Rachel Josephine Andresen papers, 1948-1986". Michigan Historical Collections, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
- "Rachel Andresen". The Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame. 1991. Retrieved 2012-02-14.