Nelly Grosswasser, Ph.D., a professor emerita of Russian literature and the founder of the Russian program at Saint Louis University, died of COVID-19 on Dec. 16, 2020 at the age of 95.
She was described as being feisty and a “true force of nature”. Like the Russian literature she taught, Nelly’s life story involved romance, war, and spanned continents. She was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, USSR and moved with her brother to avoid the Nazis during World War II. She met her (late) husband Sol (who had just been released from a labor camp) while in Kazakhstan. They escaped to Germany after the war, eventually immigrating to the USA with their young son in 1949.
Although she had a BA in engineering, Dr. Grosswasser’s true calling was education, in which she earned an MA and PhD from Washington University. Her impressive career accomplishments are detailed beautifully in the sources below, but what she was probably most noted for was being St. Louis University’s first full-time Russian language teacher, remaining at the university for 47 years. Nelly mentored thousands of students, was voted most popular teacher at SLU numerous times, won many teaching awards, and continued to support students of Russian language long after retiring.
According to her obituary, “Nelly tried to ease the way for others. She prepared a booklet for Russian immigrants that explained how to shop, bank, get gas, etc. She helped them with job placement and translated documents for them. She also was a founding member (for over 50 years) of the “Culture Vultures”, a book group of working women whose motto was “No talking about diapers, children or husbands, just literature”.”
Nelly is missed deeply by her brother, son and daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchild, friends, and all the thousands of people who she taught, mentored, and otherwise helped.