Charles M. Stern and the Stern Autonomous Grant

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Laurie Truehaft

In this the fortieth anniversary year of the founding of the Circle, your editor Patricia Stumpp met with long-time member and former President Laurie Treuhaft. Laurie graciously agreed to share with us some of her memories of Mr. Stern and of her experiences in the earlier years of the Circle.

One person who is absolutely thrilled to see the Charles M. Stern Autonomous Grant being launched in this anniversary year is former New York Circle President Laurie Treuhaft. Charles Stern, a founding member of the New York Circle, was its Treasurer when Laurie served as President in 1985-1986.

Laurie remembers Mr. Stern as a delightful British gentlemen, a mathematician turned translator, with an aptitude for countless languages. He had a huge library of books and dictionaries and was a puzzle-solver by nature, often cross-referencing multiple dictionaries in multiple language pairings to find the best translation of a particular word.  He had a deep appreciation for the accomplishments of women in translation and in other professional fields. One contributing factor to this may have been that Mr. Stern was raised by women in his native England, women whom he greatly admired. Indeed, his estate attorney, Elaine Friedman, had been one of the few women to graduate from Columbia Law School in 1946. Mr. Stern passed away in 1993.

Charles Stern, who was already in his ‘80s when Laurie knew him, always walked with a cane. Dignified and discreet, he could also be quite the wit. Laurie recalls him commenting on peers in earlier times who claimed to be models of “physical culture” (i.e., “working out”) and urged him to be more diligent about it. “Here I am,” he quipped, “but those people are no longer around to preach to me!”

Charles M. Stern and Vigdis Eriksen

The Charles M. Stern Autonomous Grant is finally a reality 25 years after the funds for it were bequeathed to the Circle. Laurie, who was the Executor for Charles Stern’s will, credits the project’s completion to the thoughtfulness and sensitivity with which the procedure governing the use of the funds was framed and structured by current Program Director Aaron Hebenstreit, and to contributions by other Board members past and present. She remembers with gratitude that former Treasurer Leonard Morin and former Presidents Edna Ditaranto and Valeriya Yermishova reached out to her in years past in the hope of moving things along.

Charles Stern joined the New York Circle the year it was founded by Virginia Eva Berry-Gruby, who later served as an ATA President.  Laurie was introduced to the Circle a few years later when Susana Greiss – a talented multilingual translator who was very active and widely respected in both the New York Circle and ATA – brought her to a meeting.  At the time, Laurie was working as a translator for Marine Midland Bank downtown. Susana had come to the bank to promote a new word processing system tailored to translators and devised by her son – which was truly revolutionary in those days when everyone translated on electric typewriters. As she listened to Susana pitching her son’s creation, Laurie quickly realized that Susana herself was a translator.   The bank never bought the word processing system but the following week, Susana called Laurie and suggested they meet for lunch.

Laurie was Circle newsletter editor in 1983 and 1984. In those early days, the newsletter was produced in hard copy only; had to be folded, stamped and carted to the post office for mailing; and had no name. When Laurie became President, she asked the new newsletter editor, Erica Meltzer, to invite the Circle’s 100 or so members to submit possible names. It was member Leon Jacolev, whom Laurie remembers as “a force of nature”, who suggested the name the “Gotham Translator.” Mr. Jacolev, a technical translator, owned a translation company in New Jersey.

One of Laurie’s goals when she became President was to make member meetings exciting by inviting special guest speakers who were in the arts or advocating for the profession. She particularly remembers Helen Eisenman, known as the “Queen of Subtitlers”, who did the subtitles for the 1985 film “La Historia Oficial” chronicling the activities of the Argentine Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. Another prominent guest speaker was New York Times literary critic Herbert Mitgang, who often reviewed translated works.

Laurie recalls that the earliest New York Circle meetings were generally held in restaurants; board meetings were held over dinner at someone’s home. During her tenure as President, her co-Board members in addition to Charles Stern were Regina Gelb, Vice President, and the late Fouad Kheir, Program Director.

Even once meetings regularly featured guest speakers, everyone went to dinner together afterward. As a way of honoring the linguistic diversity of its membership, the Circle made a point of holding each meeting in a different ethnic restaurant. Laurie particularly remembers a Chinese New Year dinner that she organized with help from Circle member Alex Gross – and sidewalks covered with spent firecrackers when they left the Chinatown restaurant that night. In addition, the summer picnic was always an Argentine asado at her family’s home in New Jersey Those barbecues regularly drew about 100 attendees.

Laurie’s love of languages – especially French – blossomed in her teenage years.  She spent high school summers at a French school and entered Yale’s first coed freshman class with dreams of studying French.  Ultimately, she chose to broaden her major to French Studies, which included literature, history and other disciplines.  Laurie thinks that choice must have been driven by “translator instincts”, though she didn’t fully realize it at the time.  She does remember seeing a sign for an “Ecole de traduction” on a lovely lake near Geneva during a trip with the Yale Glee Club and thinking “That sounds likes paradise!”.  Laurie went on to attend the Middlebury graduate program in Paris, earning an M.A. in French, and holds a degree in translation from Ecole Supérieure d’Interprètes et de Traducteurs (E.S.I.T.), Sorbonne Nouvelle. While in Europe, she passed the United Nations translation exam but there were no immediate openings.  She became a translator for Marine Midland Bank, and seven years later, joined the UN English Translation Service, where she worked for 25 years. Now retired, she frequently returns to the UN on freelance assignments. 

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