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Originally Published by Star Tribune on December 11, 2003
This state has been home to many great minds, but none of their tales can top the life story of Gisela Konopka. When the 93-year-old scholar died Tuesday, Minnesota lost a tireless humanitarian. Her humble brilliance and passion for justice shook and shaped society for nearly a century.
Perhaps all nonagenarians die with a measure of wisdom, but few find it on the path Konopka traveled. A Jew in Berlin when Hitler rose, she spent her young adulthood in the Nazi resistance, in a concentration camp and in hiding. Having witnessed inhumanity, Konopka spent a lifetime exploring its origins and striving against it.
Thus did the daughter of a German grocer become a Minnesotan -- and a revolutionary in the field of social work. The founding director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Youth Development and Research -- which now bears her name -- Konopka remained until the day she died one of the world's top authorities on adolescence.
Her 1966 book "The Adolescent Girl in Conflict" -- ultimately translated into dozens of languages -- is still acclaimed for its insight into the youthful longing for respect. In three decades at the university and on stages worldwide, Konopka moved thousands to embrace her belief that compassion is the surest treatment for the wounds of childhood. That philosophy has since invaded every institution that works with young people, and few who work in them would dare to contradict Konopka's lifelong mantra: Just as cruelty spurs cruelty, so does love breed love.
Konopka's labors did not stop when she retired, and neither did her voice grow quiet as she grew older. Even past her 90th year, she continued to speak out against the world's wrongs -- against prejudice and pettiness, brutality and unfairness, the folly of war and the peril of ignorance. Her voice may now be still, but its message will resonate in many a mind for many a year.
Originally Published by Pioneer Press on December 10, 2003
Gisela Konopka, a longtime University of Minnesota professor famed around the world for her philosophy of "social work with a heart,'' died Tuesday at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. She was 93.
Konopka was one of the world's experts on social group work with a focus on helping troubled young people.
"She was able to meet with very troubled youth, and they would take away from that experience that they finally had met an accepting person," said Janice Andrews, professor of social work at the University of St. Thomas.
"She was both angry and kind, compassionate and demanding," said Andrews, who met daily with Konopka from 2000 to 2002 while writing a book about her titled, "Rebellious Spirit: the Life and Legacy of Gisela Konopka."
"She believed in holding people accountable for their behavior but treating them with dignity," Andrews said.
Konopka was born in Berlin and was a resistance fighter during World War II. She escaped from a concentration camp and arrived in the United States in 1941.
She was professor of social work at the University of Minnesota from 1947 to 1978, when she retired. She also served the university as coordinator of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs from 1968 to 1970, special assistant to the vice president for student affairs from 1969 to 1972 and head of the Center for Youth Development and Research from 1970 to 1978.
The Konopka Institute at the University of Minnesota is named in her honor.
In 1950, Konopka returned to Germany to help rebuild the country and was instrumental in creating a humane child welfare system.
In the 1950s, Konopka worked to improve the corrections system in Minnesota, writing standards for care in residential treatment facilities for youth offenders.
"She really brought compassion to the whole criminal justice system in Minnesota in the 1950s," Andrews said.
Konopka wrote seven important books, including the classic "The Adolescent Girl in Conflict" and more than 300 articles. Her works were translated into 14 languages.
She met her husband, Paul Konopka when they were resistance fighters in Germany. She was Jewish, he was not and they were not allowed to marry in Germany. . Paul Konopka died in 1976.
"She wrote a letter to him every day afterwards," Andrews said.
Konopka lived by herself until her death.
Konopka is survived by a foster daughter, Patricia Dreyer, Minnetonka.
A memorial service will be scheduled at a later time.
A compassionate spirit - UMN News