Hanna Geldrich-Leffman, 72, Loyola College professor


Hanna Geldrich-Leffman, former chairwoman of the modern foreign language department at Loyola College and a faculty member for three decades, died Sunday at her North Homeland residence of complications from postpolio syndrome. She was 72.

She was born Hanna Geldrich in Budapest and spent her early years in Hungary. In 1944 , she moved with her family to Konstanz, Germany, where they lived until moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1949.

"She completed secondary school in Buenos Aires and then enrolled in medical school," said her husband of 28 years and sole survivor, Peter Leffman, who teaches French at Loyola College. "It was there that she contracted the polio during the epidemics that occurred before the development of the vaccine a few years later."

"She was confined to a wheelchair throughout her life and could not walk or stand," her husband added. "She had use of her hands and only one arm. However, she wasn't one of those people who felt sorry for herself.

"She was a very happy person and was fond of saying, `I'm just happy to be alive,' and the only thing she missed, she said, was dancing. She loved to dance when she was young and before being stricken with polio."

Her father, a physician, received a post in Baltimore and moved here with his family in the late 1950s. She earned a bachelor's degree in German in 1963 from the old Mount St. Agnes College in Mount Washington.

Mrs. Geldrich-Leffman earned a master's degree in 1964 and her doctorate in 1967, both in German from the Johns Hopkins University. She was proficient in German, Hungarian, Spanish and French, her husband said.

She began teaching at Mount St. Agnes College in 1967 and remained on the faculty after its 1971 merger with Loyola when she was named chairwoman of Loyola's modern foreign language department. She served as department chair until 1989 and taught until retiring in 2000.

"Hanna was one of my favorite people," said Diane C. Sorace, a Loyola College Spanish professor and former chairwoman of what is now the department of modern languages and literature. "She was kind, gracious, caring, and very wise. She was an excellent teacher and scholar.

"She was a very upbeat person, and the first time you met her you saw that she was in a wheelchair. She was so active that you forgot that she was in a wheelchair. You didn't see it anymore."

In 1986, Mrs. Geldrich-Leffman founded the Language, Literature and Society Colloquium at Loyola.

"The society brought national and international writers and scholars to Loyola, which gave students the opportunity to meet and talk with them," Mrs. Sorace said.

Rose Marie Easterly, a Spanish and French teacher, recalled being hired in 1987 by Mrs. Geldrich-Leffman over the telephone.

"I was teaching at Southern University in New Orleans," Mrs. Easterly recalled yesterday. "I was looking for a job and had sent out some resumes. My husband and I were having breakfast in a Howard Johnson's in New Orleans when I called her. She conducted the entire interview in Spanish, and then told me I was hired."

Mrs. Easterly added: "She was very well-respected and admired by both students and faculty. She had such a steady, calm hand in everything she did."

Even though she had retired, Mrs. Geldrich-Leffman remained a popular and beloved figure as she wheeled around the Loyola campus.

She continued serving on a number of committees and was a board member of the Mount St. Agnes Alumnae Association. She worked with the Sisters of Mercy and became a Mercy Associate several years ago. She also was an officer in the Society for the History of Germans in Maryland.

"She was a saintly woman who could move mountains," said Sister Helen Christensen, who recently retired as a Loyola mathematics professor. "During her lifetime, she did so much for so many people. Anyone who knew her couldn't help but love her."

Mrs. Geldrich-Leffman was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow.


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