Gladys V. Veidemanis, 93, died peacefully on Dec. 27, 2023, following a stroke a week earlier, at Evergreen Retirement Community in Oshkosh, where she’d lived since 2018. She is warmly remembered by family and friends locally and around the world as a brilliant, innovative, and inspiring Honors English teacher, a tireless consumer of and advocate for the arts and humanities, an accomplished musician, a loving wife and devoted mother, an enthusiastic and inquisitive friend, an inveterate Christmas-letter writer, an occasional “martini queenie,” a frequent diner at Jimmie’s White House Inn, a longtime fan of the Packers and the Brewers with a “fatal weakness” for good soap operas, and so much more. The only areas in which she didn’t excel were the kitchen and the athletic field. She was far too busy with everything else.
Gladys Garmager was born Oct. 13, 1930, to Norwegian immigrants in Rockford, Illinois. As a child, she participated in church and school programs as a singer and piano accompanist (which she aspired to do professionally). She accompanied high-school singers and instrumentalists, and performed a Liszt Rhapsody with her high-school orchestra. She attended Augsburg College in Minneapolis (1947-49) and toured the Midwest with the college choir as an accompanist. She transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to complete her English/history major and music minor, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.
At the Lutheran Student Association in Madison, she met Juris Veidemanis, a refugee from Latvia whose family had lost everything to the Communists during World War Two. They married in 1953. While Juris wrote his dissertation, Gladys taught English and speech and led the a cappella choir and girls’ glee club at Mt. Horeb High School for three years. Their son Maris was born in 1954. In 1955 the family moved to Milwaukee for nine years. Gladys taught Honors English, Advanced Literature, and Advanced Composition at the brand-new Nicolet High School and served as department chair from 1960-64. During that time, she earned her master’s degree at UW-Milwaukee. She also took her young son to Milwaukee Braves baseball games.
In 1964, Gladys became a proud Oshkoshian, first as English Department chair at Oshkosh High School and then in the same position at Oshkosh North High School (1972-90). She taught advanced-level English and literature classes and oversaw curriculum committees. She also served on school and community committees supporting libraries and media centers, media fairs, planning for the new high school, Summer Symposium, and Tri-City Council for the Humanities, to name a few. Over the years she also held several important positions with the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English. Meanwhile, Juris Veidemanis served as the highly respected chairman of the sociology-anthropology department at Wisconsin State University-Oshkosh (1964-71). His untimely death left Gladys to raise their teenaged son and care for family elders, in addition to her professional responsibilities.
Despite those considerable challenges she persisted, prospered, and thrived. During her 26-year tenure in the Oshkosh school system, Gladys earned numerous honors, including the Oshkosh Young Educator Award (1966), the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English Distinguished Service Award (1971), the Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year Award (1983), and Pomona College’s Distinction in Teaching Award (1988). She wrote 40+ articles on literature and teaching, co-authored several English-language textbooks, and consulted on two encyclopedias of literary criticism. She served on numerous national committees and on the Educational Advisory Board of BBC Shakespeare Plays, 1978-86. Additionally, she taught for four summers at Lawrence University and two summers at University of Texas, San Antonio. In the midst of all of that, she joined the “zipper club,” undergoing bypass surgery in 1976.
Undoubtedly Gladys’s greatest achievement lay in her teaching and mentoring thousands of students (including her daughter-in-law Gail Dobish; by mutual consent, Maris opted out of her classes), guiding legions into top colleges and universities around the U.S. and the accomplished careers that followed. She inspired many to become English teachers and literature professors, professional writers and editors. Others became teachers of other subjects, lawyers, physicians, geneticists, astronomers, engineers, ministers, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and professionals in countless other fields. All credited “Mrs. V” with making them better writers, thinkers, readers, and doers. She urged them to “learn to compose at the typewriter” and “attend every cultural event that you can.” She ensured they felt seen and supported, and could imagine and pursue futures they hadn’t considered. Decades after graduating, scores of her former students visited Mrs. V whenever they returned to Oshkosh, gathering around her Christmas tree in the winter or on her cherished screen porch in the summer to answer her insightful questions about their lives since leaving her classroom.
Several years ago, Gladys wrote: “In Oshkosh, I hope I will be remembered…not only as a dedicated English teacher, but as the person who insisted on a Humanities program in the public schools.” She instituted such programs at both high schools. In 2015 a four-year college scholarship was established in honor of Mrs. V at Oshkosh North High School.
But wait, there’s more! Gladys’s boundless enthusiastic support of her family, friends, students, schools, and professional organizations was matched by her expansive cultural appetites. She loved to read into the wee hours (dubbing herself an owl, even though she had to keep the hours of a lark during her teaching years). She also loved theater (especially Shakespeare) and classical music in all its forms. She thrilled to have traveled the world with Maris and Gail, visiting Paris, Hawaii, New York, Santa Fe, China, Hong Kong, Norway, and Latvia, among other destinations. She truly embodied “Gladeffusion,” an utterly apt description coined by one of her many star students.
Gladys served on the board of the acclaimed Green Lake Festival of Music for more than three decades, including several years as board secretary. Living up to her motto “Each one bring one,” she attended virtually every concert each season, always inviting friends to share the experience (and help with the driving). In 1991, she co-founded and chaired Project SOAR (Special Opportunities for Artist Residencies), which fosters and funds hands-on artist residencies throughout the Oshkosh Area School District.
For years Gladys played bridge avidly. She was a longtime member of the Study Class, an Oshkosh women’s group that has been around for 66 years; and also of the Lunch Bunch, a group of women devoted to making the best public education available to everyone in Oshkosh. She proudly supported the Oshkosh Symphony, the renovation of the Grand Opera House, the Paine Art Center, and other cultural organizations.
Gladys was predeceased by her parents Conrad and Gudrun (Bjoergen) Garmager, her brother Kristofer Garmager Sr., and her husband Juris Veidemanis.
She is survived by her son Maris Veidemanis and daughter-in-law Gail Dobish; her nephews Kristofer (Linda) Garmager Jr. and Timothy Garmager; as well as her great niece Emily Garmager and great nephew Doug (Katie) Garmager, and their children Savannah, Lillian, and Eleanor; and great nieces and nephews Matthew, Mariana, Britton, Travis, and Tricia Garmager. In addition, Gladys is survived by her “adopted” families – the Fite/Brauns and the Moshers; as well as thousands of former students and friends, many of whom count her among the most valued and influential people in their lives.
The family particularly wants to thank the staffs at Evergreen Retirement Community and Moments Hospice, who cared for Gladys so very well in her last years and ensured a peaceful and dignified passing. A special thank you to Kimberly Schiefelbein.
Anyone wishing to honor Gladys via a memorial gift is encouraged to contribute to one of her favorite charities: The Green Lake Festival of Music (greenlakefestival.org), Project SOAR (soaroshkosh.org), or the Oshkosh North High School Class of 1978 Gladys Veidemanis Scholarship Fund (https://www.oshkoshareacf.org/fund/oshkosh-north-high-school-class-of-1978-gladys-veidemanis-scholarship-fund/).
A celebration of Gladys’s life will be held in the late spring or summer. Details to follow.