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Remembering Roz Schuessler

Volunteer ESL teacher and a rare bloom

When Belkis arrived at her Tuesday night ReWA ESL class, she collapsed into a chair with a sigh. Sitting around the U-shaped table with other classmates, her hair dripped with rain and her face was weary from a long day as a commercial painter — one of her three jobs. But her eyes were also weary from the loss of “Teacher Roz”. Rosalind “Roz” Schuessler had been volunteering with ReWA as an ESL teaching assistant since last May. On December 10th, she was on her way home from class when she was killed in a car accident.

Previously in her career, Roz had mentored students at the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments. After retiring, she searched for a meaningful volunteer post where she could give back to her community. At ReWA she assisted in the ESL classroom and mentored recently-arrived refugees. Friends and family said it was a highlight of her week.

Belkis, a woman in her 30s from Honduras, began taking ESL classes last year at ReWA. This is where she met Roz. When asked recently to share memories of Roz, tears came to Belkis’ eyes, but a wide smile spread across her face.

“Yes, I would love to talk about Roz. She was my tulipán.” Belkis explained that in Spanish, tulipán or tulip, is someone rare and beautiful, like a tulip that only blooms once a year. For many refugee communities with cultural and linguistic barriers, making connections with the wider community can be a struggle. In ReWA’s ESL program, Roz assisted the adult students with conversation and vocabulary skills, and also helped them outside the classroom and adjust to life in a new country.

When Belkis recently faced health challenges, Roz helped her navigate the health care system. “Roz even came with me to my doctor’s appointment.”

The appointment was in a large county hospital, with a maze of clinics and long hallways. It would be intimidating for anyone, so Belkis was relieved to see Roz waiting for her outside the clinic.

“When we met with the doctor, he said, ‘Oh who is this?’” Belkis recalled proudly, “I said, ‘This is Roz. She is my friend.’”

Anyone who knew Roz knew she was a proud New Yorker with chutzpa to spare, so Belkis had a strong advocate in her corner. “Then Roz asked questions—so many, it was wonderful! And the doctor agreed with her suggestions and helped me get a new treatment.”

Another student, Nuriya from Saudi Arabia, recalled how Roz collected toys for the ESL students’ children. “Teacher Roz had a beautiful, pure heart.”

She paused, smiled sadly, then paid the highest compliment a teacher can get said, “Roz…she treated everyone the same.”

A memorial service will be held January 19 in the University of Washington’s Gould Hall from 3-5pm. All friends welcome.