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Pioneer of International Education Celebrates Her Centennial

By Marc-Frédéric Ott and Benjamin Smith
Pioneer of International Education  Celebrates Her Centennial

The first month of the 2016 academic year will long be remembered at Leysin American School in Switzerland as the month of Sigrid B. Ott. An early pioneer of international education following World War II, Sigrid co-founded the International Ranger Camps (1958), Leysin American School (1960), and the American College of Switzerland (1963) with her late husband, Fred C. Ott. In honoring Sigrid’s commitment to education and her longevity, Leysin American School held a series of events to celebrate and coincide with her 100th birthday.
The celebrations began with recognition during both faculty and student orientations in late August. These events were followed by schoolwide and family birthday parties on Leysin American School’s Founders’ Day and Sigrid’s birthday, respectively. The month of celebration culminated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the inauguration of the school’s new athletic center, where Sigrid was joined in cutting the ribbon by keynote speaker Gilbert Felli, former Director of the International Olympic Committee.
Sigrid was born on September 16, 1916 in Upham, North Dakota, in the United States. Her Icelandic heritage served her well given the harsh climate and hardship she experienced as young girl growing up in a two-room farm house with seven siblings. Sigrid’s parents worked hard to give her the best education possible, including sending her to university—a rare opportunity at the time. Sigrid made the most of it and graduated with a degree in Sociology. Sigrid and Fred met during his time studying Education in North Dakota. They married in 1939 and soon after embarked on a twenty-year journey that led them to Leysin.
In the early years, Fred taught at the high school and university levels before teaching and running a reintegration program for prisoners in the state of Washington, USA. At the end of World War II, Fred joined the U.S. Armed Forces in Germany as a translator. Immediately following the war, he was commissioned to open schools for the children of American military personal stationed overseas.
As Fred opened schools, from Trömso, Norway to Peshawar, Pakistan for the U.S. government, Sigrid developed the International Ranger Camps. Her summer camps provided a complementary program for the same families attending the schools that Fred was opening but located in Europe. Eventually, Leysin became the camps’ home.
After completing his military service, Fred was asked to open a private high school to serve the American military personal stationed in overseas locations too small to justify their own high school. Fred jumped at the chance and immediately chose Leysin, home of Sigrid’s International Ranger Camps, as the location for the school. Sigrid joined Fred in the founding and operations of the school serving as “second in command.” The school grew quickly and within three years there was a demand for a complementary college, which Fred and Sigrid opened as the American College of Switzerland. Eventually, the College became independent (1976) and Sigrid and Fred moved from management to advisory roles at Leysin American School when their son Steven and his wife Doris took over in 1982.
Today, Sigrid remains active at Leysin American School. She continues to share her experience and advice with her grandsons, Marc-Frédéric and Christoph, the current Managing Directors of the School, attending functions, giving memorable speeches, and welcoming new families and visitors.
Sigrid was officially honored for her contributions to international education by the President of Iceland with the medal of Faucan (1988) and with honorary citizenship by the Conseil Communale of Leysin (2007). l

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02/21/2017 - Chris Irvin
Fantastic to see Madame Sigrid still so vital and involved. I had the priviledge to meet her in summer during my Master's study - absolutely charming! Such a pioneer ... such a feel good story/career!



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