Sweet Briar French Professor Gilberte Greiner Van Treese passed away on Feb. 12, 2019, with close friend Rosemary Witcombe by her side.
Gilberte Van Treese was born on April 6, 1927. She received her B.A. at Bowling Green State University in 1950, certificate de licence from the University de Paris in 1951, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1961 and 1964, respectively. She joined the faculty of Sweet Briar as an instructor of French in July 1963 and was appointed as an assistant professor in July 1965. She was granted tenure and promoted to associate professor in July 1971. She was then promoted to professor in July 1979 and retired in May 1989.
It’s hard to think of Mrs. Van Treese without also thinking of her husband of 65 years, also a professor of foreign languages at Sweet Briar, Glenn Van Treese, who passed away on Jan. 4, 2019. After their retirement, they lived quietly on Waugh’s Ferry Rd. keeping in touch with former students and faculty friends. They went everywhere together, including their daily trip to the Sweet Briar post office and to community picnics and events.
In an article about their retirement in the spring 1989 Alumnae Magazine, Prof. Dominique Leveau said they were the “heart of the French section, teaching the language of la belle France, its literature and its civilization to generations of young women.” Gilberte was a specialist in all aspects of 20th-century French literature and civilization and was particularly interested in French novelist, poet and critic Raymond Queneau and the 1938-1945 period of French history. She also served as an assistant dean and was in charge of culture courses.
Although very private and reserved, Mrs. Van Treese was a wonderful storyteller. She was precise about places and dates, probably because she recorded daily events in dozens of notebooks throughout her life. She grew up in Paris, an only child. Her father was a war hero in WWI who received the Croix de Guerre. He was severely wounded and subsequently cared for by his wife, Fernande. The family survived the dangers of WWII in Paris “from 3 September 1939 to 8 May 1945 and all the in-betweens.”
Gilberte and Glenn married in 1953, honeymooned in Italy, and lived in England as newlyweds in a tiny camper trailer while Glenn was in the service. After Glenn completed his military service, they moved to his home state, Indiana, where they pursued graduate school and welcomed their only child, Jeffrey, in 1956. They joined the French department at Sweet Briar and lived in faculty housing on Elijah Rd. Jeffrey spent his formative years there before heading off to Cornell. The Van Treeses escorted many Sweet Briar students to Paris for JYF and made scores of Atlantic crossings on the Queen Mary, always preferring that mode of travel to flying. Tragically, while they were in Paris, Jeffrey passed away suddenly at age 55 in Orlando, FL. With deep affection for Sweet Briar, Gilberte and Glenn established the Jeffrey Glenn Van Treese JYF Scholarship Fund in his memory.
Madame Gilberte Van Treese, PhD., Professor of French Emerita, leaves behind hundreds of grateful students and colleagues with her legacy of culture, language, kindness and grace.
Many thanks to Kathy Pegues ’71 for her significant contribution to this article.