Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Andresen, Rachel J.

Student exchange program pioneer Rachel J. Andresen was born April 8, 1907 in Deerfield, Michigan. At the age of 16 she graduated at the top of her class and she went on to receive her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music from the Detroit Conservatory of Music. After marrying Henry Rose and having three children, Rachel began teaching piano classes in order to help supplement the family’s income at the height of the Great Depression. After the death of her husband in 1934, she went back to school to obtain a Master’s degree in social work.

Shortly after, she began to work at the YMCA in Detroit. Andresen eventually bought a large farmhouse with 82 acres of land near South Lyon. She transformed the property into a summer camp and a year-round hostel for international travelers. She called the property Pinebrook. It was at her hostel that she met her second husband Arvid Andresen, a Danish landscape architect.

Andresen became involved with the Michigan Council of Churches, which provided humanitarian assistance and cattle to assist in the rebuilding of Europe after World War II. In 1951, the Ann Arbor Rotarians suggested that Andresen set up a student exchange program. They felt that bringing Europeans to the United States could help alleviate post-war animosities. The program began by bringing a small number of German students to Michigan, where they lived for one year with a Michigan family. After witnessing how the personal relationships created by this program helped to diminish hatred towards a former enemy, Andresen founded the organization Youth for Understanding, of which she was the first executive director. The organizations’ goal was to bring students from many different countries to the United States. Andresen called the participants ”Student Ambassadors,” as she felt they influenced American families in the same way an ambassador of peace could.

Because of her work with Youth for Understanding, Rachel Andresen was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. She died in 1988 and was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1991. Youth for Understanding still places students in exchange programs and each year approximately 4,000 students participate.