Irene Philipp

To be politically correct, I am a German Baltic American of German/French/Latvian descent. I was born in Riga, Latvia almost a century ago—minus a few years. Ha. My father was a police inspector with very little to do because there was rarely any crime in our city. He died when I was nine years old. Since our German schools were very demanding with emphasis on languages (4), math, and religion, there was very little time for other activities. But during the long Nordic winter months, daily outdoor skating was almost mandatory.

Education was stressed; work was not. Although money was scarce (but not talked about) almost every family left the city for three summer months to visit the nearby sea resorts on the Baltic. That is probably where my love for the outdoor life began. It was in one of those last carefree summers when a handsome but mean 16 year old boy, with calculated precision, kept pushing me off the swim deck into the river. We were married 6 years later in 1944 in Germany.

One Christmas my older sister and I found one pair of skis under the tree, an incredibly luxurious gift in those days. Of course we were expected to share them. Fortunately for me, she soon gave up trying, while I enjoyed skiing through the woods with my friends. There were no mountains there.

All this wonderful childhood came to an abrupt end when WWII started. Our elders, who had experienced communism during the Russian Revolution, didn’t hesitate long. It was with broken hearts that we had to leave “God’s Little Lands,” as Latvia and Estonia were dubbed in those times. Germany provided the ships for us to evacuate, as our young men would be welcome combat material against the Soviets. In about sixty days, 60,000 of our minority community had left for the West. Even the Latvian population made every effort to get out. It was a wise decision that we left early because many of the remaining intellectuals were shot or deported to Siberia after the Soviets invaded.

We were settled in Eastern Germany where I finished my education. We learned to live through air raids in bomb shelters, and considered this to be a relatively normal existence. During this time food was still available. Then in January of 1945, with the Soviets on our backs again, the “Great Escape” began, with 24 hours by foot and in an extremely harsh and snowy winter. Many of the weak and young refugees did not survive the trek. Naturally, this time we left all our possessions behind, and we fought our way westward.

When the war finally ended, we had landed in Westfalia, close to the Dutch border, in a little town that was 30% in shambles. There, our son was born in 1950. Conditions were still chaotic for us. There was little food, and although the Black Market was booming , the threat of the Cold War was very real. Because we despaired for our son’s future, we made the decision to leave the “old continent.”

We opted for Vancouver, British Columbia, where many of our home folks had emigrated. But it was a long process with Canada, and when a schoolmate of mine wrote to us from Dallas, my husband said “yes.” I said “no,” but naturally he won. In 1952 we entered the United States, as “displaced persons.” It was a difficult 10-day journey before we reached New York harbor. We were not allowed to bring any money, and I have yet to figure out why.

We chose Richardson as our home, and it was necessary for us to roll up our sleeves and look for jobs immediately. After several different jobs, I landed at “Investment Securities,” a small brokerage house. That was my career for 26 years until I retired. Our daughter was born, so we sent for my mother to come over from Germany to help with the kids.

After the death of my husband in 1982, my children decided to spend Christmas in Vail, where I watched with envy for the first time the challenges of downhill skiing. It was not until 1986 that I discovered Over the Hill Gang International, and starting then, I begin taking annual ski trips with that organization.

When I retired in 1993, my boss predicted mental and physical deterioration. While the former might have happened, the latter was definitely prevented by the OTHG Dallas Chapter. I attended the first meeting and was impressed by the efforts and initiative of Shirley Stinebaugh, Dick and Diane Reed to make the founding of the Dallas Chapter possible. The well-organized ski trips and other activities that followed with the club enhanced my life very much.

In my spare time I also like active outdoor travel, reading, dancing, and almost all water sports. I’ve had an adventuresome and great life!

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