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Renate Benfey Wilkins  

Date of birth:

College Administrator

1940 winter and spring




Renate Benfey Wilkins arrived in the United States with her parents, Eduard and Lotte Benfey, in December 1939. Until Kristallnacht in 1938, her family had not felt threatened by the Nazis. Though Jewish by Hitlerís definition, their faith was Christian. Her father was both a World War I veteran and a judge in Berlin. It was largely through her aunt Anni Albers, who was already at Black Mountain College, that her parents were convinced of the true danger, and in January 1939 Renate and her younger brother were sent to England. They were joined in May by their parents who were able to arrange passage on a refugee ship to New York. When Josef and Anni Albers visited the Benfeys in New York in January 1940, they brought Renate back to Black Mountain College so that she could finish high school in the village of Black Mountain while her parents found a place to live. After graduation in the spring of 1940, she enrolled as a student at the college.

Renate recalled that though she did not choose Black Mountain College, it was a perfect place for her to grow up and adapt to her new country. She took a general curriculum with a focus on courses in French, Spanish and Russian. She worked on the construction of the Studies Building, pouring cement for the foundations and nailing "bendable nails" into the oak flooring.

  When she left Black Mountain, Renate moved to Cambridge where her parents then lived. Her mother was assistant manager at the Window Shop, a restaurant that had been created to give employment to refugees. Benfey first took a secretarial course and worked for the American Friends Service Committee before enrolling at Boston University for her B.A. degree in Sociology. After her marriage to Homer Wilkins, a physicist, she lived in Grinnell, Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri; Alfred, New York; and South Hadley, Massachusetts while rearing their two children. In South Hadley she began working part-time at Mount Holyoke College in the Admissions Office. After her divorce, she became assistant to the Dean of the College Chapel. She completed her Master of Education degree in student personnel work at Springfield College. At her retirement she was Dean of Students.

Renate Wilkins presently lives in Vermont.

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