Grace Ritz ’59, will be the first to admit that when she began attending what was then known as Rosary Hill College she was not a serious student.
She didn’t really know what she wanted to do and was initially going to major in art. However, she was encouraged by her advisor, Sister Georgia, to study English. Sister Georgia had recognized Grace’s talent for writing and thought it would be a good fit. Grace had written a number of exceptional poems when she attended high school at Mount St. Joseph’s Academy. It turned out that poetry would continue to be one of the constant threads in her life.
“My poetry was first published when I was in high school,” said Grace. “It was thrilling to see my words and name in my school newspaper.”
While she initially regretted not pursuing art, her time at Daemen gave her a good background and prepared her for the various career paths that she would follow in her life.
“As a liberal arts student, you would focus on writing and be challenged to write and to write often.” Later, when she was much older, she did have an opportunity to take some art courses and learn to paint.
Some of the teachers she remembers fondly include Sister Georgia, who headed the English department and her art instructor, Sister Jeanne File.
“They were very bright, and serious about their departments and about what they expected of their students, especially Professor John Masterson,” she recalled. She remembers having, along with her fellow students, an ongoing debate with Dr. Masterson. “We were not serious enough for him,” Grace quipped, “However, during my first semester I majored in playing pinochle in the student lounge, so maybe he had a point.”
She commented that going to college in the 1950’s was different from what is like today.
“Most students were commuters and weren’t all that serious about their studies.” It wasn’t unusual, she said, for women from that era to attend college so that they could get a better husband. “I was going to major in marriage and become a wife and mom.” Upon graduation, she got married and had four kids during that marriage, which lasted only ten years. “Within my group of classmates, we all married nicely and divorced nicely, because we were all too young.”
After the divorce, she returned to school at Canisius College to get a Master’s degree, so that she could become a teacher. At Canisius, one of the professors encouraged her to write more poetry because most of the writing she had done up to this point involved critical essays. Upon receiving her Master’s, Grace went on to teach English in the Buffalo and Lackawanna city schools.
Grace was interested in teaching at the college level, so she went on to earn her Ph.D. at the University at Buffalo, where she worked at the writing lab for a time.
It was during this time that she entered a national poetry contest sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. She submitted a collection of 10 poems, and won a top prize for that collection. The title of the poem, “Motions from a Fixed Point,” dealt with the fact that you can’t travel too far when you have a fixed point, such as having four children to care for.
During the late 1970’s, Grace hosted a TV show devoted to poetry, “Poetry Here and Now,” which was broadcast on a local cable station. The show featured interviews with local, as well as nationally known poets. Some of the people she interviewed included Bernie Frank; Leslie Fiedler; Jeff Simon; and Peter Seidlecki, a recently-retired Daemen College professor of English, with whom she stayed in touch with, and who recently retired.
Her career took a couple interesting turns in the 1980’s. With her children grown and out of the house, Grace took a position at a locally-based company called Interval International, and soon found herself living in England for a year, managing their London office. She returned stateside in 1985 and stayed with the company another year; when the company relocated to Miami, she decided to remain in Buffalo and pursue another career path.
Grace returned to college and went in a different direction, studying mental health counseling, specializing in helping people overcome addictions. Her first position was with Sheehan Memorial hospital in inpatient rehab. She later worked for Horizon and then from 1995 until her retirement in 2007, she was at Buffalo General, working as a family counselor in their addiction clinic.
While poetry was always a constant in her life, she only wrote occasionally when she was working and building her career. However, once she retired, she joined a writing group, called the “59 ers” because they meet at Café 59 on Allen Street, and started doing poetry readings. Grace has also published some of her work, since she now has the time to devote to poetry and writing.
“When you get into a group like this, you are inspired to write more,” she said. Most of the people in her group are published often, including Linda Drajem; Marjorie Norris; Carol Pasniak; and Mary McCarthy; to name a few.
“The best way to encourage writing is to be with writers,” explained Grace. In her writers group someone usually reads their poem aloud, then the rest of them write down their take on the poem, and they discuss it. She also noted that writing like this is a real social activity.
“I enjoy it immensely. When you retire it’s wonderful to have something like this to keep you going. So I highly recommend it!”