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Mountain States Spotlight with Gil and Peggy Hermann

  • October 7, 2016


Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Regional Board Members Gil Hermann, MD and daughter Peggy Hermann talk about how they both became involved in ADL and why the values of the League are shared by their family.

How did you first become involved in ADL? How are you involved now?

Gil: I joined the Catholic-Jewish Dialogue many years ago and am still a member and former Chair. I was on the Dialogue when we went to Rome and Israel in 1999, and was so moved that I joined the Regional Board soon after. I’ve been involved in chairing the Governor’s Holocaust Remembrance Program and at least one of the annual dinners.

Peggy: I got involved because my dad liked it so much. He always came home with such interesting anecdotes! I started out in the Partners in Leadership program (now Sturm Fellows) as a young professional. The trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the National Leadership Summit was just fabulous; it’s ADL at its best. I joined the Catholic-Jewish Dialogue, and then about ten years ago, I joined the Board. I’ve been on a lot of committees including the board development committee, ADL ON [ADL Outreach Network for young professionals], and I’m a co-chair of the Law Enforcement Committee. I was also on the Regional Director search committee whose work culminated in the hiring of Scott Levin. I especially appreciated the opportunity as a young woman for involvement at the highest level. The opportunities for leadership and engagement have been wonderful.


What do you do in your professional life?

Gil: I’m a retired surgeon. After a medical residency at Children’s Hospital in Boston, I came to Colorado where ultimately I worked as the Chief of Surgery at Rose Medical Center, and as a clinical professor of surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. I was involved with the first kidney transplant here.  I was also in private practice.

Peggy:  I own a business called “The Write Perspective.” I help non-profits and small businesses with communication, grant-writing, and other needs. Before that, I was involved in fundraising, and before that, I worked as an historian for many years. I worked for the State of Colorado as a state historian, and I was the managing editor for an encyclopedia about the history of Eastern European Jews published by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City. I was also a curator with the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C.


When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Gil: I wanted to be an engineer and that was my first area of study in college. But it turned out that it didn’t really interest me, so I switched to pre-med at Columbia University and then went to medical school at Washington University in St. Louis.


Where were you born? From where do your ancestors hail?

Peggy: I was born in Denver, and my dad will tell you about his family. His father was amazing!

Gil:  I was born in West New York, New Jersey, just across the Hudson from New York City. My mother was born in the United States, but my father came along at the age of 12 to escape the pogroms in Eastern Europe. His two sisters were already here, and they met him at Ellis Island. He didn’t speak a word of English, but he ended up becoming a silk manufacturer in Patterson, New Jersey. So I’m first generation American on his side. My father had friends in the Bronx that he called his “landsmen.” They were all Communists! We all marched on May Day which was a big deal at that time in New York. We’d go out there on Sundays and the men would all sit in one room and smoke, the women would sit in another room and talk, and they’d send the kids out to play in the street.


What’s your favorite holiday?

Gil: Passover and the Fourth of July. I love being together with family, just enjoying ourselves and, of course, the food.

Peggy: Mine are Passover and Thanksgiving, and they’re my favorites for the same reasons. They’re not holidays where you have to go to synagogue; you can just relax at home.


What’s your favorite food?

Gil: Bread. I love bread.

Peggy: Potato chips with Lipton onion dip. And Toll House cookies. Just give me starch.


What are you reading?

Gil: Right now I’m reading the Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama. I’m a Francophile. I speak a little French, and enjoy watching French TV and French movies. It’s what got me into learning about the Dreyfus Trial and all the anti-Semitism, including on the part of the Church that was going on in France at that time.

Peggy: My dad’s such an autodidact. He decides he wants to learn something and he goes out and learns it! Right now, I’m reading American Heiress, Jeffrey Toobin’s book about the Patricia Hearst kidnapping. I became interested when I heard an interview with the author. He’s a very accessible historian.


What’s a special place you have visited?

Gil: The most fascinating place I’ve ever been is the Galapagos Islands. The flora and the fauna are amazing. I also found Machu Picchu to be a wonderful and interesting place to visit. The way they built the whole city in an inaccessible, remote location with these feats of engineering, the terraces for farming, is just incredible.

Peggy: Northern New Mexico. It’s truly the Land of Enchantment. I wish I could figure out how to live there. I also love the ocean, especially since I live in land-locked Colorado.


What’s one thing every person should know or experience?

Gil: Adversity. It teaches you something about yourself when you learn how to handle difficulty and get through life.


What teacher or class stands out to you the most in your education and why?

Gil: I had a teacher in medical school named Oliver Lowry. He was a professor of pharmacology. He was a wonderful teacher, and a great guy. He guided me so well; I wrote my first published medical paper under his guidance. He taught me what science and investigation was really all about.

Peggy: I went to Carlton College in Northfield, Minnesota and I had a professor, Dr. Phil Niles, who taught about the High Middle Ages. He made me work! He was one of these teachers who first gives you a C on a paper, and then a B, and then an A. He’s why I wanted to be a history major. I just went to a class reunion at Carleton, and so many of my friends who ended up studying history said the same thing, that it was Dr. Niles who inspired them.


Where can we find you when you’re not working?

Gil: Home reading, or watching French movies.

Peggy: He’s also the best grandfather to his two granddogs. I have a dog and so does my sister, Anne. I also read a lot, and I’m a sewer and a knitter.

Gil: She’s also a nice person. And those dogs are really sweet.


What would be impossible for you to give up?

Gil: Reading

Peggy: Potato chips and onion dip.


If you had to teach something, what would you teach?

Gil: I actually have taught, and continue to teach for OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. I’m actively involved with them. I’ve taught classes in science and human physiology, and next semester I’m teaching about evolution. I also taught a class about the Dreyfus Affair. I got tired of teaching about science and decided to do something else, and that really intrigued me.


Tell me a story about a defining or significant moment for you.

Gil: When I was chosen to be a resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, I was the only one in my class of residents not to graduate from Harvard. I was so proud! I had to pass written and oral exams, and when my professor told me I was heading to Mass General, he said “you’re going to the big house!”

Peggy: Choosing a small liberal arts college that at the time, no one had ever heard of. The education I received there really shaped me.


Why do you choose to make a financial investment in ADL?

Gil: ADL does such outstanding social justice work, for everyone and for the Jewish people specifically.

Peggy: The whole notion of “If I’m not for myself, who am I…” that Hillel the sage said really speaks to me.  So do the words of the priest who wrote “first they came for the trade unionists, but I wasn’t a trade unionist …” The Jews who are involved in ADL are passionate not just about the Jewish community but about securing rights for everyone, for the whole community. You have to take care of yourself, but others too. We have a unique perspective. A lot of what we do is quiet, but it makes such a difference.


If you are a legacy donor, why have you chosen to invest in ADL in this way?

Peggy: Honestly, I don’t have the meaningful resources I’d want to give available now, but I can do that for ADL in my will. I really want to be able to give back. The staff and the board have given me such opportunities for leadership and connection that I want to honor that later. It’s also important to me to give an unrestricted gift so that the organization can use it as needed.

Gil: I do contribute now, but I feel someone like Peggy does even more than I do by giving her time.

Peggy: That’s how an organization thrives: some write a check, and some give their time. 


Complete this sentence: For me, the ADL is …

Gil: … a Jewish organization which advocates for Jews and for social justice in general. That’s the motto, and I agree with it.

Peggy: …community. For me, it’s one of the few organizations that has asked me to be part of it and keeps giving me opportunities for growth and potential. The mission of “justice and freedom for all” is so critical and the board and staff are so good at engaging people in the fulfillment of it. Scott Levin, our regional director, is a wonderful person. I’m glad I got to be a part of hiring him!