Obituary: Trudi Riesenberg, former Assembly Series director, 93

Helen (Trudi) Spigel Riesenberg, PhD ’69, a former director of student activities and later director of the Assembly Series at Washington University in St. Louis, died Monday, March 30, 2020, at her home in Harpswell, Maine. She was 93.

Trudi Spigel Riesenberg with her grandchildren.
Trudi Spigel Riesenberg with her grandchildren, Caiden and Madison Spigel, at her home in Harpswell, Maine.

Fred Volkmann, vice chancellor emeritus of public affairs, credits Riesenberg, then director of special projects in public affairs, with initiating the university’s first efforts to host a national presidential debate in 1984. “Although this did not prove successful then, it set the groundwork in place for our first such debate in 1992, when the Commission on Presidential Debates came to Washington University at the last minute to host the first three-candidate debate in U.S. history,” Volkmann said. “We went on to host more presidential debates than any other institution in history.”

Volkmann also credits Riesenberg for the university’s first visit by a seated U.S. president — George H.W. Bush in January 1989. The university was chosen for Bush’s first campus-based “Thousand Points of Light” speech on the importance of volunteerism because his staff had read a 1987 Washington magazine story Riesenberg had written. Titled “The Rise of Volunteerism,” her story highlighted how at least 90% of Washington University students were involved in some kind of altruistic activity that year.

When Riesenberg retired in 1994, she and her husband, the late Peter Riesenberg, professor emeritus of history in Arts & Sciences, moved to Maine.

To read her family’s obituary, visit the Portland Press Herald website.

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