Anita Herzfeld

Anita passed away peacefully in her sleep this morning at 8:05 am at Village Shalom.  It was her wish to be buried as soon as possible so services are as follows:

Graveside Service 2 pm, Friday December 10, 2021

B’nai Israel Cemetery

1301 E. 2100 Road

Eudora, KS 66025

Jack Winerock and Susan Elkins will lead the service.

Masks and social distancing are encouraged. The service is planned to be broadcast on Facebook Live. Go to the Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home Facebook page.


Anita Herzfeld, long-time resident of Lawrence and Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Latin American Studies at the University of Kansas, died peacefully in her sleep at Village Shalom, Overland Park, Kansas, on December 9, 2021.

Anita was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in January 1932, daughter of Walter Herzfeld and Emmy Fischbein de Herzfeld. They immigrated to Argentina from Hamburg and Dortmund, Germany, a decade after World War I. Her childhood was spent in Santa Rosa, Pampa, Argentina. She graduated from the local Escuela Normal as a grade-school teacher and traveled to Buenos Aires to major in chemistry, math, and physics. There she earned a bachelor’s degree in sciences. She traveled to the United Kingdom to study English at the Technical College in Cardiff, Wales. She passed the Cambridge University English Certificate examination, and on return to Buenos Aires, taught English privately and in secondary schools.

In 1961, Anita obtained a Fulbright grant to study in the U.S. She came to the University of Kansas to study American literature. Her Argentine classmate, Leonor D.C. Mills, convinced her to study Linguistics to enhance her English and expand her career choices. Anita loved this “newly discovered” field. She earned a Master’s Degree in English with a strong emphasis in Linguistics.

Meanwhile, an article in the Daily Kansan mentioned that the Chancellor of an Argentine University was a patient at the KU Medical Center Hospital. Anita decided to visit him, and while there, she met Professor George Waggoner, KU Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He offered her a chance to work for him, first as a translator for the Seminar on Higher Education of the Americas and later as Associate Director of those seminars. These meetings were sponsored by the Department of State as part of President Kennedy’s initiative, “Alliance for Progress” to counteract effects of the 1959 Cuban Revolution. She later worked at the College Office as Special Assistant to the Dean for Latin American Affairs.

After receiving her Master’s Degree, Anita returned to Buenos Aires, where she became Director of Modern Languages at the University of Buenos Aires. These were turbulent times in Argentine politics– military police intervened daily in campus affairs, even using tear gas. At the suggestion of Dean Waggoner, she left that dangerous environment and directed groups of KU Junior Year Abroad students at the University of Costa Rica from 1968-1970. The years when Anita taught Linguistics at the University of Costa Rica (as part of the exchange agreement) were happy ones for Anita and her parents. The students became members of their “extended family,” and the Herzfelds were graciously welcomed by Costa Rican professors and students.

Dean Waggoner advised Anita to return to KU to pursue a Ph.D. in the newly created Department of Linguistics. Her parents returned to Argentina. While studying, she worked both as advisor in the then-called “Foreign Study Office,” directed by Dr. J. Anthony Burzle, and as a Teaching Assistant in the Department of Linguistics. In 1977, she succeeded Dr. Burzle as Director of the Office of Study Abroad and later (1981-85) became Associate Director of International Programs. Her parents joined Anita and lived with her until their deaths, her father in June 1980 and her mother in November 1983.

Because of parental illness and death, Anita obtained a leave of absence from KU. In 1985, she took a position at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. as Executive Director of Central American Peace Scholarships. She trained Central American students for middle-level careers at U.S. technical colleges. This program was both a response to Henry Kissinger’s recommendations to help those countries achieve democracy by training needy youth (including minorities) for future jobs and to the work of Georgetown University Professor, Father Harold Bradley, S.J. Hundreds of youngsters were first trained in English, while they learned about life in the U.S. Later, they received practical training and attended regular courses at 10 community or technical colleges nationwide. For five years, Anita personally interviewed thousands of students from all Central American countries–except Nicaragua—and especially those who lived in the interior, to select the best candidates. When the U.S. grant came to an end, Anita moved back to KU.

There she had an Intra-University Visiting Professorship Grant that allowed her to attend classes in Anthropology and Latin American Studies. She then transferred to the Center of Latin American Studies, where she worked for 20 years under Prof. Elizabeth Kuznesof as an advisor to majors and minors and as Director of Undergraduates. She also taught Latin American sociolinguistics.

Anita received many teaching and advising excellence awards during her tenure at KU. She did research in many Latin American countries–especially in Limón, Costa Rica. She was awarded more than 10 teaching and research international grants, including Fulbrights. Her attendance at sociolinguistics and creolistics meetings worldwide gained her international recognition, and she cultivated friends and colleagues worldwide–from China to Europe, from Canada to South America.

In the academic world, Anita was well-known for having written the grammar of Limonese Creole, the language spoken by a Black minority in Costa Rica. As Director of Study Abroad, she had established more than 40 student KU exchange programs. Her life was devoted to her parents, her close friends, and her students. Teaching and music were her passions. Anita retired in 2012 but continued teaching a sociolinguistics class in the Honors Program. She was preceded in death by her parents, and she had lost most of her relatives in the Holocaust. She is survived by a cousin, Marian Lane of Cardiff, Wales, UK, and their children, Nathaniel and partner Kerry, and Joanna and husband Gili, and their three children, in Cardiff and Jerusalem, respectively. She will be laid to rest in B’nai Israel Cemetery, in Eudora, Kansas.

In 2018, Anita moved to Village Shalom in Overland Park, Kansas. The family suggests memorials in her name to the KU Endowment Association for the “Anita Herzfeld Scholarship Grant” for KU undergraduate students who wish to study in Latin America, or to the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, 917 Highland Drive, Lawrence Kansas 66044.