Date of Birth: 1939
Date of Death:
Place of Birth: Brooklyn, New York
Curiosity, a love of learning, and a passion for sharing her knowledge has guided Phoebe Mainster for her entire life. She has taught English literature and writing in Metropolitan Detroit and in nearly 50 countries over the course of 50 years of volunteer adventure travel across six continents. Her ability to make complex material accessible and fun, from advanced level college classes to the basics of the English language for international students, make her a beloved educator.
Dr. Phoebe (Stone) Mainster was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1939 to Jessie Stone, a dressmaker and designer, and Solomon Stone, an attorney/accountant. In 1958 she began her career as a court reporter in New York. In 1960, she moved to Detroit with her husband, Dr. Harris Mainster, a trauma surgeon from the Bronx, New York. In Michigan they became parents to four daughters: Robin, Arlene, Sharon and Jill.
Mainster received a BA and MA from Oakland University, where she was an English instructor from 1972 to 1974. She earned her PhD from Wayne State University in 1983 and embarked on a thirty-year career there. She was a program coordinator for the Computers and Writing program and an assistant director of Writing from 1987 to 1996. In the WSU English department until 2016, she was a full-time instructor and lecturer specializing in medieval English literature with a particular interest in the lives and work of women writers in the Middle Ages and early modern period.
For six weeks each summer for the past 50 years, Mainster has had a global range of experiences teaching English as a second language, including in Nicaragua, Liberia, India, New Guinea, South Africa, Pakistan, American Samoa, Taiwan, Nepal, Sudan, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Armenia, Latvia, Peru, Cuba, Costa Rica, Mongolia, Senegal, Marshall Islands, Croatia, Guyana, China, Bolivia, Tanzania, Burundi, Ecuador, Haiti, Borneo, Guatemala, Mexico, Rwanda, Laos, Romania, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Israel. Her students have been children and adults of all ages–including local teachers who carry on her lessons.
Over the course of 50 years, the range of Mainster’s international teaching is impressive. In Mongolia she taught nursery preschoolers to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” as part of her instruction. In Uganda, at a Catholic missionary school, she had high-school students read aloud from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. In Yerevan, Armenia, she helped local doctors prepare a presentation for an international conference. In a monastery in Vientiane, Laos, she led discussions of provocative topics, such as the dilemma of state-sponsored punishment, in classes filled with young, Buddhist monks. She even taught a group of pastors-in-training in Papua New Guinea, helping her “students” distinguish between the political issues facing the biblical Moses and those facing contemporary Jews and modern-day Israel. She was the first, and probably only, Jewish person they had ever met.
Mainster’s interest in the arts, including a life-long love of theater, and her personal hobbies as a painter and musician, led to numerous leadership positions in various nonprofit organizations. She has served as president of Wayne State University’s Hilberry Understudies and president of the Jewish Ensemble Theatre’s board of directors. She sat on the board of advisors of the Cohn Haddow Center for Judaic Studies and the board of visitors of the College of Fine, Performing, & Communication Arts at WSU. She has been a member of the cultural commission of Congregation Beth AHM, and she has served as the chairperson of the Maas Prize committee.
Among her many honors and awards, she was given the Anti-Defamation League’s Women of Achievement Award for her overseas service. She was named a State of Israel Bond honoree. She was given the Beth AHM International Humanitarian Award, the WSU Distinguished Alumni Award, the Applebaum Humanitarian Award from the American Committee for Shaarey Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, the Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals. In 2020 she received Jewish Senior Life’s Eight Over Eighty Tikkum Olam Award.
The Mainsters’ home is a treasure of collected art and artifacts from their extensive travels. They have conducted in-person tours of their home for many organizations, including the JET Theatre, Temple Israel, Israel Bonds, Bar Ilan University and Cranbrook Museum. Additionally, their slide presentations of their international missions have been presented for the Girl Scouts, Pioneer Women, Hadassah, ORT, and public and private schools, colleges and adult learning programs.
Phoebe Mainster’s contributions to education have spanned innumerable countries and cultures, and will be felt for years to come.
Written by Suzanne Curtis with the assistance of Phoebe Mainster, PhD