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Stephanie Czech Rader '37:
A Remarkable Life, an Amazing Gift

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By Jose Beduya

At Cornell University's Sesquicentennial celebration last November at the Warner Theatre in Washington, DC, Stephanie Czech Rader '37 was welcomed on stage with resounding applause. Recognized as the oldest alumna at the event, the 99-year-old sat calmly in her wheelchair, smiling under the glaring lights and in front of a crowd of more than 800 Cornellians.

A chemistry graduate who had been working as a librarian and researcher at the Texas Oil Company in New York City, Rader joined the first 80 trainees for the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) at the outbreak of World War II. The WAAC became the Women's Army Corps, and she was one of the first 440 women selected to participate in a six-week officer candidate training class at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. As Rader trained enlisted classes, she quickly rose to the rank of captain. At the height of the war, serving the US government, she also became a spy.

Rader was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Raised by parents who were emigrants from Poland, she has always been immersed in Polish culture and language, and so the OSS assigned her to Warsaw in late-1945.

Undercover as a US embassy clerk who was attempting to reconnect, in her spare time, with distant relatives in different parts of Poland, Rader traveled far and wide across the Russian-occupied country. She was shocked by the bombed-out devastation around her, and she continued to be vigilant, always "collecting all kinds of information" on the location and movement of Soviet troops.

Rader's covert role placed her in precarious situations, which she handled with uncommon poise. "[The OSS] gave me a gun, but I never carried a gun. I thought, 'What the heck was I going to do with a dumb gun?'" Rader says in an OSS Society interview.

At the close of World War II, Rader returned to the US and married Brigadier General William Rader. She retired from the US Army with the rank of major but continued her involvement with the military as her husband served in important Air Force command positions around the country. As with most things clandestine, it took decades for Stephanie Czech Rader to be recognized for her fearless service during the war. In 2012, she was honored as the inaugural recipient of the Virginia Hall Award (named after the famed Allied spy) by the OSS Society.

Recently, she has also joined a legendary league at her alma mater: the Cayuga Society, a group of individuals who have entrusted their bequests to the university. Rader says she made her bequest out of her gratitude for the confidence Cornell has instilled in her.

Turning a century old on May 15 this year, Rader looks back at another act of generosity that ultimately enabled her to make a difference for Cornell and for her country. "I had a high school teacher who graduated from Cornell. I was a good student in high school, and she took an interest in me," she recounts.

Rader's parents barely spoke English, and they were very unfamiliar with the American collegiate system; however, Rader's teacher served as her mentor and even later submitted a Cornell application on her behalf without her knowledge.

Rader received a full scholarship, which she supplemented by waiting tables, and she became the first member in her family to graduate from college. After Cornell, what followed was a remarkable adventure—the kind one hears about in spy movies.