Elise Schreiber Lynelle traveled as a young woman to South America and Africa in service to the Baha’i Faith, and was honored twice as a Knight of Baha’u’llah for helping establish Baha’i communities in territories that are now part of Equatorial Guinea and São Tomé and Principe.
She passed away on February 26, 2012, at age 86 in Grass Valley, California.
A letter from the U.S. National Spiritual Assembly in her tribute reads in part, “She valiantly answered the Guardian’s call during the Ten Year Crusade and opened up the countries of Equatorial Guinea and São Tomé and Principe to the Faith. … The achievements of this fearless, intrepid spirit will be remembered by many for years to come.”
Elise was born in 1925 in Chicago, one of three children of Nathan and Bernice Schreiber, a Baha’i couple who later established the first Baha’i communities in Nevada County, California. A brother of Elise’s, David Schreiber, was honored in his own right as a Knight of Baha’u’llah for his part in establishing the Faith in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean.
Active in the Faith as a youth in Downers Grove, Illinois, Elise presented lessons for junior youth from several states at Louhelen Baha’i School in Michigan.
After graduation from the National College of Education in Evanston, Illinois, she moved in 1950 to teach school in San Diego, California. Within a year, though, she was in Bogota, Colombia, where she founded and directed an academy for teaching of English as a second language. She was elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly of Bogota and served on two national Baha’i committees.
Her trip to Africa in early to mid-1954 was instrumental in the beginnings of the Baha’i community on the island of São Tomé, then a Portuguese territory off the African coast. Later she visited what was known as Spanish Guinea, and shared the Faith discreetly with both Spanish and native African residents, including the king of the island of Corisco.
To cap a portentious year, Elise moved in November 1954 to Montgomery, Alabama, where she gave many radio interviews on the Baha’i Faith and accepted invitations to speak at a historically African-American college and churches on Baha’i teachings.
She taught school in Montgomery into 1956, then lived in New York and New Jersey before relocating permanently to Nevada City, California, in the early 1960s.
Talented in music and stage, Elise in 1966 recorded and released “Songs of the New Age,” an album of Baha’i-inspired music. She continued her education at Columbia University and earned a master’s degree in drama from California State University, Sacramento.
In 1992 she traveled to the Baha’i World Center in Haifa, Israel, for a ceremony honoring the Knights of Baha’u’llah, who had all played key roles, starting in 1953, in opening Baha’i communities in countries and territories to the Faith.
She was an honored guest and speaker in 2004 at a ceremony in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, observing the 50th anniversary of the launching of what became that country’s national Baha’i community.
Elise’s survivors include two brothers, David and Eugene Schreiber, both of Hawaii; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Information from the Office of International Pioneering, TheUnion.com and the Baha’i World News Service