Group of women born around the globe form bond in Marblehead

We often hear about people in Marblelead whose families date back generations, some even to the 1600s. But there’s also a sizable group of foreign-born residents who call Marblehead home. And many of them — all women — meet every month to share stories, advice and even practical recommendations for local landscapers or plumbers.

The Marblehead International Women’s Group at a summer party. COURTESY PHOTO / ULRIKE WELSCH

“Being from somewhere else, you don’t have family,” said B.J. Sert, who is from Turkey. “This group becomes somewhat of a family.”

The International Women’s Group started in the late 1960s when Monika Tucker, from Trier, Germany, reached out to another woman she read about in the Marblehead Reporter who was also from Germany.

Over the years, the group has grown to include women from many different countries, including: Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, India, Afghanistan, Canada, Turkey, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Austria, Belgium, China, Philippines and China.

“It’s amazing how international Marblehead is,” said Ulrike Welsch, who immigrated from Germany in 1964.

‘We’re all refugees’

“We’re all refugees, from war or politics,” said Jura Strimaitis, who came to the U.S. with her family from Lithuania in 1990.

Some of the women came to America as children or teens with their families after World War II.

Welsch arrived in America after spending her early childhood in Germany as a toddler. She remembers family’s last apartment there had its windows blown out in bombing and her parents had to cover the windows in plastic. When she moved to Marblehead, she made her own bed out of two-by-fours.

“We learned how to make something from nothing,” she said.

The Marblehead International Women’s Group met recently at Panera Bread in Swampscott. CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

Kamar (who asked that we not use her last name) came from Afghanistan in the 1970s to go to graduate school with her husband. Then Russia invaded her home country and they could not return.

“I’ve been really moved by how affected many of our members have been by wars,” Sert said. “Everybody has incredible stories of surviving war, being refugees. Some are beyond fiction, really. We don’t realize that day to day. We’re living our lives. We go to the market, we come home and we don’t realize the type of history” people have lived through.

The group meets monthly, usually in each other’s homes, but they also go on trips to local museums or on local harbor cruises.  Twice a year – at Christmas and in the summer – significant others are invited, too.

Many of the women say Marblehead reminds them of home.

Kumar says she and her husband looked at several cities and towns before choosing to settle here. Marblehead reminded her of an area near Kabul, Afghanistan, called the Shamally Plain.

“The narrow streets and flowers,” she remembered from her first visit to town. “The smell hit me and I knew we were going to stay here.”

Welsch agreed, adding, “Marblehead reminds me of the small European villages. You can walk through the town and people say hello. You feel at home.”

The only requirement to join the International Women’s Group is that women are foreign-born. For more information, email

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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