Henry Saeman, founder of The National Psychologist, dies at age 76

By Garland Y. (Gary) DeNelsky, Ph.D.
July 1, 2003 - Last updated: May 31, 2011

Henry Saeman passed away May 13, 2003, in Columbus, Ohio, less than two weeks after his 76th birthday. He founded the National Psychologist in 1991 and was its managing editor until his death.

For the last half-dozen years, Henry suffered from myelofibrosis, a rare blood disease. He was doing relatively well until approximately two weeks before his death when he developed severe pain in both legs, reportedly caused by a neuropathy (believed to be related to his blood disease). He was hospitalized to help treat the pain; while there he developed pneumonia which was reportedly the actual cause of his death.

Prior to founding the National Psychologist, Henry was Executive Director of the Ohio Psychological Association (OPA). Henry joined the staff of OPA in 1973 and remained there for 18 years. He began as its (part-time) lobbyist and eventually became its full-time executive director – the first ever for a state or provincial psychological association in the United States or Canada He helped OPA become one of the most recognized and lauded of all state psychological associations. He was recognized as one of the premier lobbyists in Ohio by a Columbus magazine. Among his many varied duties, he took over the editorship of the Ohio Psychologist, turning it into one of the most recognized newsletter of any state psychological association newsletters. Not long after he left OPA, a major personal tragedy occurred when he and Mitzi lost their 31 year-old son, Joe, following complications of an asthma attack.

After outlasting virtually all of his executive director colleagues in other associations, he retired from OPA in 1991 at the age of 63. At a time when most people this age are planning retirement, he began to plan what was to become the most ambitious project of his life – founding and managing an independent national psychology newspaper, the National Psychologist. Interviewed for the Tenth Anniversary Issue of the National Psychologist in 2001, Saeman reminisced about his decision to begin a national psychology publication for practitioners: “I felt healthy, I was encouraged by my colleagues and friends, and my family was behind me.” Not only behind him, his family actually joined him in this effort. His wife, Mitzi became Office Manager, and his son, Marty, Business Manager. “It was wonderful to have my wife and my son working beside me – we are three compatible people who for the most part work together harmoniously!” Therefore, Henry decided to pursue the dream of creating a vehicle to which the 30 thousand or so active practitioners in psychology could turn for news, information, and interesting reading about their profession.

In its very first issue Saeman wrote, “The National Psychologist will grant the opportunity for conflicting views, and will avoid serving as a mouthpiece for any individual or cause, realizing there are two or more sides to most stories, relying on experience and good sense to decide what constitutes news and information. We will seek to flush out important issues affecting practitioners, and if articles contradict their convictions, readers will find a publication which is receptive, subject to space limitations, to present opposing, legitimate viewpoints with civility.”

The National Psychologist developed a circulation of over 30,000. In 1996, it was a first-place winner in a national editorial competition of the American Society of Business Press Editors. The award was presented to Saeman for the article he wrote, “Behavioral Health and the Managed Care Dilemma.”

Saeman was honored by the American Psychological Association when he received Division 31’s first-ever award as Outstanding Executive Director of a state psychological association. He was recognized by OPA when he became the first non-psychologist to receive OPA’s Distinguished Service Award. Last year he was again recognized nationally when he was inducted into the Psychology Academy of the National Academies of Practice, the first non-psychologist ever elected to this select group. This honor was bestowed upon him for all that he had given to the field of psychology and to psychologists.

Henry overcame significant hurdles in his life. He was born in Regensburg, Germany, in 1927. At the age of 14, just days before the doors slammed shut forever for millions, Henry was able to escape Nazi Germany. He immigrated to the United States in 1941, three months before Pearl Harbor and was a passenger on one of the last ships to cross the Atlantic before the U.S. entered World War II. He came alone to the United States and soon found himself an orphan as his mother perished in a concentration camp (his father had died several years earlier). He moved about among several different foster homes, not mistreated but not fully welcomed, either. One of his foster parents suggested that he should learn a trade as a means of supporting himself; he chose the printing trades, studying and working for two years in a printing cooperative during high school. At this point, he realized that he wanted something different from life, so he began taking night courses that might eventually pave the way for admission to college. A social work agency sponsored him for these courses (a kindness he never forgot, and which he claimed contributed to his lifelong philanthropy). One of the courses he took was from a noted journalist, a class that was to leave a lasting impression on Henry.

Lack of funds initially made college unattainable for him. At the age of 18, before actually gaining his U.S. citizenship, he volunteered for the draft and entered the Army just after the war had ended. He was selected for radio repair school, which he completed. But he felt totally out of his element in this field, he pleaded for an occupational transfer, and he wound up a teletype operator in Goose Bay, Labrador. Here is where he developed his prodigious typing skills that later became an important element of his journalistic tools.

After discharge from the Army, he was eligible for the famous “GI Bill” which financed much of his college education. He opted for a small school and chose Wittenberg, in Springfield, Ohio. He did quite well at Wittenberg, majoring in social science. He also became a long distance runner, captain of the track team, and sports editor of his college newspaper. Although in his native Germany he had known only soccer, he quickly immersed himself in American athletics and became an avid baseball fan. After graduation from Wittenberg with a B.A. in 1951, he worked for the Springfield News and Sun for 15 years and the Dayton Daily News for three. It was during his time in Springfield that he met Mitzi, who was to become his wife of nearly 49 years.

Henry was involved in a variety of philanthropic efforts. He tutored inner city youth in reading, he set up special scholarship funds in his Temple, and he helped resettle immigrants from other countries. He was also well-known for his helping psychologists find employment, deal with bereavement, and cope with loneliness during their latter years. He also gave talks to various groups about the Holocaust and its effects on his early life and the lives of others.

Saeman is survived by his wife Mitzi, and their son, Marty. Donations may be made in Henry’s memory to Rabbis Discretionary Fund/Youth Scholarship Fund, Temple Israel, 5419 East Broad Street, Columbus, OH 43213.

Note: Dr. DeNelsky was a close friend of Henry Saeman. Their friendship goes back 30 years to when Henry was first hired by OPA and continued throughout his years with the National Psychologist.

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