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Tribute to John Visher, MD


by Dr. Margorie Engel


EDITORIAL NOTE: Co-founder of the Stepfamily Association of America, California psychiatrist Dr. John Visher, died April 17 at his home in the San Francisco bay area city of Walnut Creek. He was 88. "I am deeply endebted to John and Emily for their professional contributions to the field of stepfamily education," says Smart Stepfamilies president Ron Deal. "As a young family minister they took me under their wing and encouraged me to create educational materials for church leaders. John's passing represents the end of an era. He (and Emily) will be sorely missed, but their teaching lives on."


John & Emily Visher, Co-founders, Stepfamily Association of America

John S. Visher, MD
March 2, 1921 - April 17, 2009

As entrepreneurial ideas go, it wasn’t far-fetched—simply “Change the world for stepfamilies!”  Back in 1977, that’s exactly what John and Emily Visher decided to do.  Following 18 years of unexpected challenges while trying to integrate two families with four children in each, they were convinced that the tasks would have been easier with support and assistance.

Thanks to the Visher’s conviction and willingness to roll up their sleeves, the California stepfamily organization was born.  Brochures were printed, a newsletter was published, and the first annual membership conference was held in December 1979—in a living room.  The local media was curious and paid attention.  So did network television.  The calls began pouring in and they clearly indicated it was time to begin working on a national level.  John and Emily noted, “People were so happy to have someone to talk with who understood where they were coming from.”

John’s and Emily’s “ours child,” the Stepfamily Association of America, was almost immediately recognized as an important national resource.  In 1980, the White House Conference on Families made the following policy recommendations:
It should be the policy of the Federal Government that the stepfamily is a reality in America today and that all publications, programming, and funding recognize the fact.

In the midst of all this public awareness, the organization simply outgrew the Visher’s kitchen.  Management of the fledgling stepfamily efforts had been demanding all of Emily’s time and, at long last, John would be able to relinquish some of his marketing and cooking chores.  In 1982, SAA hired a paid Executive Director.

The Stepfamily Association of America quickly became a visible presence throughout the United States and a number of foreign countries.  Recognized as a reliable source of research information, the organization was called upon for quality help by those who wanted to provide good information, programs, and materials for their clients, students, listeners, viewers, readers, and membership.  SAA also spawned a number of additional stepfamily groups.

In 1999, the Stepfamily Association of America celebrated its 20th birthday during my first year as president.  Our volunteer Board continued to expand SAA’s primary emphasis on research-informed stepfamily information and education (books, educational materials, professional training, conference programs), media awareness (newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and movies) of stepfamily strengths and tribulations, and international (North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Oceania countries of Australia and New Zealand) stepfamily research and support.  (My visit to Antarctica in 2005 indicated that stepfamily members working there were in “good shape.”)

As I prepared to retire, SAA’s Board recognized that stepfamily needs were  greater than the Stepfamily Association’s volunteer resources to meet them.  Given the difficulties that stepfamilies continue to have within their households and through existing detrimental laws and social policies, it became clear that a major education focus for stepfamilies, all of the professionals who serve them, and our federal and state policy-makers was critical.

At this opportune moment, the National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC) was founded in May 2006 as part of Auburn University's Center for Children, Youth, and Families.  Dr. Francesca Adler-Baeder, Director of CCYF, was SAA’s former Director of Family Life Education and now serves as Executive Director of the National Stepfamily Resource Center
www.stepfamilies.info. The NSRC presence was seeded with SAA’s donation of its web site, its research-based educational materials and programs, its on-going projects, and the expertise of its professionals, now known as the Stepfamily Expert Council.

The National Stepfamily Resource Center is not a membership program; there are no membership fees.  NSRC makes all of its stepfamily information and resources available to all stepfamilies, all stepfamily support groups, all stepfamily web sites, all stepfamily authors and their publishers, all training of professionals who work with stepfamilies (counselors, therapists, educators, doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, clergy, etc.), conference programers and, of course, the media.  Adopting the Vishers’ and SAA’s vision, the National Stepfamily Resource Center’s primary objective is stepfamily education and to make research-informed stepfamily information widely available.

"I am so pleased that the Stepfamily Association of America’s work is going to be carried forward by the National Stepfamily Resource Center at Auburn.  I know Emily would have been as happy as I am that stepfamilies will continue to receive research-informed information, materials, and programs.  It is satisfying to know that our nation’s stepfamily resources will finally have a permanent academic home and will be in the good hands of professionals in our field.  Many thanks to all who have done so much over the past 29 years to support SAA’s vision.”
John S. Visher, Co-founder
Stepfamily Association of America

John and Emily Visher had their own vision that stepfamilies would be accepted, supported, and successful.  The cumulative result of their work is a recognizable turning point for all of us who live and love in stepfamilies.  Through their personal stories and example, research, writing, and speaking, John and Emily showed us all that being in a stepfamily is not just a way to live but a way to live happily and successfully.  Living in a stepfamily is a truly remarkable opportunity for a diverse and fulfilling family experience.

John Visher deeply mourned Emily’s death on October 5, 2001 and, in the years following, a lovely photograph of her was never far from his sight. It is with profound sadness that we mourn John’s death on April 17, 2009 while he happily connects with Emily once again.

Written with my love and great respect,

Dr. Margorie Engel
National Stepfamily Resource Center, Stepfamily Expert Council
Former President, Stepfamily Association of America

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