She earned three degrees and spent her entire career as an educator. She taught accounting and business law at Farmingdale High School and retired from the district as a guidance counselor.
After her retirement, she wrote a book about her family's experience trying to find a home in the years after the Holocaust.
But it was her family, both past and future generations, who brought her the most pleasure.
"She was an amazing wife, mother and grandmother," Jodi Warshauer, her daughter, said. "She was a beautiful woman -- inside and out -- who had a special and unique relationship with each of her grandchildren."
Michaels, 72, died of cancer on Jan. 13 in her Commack home.
When Michaels decided to write "No Place to Call Home," published in 2011, her family was the inspiration.
"The book was written for and dedicated to her grandchildren," Warshauer, a Jericho resident, said. "She wanted her family and the future generations to know more about her parents' and grandparents' struggle and to understand her difficult experience as a child of war."
Gigi Hess was born on Nov. 14, 1941, in Shanghai, where her parents had sought refuge as World War II ramped up.
After the war, the family moved around, finally settling in Sunnyside. She met Lee Michaels at a St. Patrick's Day dance in Manhattan, and the couple married in 1962. They eventually settled in Bellmore, where they raised their two children, Robert and Jodi.
After starting her family, Michaels returned to school at Nassau Community College, where she received an associate degree.
She later earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Hofstra University in Hempstead. She spent the majority of her career in the Farmingdale district, retiring in 2004.
Her book enabled her to share her family's story by speaking at numerous schools, temples and Holocaust memorial services.
"Despite her challenging upbringing, she was the most upbeat and positive person," Warshauer said.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her husband of 50 years, Lee Michaels; a son, Robert Michaels of Roslyn; and four grandchildren.