Leaving behind a 25-year-long career teaching foreign languages at Hillsdale College, Assistant Professor of Spanish Olga Muñiz died Friday, May 6, after an eight-year battle with cancer.
Muñiz is survived by her husband, Associate Professor of Spanish Kevin Teegarden, and their daughter, Ariana.
Muñiz came with Teegarden to teach Spanish on Hillsdale’s campus in 1991. The couple quickly won the hearts of faculty members and students with their commitment to each other and the story of how they met.
A native of Puerto Rico, Muñiz came to America in the early 1980s to pursue her graduate degree in Italian at Indiana University. Shortly after arriving, her adviser encouraged Muñiz to pick up a Spanish minor. It was there, in her first Spanish literature class, that she met Teegarden. The pair started frequently studying and spending time together, and eventually Teegarden got the courage to ask her out.
On Valentine’s Day in 1982, Teegarden had to muster up his courage once again, when he proposed. In 1984, they married and came to teach at Hillsdale several years later.
The two often shared reading materials and course plans with one another and occasionally subbed for each other’s classes. In an interview with The Hillsdale Collegian in 2002, Teegarden said getting to work with his wife has been one of the biggest blessings.
“For some couples, it may be difficult to spend so much time together, but it hasn’t worked out that way for us,” Teegarden said.
In early December 2007, doctors diagnosed Muñiz with breast cancer and she immediately underwent surgery. After several months of radiation and chemotherapy, Muñiz was cancer free, for now. Several years later, Muñiz was diagnosed with bone cancer and began undergoing treatment again.
Lecturer in Spanish Amanda Stechschulte said the relationship between Teegarden and Muñiz was one of unconditional love and an inspiration to all of campus.
“Their marriage is truly a love story,” Stechschulte said. “While she was going through all the treatments over the years, he was right by her side the entire time. He loved her so much. He’s the ideal image of what we hope any spouse is like in times like that.”
In November, as she was undergoing treatment, Muñiz broke her femur. While recovering from the injury, the cancer eventually spread throughout her body. Muñiz did not return to teach classes in the spring.
Director of Student Activities Anthony Manno ’13 said he took numerous Spanish classes with Muñiz and her husband when he was a student and remembers her consistent dedication to her students — especially when they he a hard time grasping the language.
“She was such a sweet lady,” Manno said. “When I first took her class, I was struggling. She sat me down during office hours and encouraged me to speak in Spanish. Even when I tried to break to speak in English, she would just reply in Spanish: ‘Speak in Spanish. Don’t worry. I’ll be patient with you, but don’t give up.’”
Spanish honorary president junior Christina Dressel said perhaps the best way to speak about her life is to think about the energy she showed in her lectures.
“Dr. Muñiz loved her students so much, and it was clear to anyone who had her as a professor,” Dressel said. “Her classes were filled with spunk, spontaneity, and lively conversation.”
Students of Muñiz said they remembered her love for poetry, class presentations, and her original ways to involve them in the language, such as writing short stories or plays in Spanish.
“She was so creative,” Stechschulte said. “She would write the most beautiful poems and found great pleasure in painting with watercolors. She wanted her students to experience that same love she had, too, and often included it in her class.”
Denise Nivison, the faculty aide in Delp Hall, said Muñiz radiated positivity and poise every time she would walk through the lobby of Delp.
“Whenever I would see her through my window that looks out into the lobby, I was blown away,” Nivison said.
Nivison said she specifically remembered Muñiz’ amazing sense of style, the flowing dresses, and big smile she wore when walking into the office. Nivison said although they didn’t talk much, she left a permanent impression on her.
“She loved sunshine, sandals, and those stylish hats. She started wearing those hats when she began to lose her hair from her treatment, but she loved them and made a statement,” Nivison said. “In the few quick interactions we had together, she was polite, kind, genuine, a lady in every sense of the word.”
Her family, her students, and those individuals who only knew her in passing all said they remembered her love for Spanish culture and the enthusiasm she had in sharing it.
“Her light shone through the Spanish department and all of her students were blessed by her dedication to sharing the language and celebrating Hispanic culture,” Dressel said.
Sympathy cards and condolences may be sent to Kevin Teegarden. In lieu of flowers, if so desired, a donation may be made to the Hospice of Hillsdale or the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.