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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.

Olga Muniz | Courtesy External Affairs
Olga Muniz | Courtesy External Affairs

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.

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Thomas Novelly
Collegian Editor-in-Chief, Thomas Novelly was born in Novi, Michigan, but was raised in Franklin, Tennessee, making him a self-proclaimed "Yankee gone South." Thomas began writing for The Collegian as a sophomore, and since has served as a reporter, columnist, and Assistant City News Editor. He has also worked for two major publications, interning at the Washington Free Beacon in D.C. and The Tennessean in Nashville. His work has been seen in National publications such as CBS News, National Review Online, Stars And Stripes, and USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.