Au revoir, Madame Ciholas: language professor retires
RELEASED: December 13, 2007
What Madame Ciholas—as Hillary Monroe '05 affectionately calls her—brings to her classes is something Kimbro calls contagious.
"I saw that she was this amazingly talented scholar, artist, writer, parent and wife—just such a renaissance woman," says Kimbro, a lawyer in Wilmington, N.C.
Kimbro is now teaching French to her 20-month-old daughter so she'll learn to appreciate the language. "The love of learning in general that I gained from Professor Ciholas stayed with me long after graduating," she says.
Long after many of Ciholas' students graduate—some remaining with the languages they've studied and some not—they remember most clearly three aspects of Ciholas' influence: her classroom enthusiasm, her compassion outside the world of academia and her amazing abilities with German and French.
"Dr. Ciholas knew exactly how to balance challenging classes with care and compassion for her students' work," says the younger Saunier, an international studies major who works for her sorority's national organization. "She had the amazing ability to touch lives through her passion and kindness."
Having attended the same French classes as her daughter 29 years earlier, Shannon says that Ciholas' love and passion for her students and for teaching was the main reason she majored in French.
"Talking to Dr. Ciholas at Mary Jane's graduation was such a special time for me," Shannon says. "Knowing that she had inspired my daughter was particularly touching. As I spoke with Dr. Ciholas, I could remember the conversations we had 25 years ago about my future!"
Wes Fugate '02 describes his first French class with Ciholas as overwhelming.
"She spoke not a single word of English," Fugate says, except to note that she would be speaking little English during the term.
"I thought, 'Oh my goodness, I'm not going to make it,'" Fugate says. But Ciholas told him she would gladly work with him.
"And she did," Fugate says. "I can't think of a person who has touched as many lives at Centre as she has."
Many students recall their first impression of Ciholas inside the classroom, but Nute Bonner '00 of Lexington remembers first meeting her on the streets of Strasbourg. Ciholas, who grew up in Switzerland, was instrumental in setting up Centre's program in Strasbourg, a multilingual French city on the border with Germany. She also was the first director of international programs at Centre.
"She seamlessly switched from speaking English to us, French to the French, and then German to the Germans," Bonner says. "I remember thinking, 'I want to be able to do that!'"
Bonner's favorite memory of Ciholas occurred in 1998 when she won the Acorn Award, an honor given annually to Kentucky's most outstanding professor.
"It's customary that one of the recipient's students give an introduction before the award is presented, and Professor Ciholas gave me that honor," Bonner remembers.
Stephanie Thompson '00 of Nicholasville, Ky., also traveled to Strasbourg with Ciholas.
"You never knew what Dr. Ciholas might say or do next, but you knew it would be interesting and worth sticking around to find out," Thompson says.
Many of Ciholas' students also found her to be an inspiration outside the classroom. Charley Upton '77 remembers the small, customary gesture of Ciholas inviting her students into her home for dinner and casual talks.
"I still remember being impressed by her paintings, the books that she authored, the delicious French food," recalls Upton, a youth counselor in Tucson. "I witnessed several students, including myself, catch on fire with interest in her classes."
Robert Paxton '86 of Maryland also enjoyed invitations to the Ciholas home.
"I'd always been impressed by her 'smarts,' but I had no idea until then that she was an accomplished artist," Paxton says. "She had painted a beautiful mural on the wall near the entrance to her home."
Sarah Eskridge '02 remembers a certain incident during one of Ciholas' Bastille Day celebrations.
"I was shocked to see Dr. Ciholas toss a glassful of champagne at [Spanish professor] Mary Daniels, fifties-cinema style!" she says. "Mary totally deserved it, though. Who shouts '¡Viva Espana!' at a party with French people?"
Students also remember Ciholas' office in the basement of Crounse as a special place.
"I loved sitting in her office with its green walls and glowing desk lamp, the stuffed monkey hanging lopsided over her guest chair and her blue felt coat hanging up on the wall," says Sarah Cantrell '99.
"She told me once that she assessed people by how they responded to that monkey who greeted visitors to her office," Cantrell recalls.
What Ciholas' students remember most, however, is her talent and passion for getting them to love languages as much as she does.
About a year ago, Lisa Sagel '92, a scientist for Proctor and Gamble, was looking through an old box of college things and found a poetry book she had made in one of Ciholas' classes.
"My French isn't so great now," she says. "I learned Spanish later after I graduated, and I lived in Ecuador for a year. My French background with Dr. Ciholas helped a lot with learning Spanish."
Catherine York '96 remembers doing a John C. Young research project with Dr. Ciholas on the works of Chretien de Troyes in Ancien Francais.
"She nudged me in just the right direction for my research to make sense," York says. "One of her great skills is to encourage students to broaden their thinking and to venture outside their normal box."
Whitney Fritsch '99 still has all of her class materials and notes from her time with Ciholas for use in her graduate work and in her own teaching.
"Dr. Ciholas has an incredible gift to take a wide breadth of information and make it applicable, understandable and detailed where necessary," Fritsch says. "She was extremely confident in my abilities and painfully patient with my progress."
Ciholas' reflections on her 33-year teaching and 16-year administration career at Centre are quite simple, and her students will wholeheartedly agree: "It was always about the students."
And it is teaching eager new students to love language—as she has done with so many at Centre—that she will miss the most.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
For news archives go to http://www.centre.edu/web/news/newsarchive.html.
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