Teacher who brought Latin to life is mourned by students, colleagues

December 01, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Diane Zdenek was a popular high school Latin teacher who taught the language creatively, annually dressing up in togas and holding Roman feasts for her students.

The longtime high school teacher died Sunday after a two-year struggle with ovarian cancer. She was 40.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Beth El Congregation, 8215 Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda.

Mrs. Zdenek split her work schedule between Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills high schools for more than 15 years.

"There's a lot of sadness," said Bonnie Daniel, principal of Wilde Lake High School, where Mrs. Zdenek taught for 15 years. "I can't say we were unprepared. She had been out most of last month. We were fearful she was not going to beat it this time."

Mrs. Zdenek taught not only the language, but also culture and mythology. Her students are "upset, particularly the ones who took Latin at the higher level," said David Bruzga, principal at Oakland Mills High School, where she taught for 14 years.

"She was very dedicated and knowledgeable," said Mr. Bruzga. "She was a gifted Latin teacher. She was a model of perseverance and dedication for all of us."

Mrs. Zdenek was a small woman, but she had a lot of vigor and zest for life, said Paula Micka, chairwoman of the Oakland Mills foreign language department "She was very dedicated, in her quiet, unassuming manner," she said. "She loved the classics, the books, the students. One of the things she always said . . . was that the study of the language would allow students to communicate with people living thousands of years ago."

The Student Government Association at Oakland Mills has set up an educational fund for Mrs. Zdenek's three daughters, the oldest 4 years old. Contributions can be mailed to the school at 9410 Kilimanjaro Road, Columbia, Md., 21045.

During her illness, teachers at both schools volunteered to cook and baby-sit for the family, Mrs. Micka said.

While other foreign language teachers taught students in the same level in one class, Mrs. Zdenek had to teach beginning to advanced students simultaneously. "She was very creative, very good at juggling different things in the classroom," Ms. Daniel said. "You had to be a good manager to teach more than one level.

"She was a lovely lady, just an optimistic, caring teacher, a kind you need at high school," Ms. Daniel said.

Mrs. Zdenek is survived by her husband, Robert of Washington, D.C.; three daughters, Patricia, 4, and twins Jillian and Katherine, 2; her mother, Stella Teish of Ohio; and a brother, Jeffrey Teish of Chicago.

The family is asking for donations to the Diane Zdenek Classical Scholarship Prize in lieu of flowers. The scholarship will be given to Latin students attending Oakland Mills or Wilde Lake. Donations can be mailed to Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia, Md., 21044.

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