Beloved Oak Hall Teacher Passes Away

Margarita Avellaneda, who taught at Oak Hall School for 29 years, passed away after a battle with a long illness on Aug. 29. During her tenure at Oak Hall, Ms. Margarita (as she was affectionately known by her students) taught Spanish and Latin, chaired the language department, and led Oak Hall to many victories locally and nationally in Spanish and Latin competitions. She created the excellence that is today’s Oak Hall’s powerhouse Latin program.

Margarita Avellaneda, 1940-2020

As the news spread on social media regarding Avellaneda’s passing, current and former Oak Hall faculty members, along with alumni, reminisced about this wonderful colleague, teacher, and friend:

“Ms. Margarita was one of the most respected members of the faculty at Oak Hall, not only based on her many years [of service], but also as her reputation as an excellent teacher. She was an amazing mentor, colleague, and lunch companion. She was a powerhouse in the classroom, a teacher with high expectations and an extensive knowledge of both her subject areas. We all felt lucky to have been mentored by her and to have had the opportunity to teach her daughter Muriel.”
– Evelyn Smith, current Oak Hall Upper School Media Specialist

“Ms. Margarita was amazing. A lovely, classy lady who commanded respect by giving it. A staple of the Oak Hall community. I was honored to carry on her tradition there. She and her family will be kept in our minds and hearts.”
– Dr. Generosa Sangco-Jackson, former Oak Hall Latin teacher

“Ms. Margarita was demanding, but fair and intensely passionate about her student’s learning. I still remember one of the many things she used to tell our class…..’If you want to learnnnnn………..then you have to sweat!’ Best Spanish teacher ever.”
– Robert Bryan, current Oak Hall teacher and Alumni ’90

“The day I got into college she congratulated me, gave me a hug and said cheerfully, ‘Don’t get lazy now! Real learning isn’t about getting into college.’ Spot on. I double majored in Spanish for fun due to her influence which opened a world of travel and art. Deeply thankful for her influence.”
– Leigh Monty (Meredith Montgomery), Alumni ’01

“She was the best! She taught me Latin and I once said, ‘It sounds so fast when you speak Spanish,’ and she said, ‘Have you ever heard how fast you talk?’ One of my favorites!”
– Marcy (Wolsfelt) Mortimer, Alumni ’89

“Ms. Marg was so kind, funny and a wonderfully engaged teacher. Not everyone knew that she was an excellent basketball player too. How do you get kids to love studying Latin and travel to state competitions to take more tests for fun? She knew how to motivate us. She was the best.”
– Scott Kotsch, Alumni ’89

“Margarita was an amazing and supportive colleague and educator…she lead the world in passion and integrity.”
– Ed Legare, retired Oak Hall teacher

“Sra. Margarita was a wonderful teacher who helped fuel my love of Spanish literature. She is one of the reasons I double majored in Spanish in college. She really did have a wonderful sense of humor. I remember on senior prank day, two of the guys in our class decided to ‘party boy’ her. They ripped off their shirts and did this ridiculous dance routine. She just rolled with it and laughed, right up until she said, ‘Yes, yes, and now we study.’ One of my favorite high school memories.”
– Lauren (Wannenwetsch) Barbeau, Alumni ’05

“It’s teachers like Ms. Margarita that make Oak Hall great! One of a kind.”
– Hollis Mutch, Alumni ’02

Margarita (‘Rita’) Bacchella Avellaneda passed away at home after a long illness on August 29, 2020. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on October 20, 1940. There she received an MA in Classical Languages from the University of Buenos Aires and was an instructor of classical Greek and Latin languages until 1967, when a military coup upended the country and precipitated the departure of hundreds of university professors. She and her then husband Andres Avellaneda accepted positions at the University of Puerto Rico, where they taught until undertaking graduate studies at the University of Illinois in 1970.

Margarita earned a second MA and completed studies for her doctorate in Classics at UI. They returned to Argentina in 1974, teaching in several universities and welcoming the birth of their daughter Muriel in 1977. The advent of yet another brutal military dictatorship sent them into their second political exile, this time to Gainesville, FL in 1979. They were amicably divorced soon after.

She accepted a position at Oak Hall School to teach Latin and Spanish, which she did for 29 years until her retirement in 2008, chairing the Language Department and leading many school teams to first positions in state and national competitions at the Latin Forum and the Florida State Spanish Conference. She engaged and inspired her students, becoming a mentor and a well-beloved teacher in a group of distinguished professionals. Her former students and colleagues will remember her not only for her teaching of Spanish and Latin language and cultures, but also for the life lessons and guidance she imparted. Rita was a woman of character and a devoted mother, endowed with great intelligence, a wonderful sense of humor, and a compassionate approach to life.

In 2015 she married her long-time companion, Jorge Martinez. They shared a love of the opera, classic American and Foreign movies, good food, reading and traveling around the world. Rita delighted in good conversation, her many friendships, and watching the games of the NBA, since she had been a star player in minor league basketball in Argentina. She will be remembered and missed by everyone who had the chance to know her as a teacher and as a human being.

She was predeceased by her daughter Muriel Avellaneda, who died in 2010, and by her husband Jorge Martinez, whose death preceded hers by 11 days. She is survived by a group of dear friends in Buenos Aires and Gainesville, by her former husband Andres Avellaneda and by her stepdaughters Joanne Martinez and Christine Jacobus. All of us have a debt of gratitude to Dr. Melanie Hagen, her wonderful family doctor, and to the Wong family-Andres, mother Esther, wife Theresa and sister Pamela-for the loving care they gave to Jorge and Margarita.

Following her wishes, her remains will be cremated and no funeral services will be held. She will be buried next to her daughter Muriel. 

Arrangements are under the care of Forest Meadows Funeral Home, 725 NW 23rd AVE, Gainesville, Florida, 32609. 352-378-2528.