116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
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Helena Percas de Ponseti
Professor Helena Percas de Ponseti passed away Jan. 1, 2011, following a stroke. A celebration of life will be at a later date.
Professor Ponseti was born in Valencia, Spain in January 1921. She was a graduate of the Institute Maintenon in Paris and of Barnard College in New York. She earned her Ph.D. in Hispanic literature at Columbia University. After teaching at Columbia and at Queens College in New York, she joined the Grinnell faculty in 1948 and became a full professor in 1957. Esteemed by the faculty as both an inspiring teacher and an internationally recognized scholar, Professor Ponseti was named the James Morton Roberts Honor Professor (1961-62) and in 1963, was awarded the Seth Richards Chair of Modern Languages.
Professor Ponseti's research initially focused on Latin American women writers, and she published one of the first major works on this topic, La poesía femenina Argentina (1810-1950) (Madrid: Ediciones Cultura Hispánica, 1958). She proceeded to establish herself as a leading Cervantes scholar with her critically acclaimed books: Cervantes y su concepto del arte: estudio crítico de algunos aspectos y episodios del Quijote (Madrid: Gredos, 1975), and Cervantes the Writer and Painter of Don Quijote (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988). For many years she graced the editorial board of the journal of the Cervantes Society and was a frequent collaborator in its pages through a series of articles of exceptional value. Throughout her career and well into retirement, Professor Ponseti contributed numerous articles on Latin American poetry and prose, Cervantes, and Golden Age literature to leading journals of the field such as Revista Hispánica Moderna, Hispania, Revista Iberoamericana, and Cervantes.
She was noted among generations of students at Grinnell for her excellent teaching of language and literature. Her reputation as a scholar resulted in invitations to lecture at many of the world's most renowned institutions of higher learning, such as Columbia, Fordham, the Universities of California-Berkeley and California-Riverside, Kansas, New York-Albany, Iowa; Pomona, Smith, and Ithaca Colleges; King's College at the University of London; the Universities of Barcelona, Valencia, Leuven, Puerto Rico, and Río de la Plata; and the Ateneo Español in Mexico.
Professor Ponseti chaired the Spanish section of the Modern Language Association and held honored membership in the Cervantes Society, Hispanic Institute in the United States, American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, Institute of Hispanic Culture, and other associations. After retiring from active teaching, Professor Ponseti continued to pursue her scholarly interests and remained a loyal supporter of the College. In the spring of 2000, she generously established a $70,000 endowment that permits the Department of Spanish at Grinnell College to recognize the superior achievement of a graduating major through an annual award of $2500. Each year the Department selects a senior Spanish major with a strong academic record and evidence of a commitment to the study of Hispanic culture.
Professor Ponseti was admired for the lucidity of her mind and loved for her kindness and magnanimity. With her departure the field of Hispanic Studies loses a master: the acuity of her vision only matched by the originality of her findings, and the elegance of her thought. The nobility of Helena's mind and works will be a perennial example of the best Hispanism has to offer. She will not be forgotten.
Professor Ponseti was preceded in death by her husband of 48 years, Ignacio Vives Ponseti, professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Iowa.
She is survived by her stepson, Bill Ponseti of Novato, Calif., and his family.