News and Events

Remembering Professor Bolaños

Alvaro Felix Bolanos
Álvaro Félix Bolaños

This column ran in the May 24 2007 edition of the Cedar Key Beacon and appears here by permission.

Are you stretching yourself? Are you doing what you want to do? Are you saying what you think and following your dreams? Is it time to re-evaluate your life?

Because you never know.

Last week one of my former professors died. That’s not unusual in itself, because professors die all the time. But Professor Álvaro Félix Bolaños was only 51, and in apparently excellent health. I didn’t know until I read his obituary how old he was, but I would have guessed a decade younger.

Born in Gainesville-sized Cartago, Colombia, Bolaños was educated both in Colombia and the United States, earning his Masters degree and Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky. He was a born teacher, someone who would gladly explain anything to you if you took the time to ask. I took one class with him, in Colonial Spanish-American Literature. It was one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken.

We read and discussed an incredible range of works in Spanish, from Christopher Columbus’ letters to the treasurer of Spain, written around 1493, to Gabriel García Marquez’ masterpiece “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” published in 1967.

Because of the range of time involved, as well as the relative skill of the writers (Columbus’ Spanish was adequate for communication, but full of errors in grammar and usage), it was impossible to get really comfortable with any of the writing. Bolaños coached us through it, explaining the grammatic idiosyncrasies and spelling and vocabulary varieties of various dialects and time periods.

Many of us in the class were North Americans, native English speakers and members of one of the most dominant cultures of this era. We had to look hard at the texts to find the point of view of the conquered, rather than the conquering culture.

That was just one of the ways that Bolaños made us stretch. Another was the invariable reading quizzes, as well as the possibility of being randomly called on to answer questions. As busy as I was with work and my other classes, I hate more than anything to embarrass myself by being unprepared. Sometimes I would fall asleep reading some opaque text about a war I had never heard of. As a matter of self-defense, I would read out loud, partly to stay awake.

I went to a memorial service for Bolaños a few days ago. The chapel was mobbed. In addition to family and friends, he had had a powerful influence on a lot of students. From taking his class I knew a few things about him, such as his academic intensity and dedication to teaching and learning. I also knew by his sneakers and his Alberto Salazar build that he was an avid runner. At the service I also learned that he was as devoted to fun and joyous living as he was to rigorous study.

According to the tearfully-told funny stories, Bolaños loved to dance, so much so that at his own wedding, he left the wedding cake in mid-cut to hit the dance floor when the DJ played his favorite song. He enjoyed drinking a good beer and teasing people whose tipple didn’t meet his exacting standards.

I saw Prof. Bolaños at graduation two weeks ago, and was lucky enough to thank him for such a good class. When I said that was one of my hardest classes ever, I meant that in a good way. He made us stretch, and exceed our expectations of our own abilities.

At Bolaños’ funeral, I saw the kind of impact a man leaves who is doing his best and reaching as far as he can. We never know when our day and time may come.

Are you doing your best?

Am I?



Jenna McKenna is the editor of the Cedar Key Beacon and a 2007 CLAS graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She minored in Spanish. The UF Student Senate passed a resolution honoring the life of Professor Bolaños on Tuesday, June 5th.

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