In the photograph that hangs in the Language Lab on the third floor of MSSU’s Webster Hall, José Alvarez is a study in concentration, his fingers frozen in a nimble dance along the frets of his guitar.
“Most of my memories of José include music,” says Dr. Leslie Smith, assistant professor of Spanish at Missouri Southern. “He loved to sing and play the guitar.”
Among those who lost their lives on May 22, 2011, was Alvarez, an assistant professor of Spanish.
The 59-year-old had taught at Missouri Southern for three years. A native of Colombia, he previously taught at Florida International University in Miami. He earned his doctoral degree in Spanish there and also served as a writer and editor for the Univision television network.
“As cliché as it might sound, he always had a smile on his face, whether he was working with students or with his colleagues,” says Smith. “Always a jokester, he was quick to find the humor in almost any situation.”
Kisa Clark, ’11, says she also remembers Alvarez for his sense of humor.
“He would try to get at least one laugh out of his students in every class,” she says. “He was very engaging and open.
“The summer before, in 2010, he led a group of us to Guatemala. He wanted us to learn Spanish and more about the culture. “I remember playing soccer with a group of teenagers there and could hear him cheering me on.”
Rebecca Saunders, ’11, vividly remembers being in Billingsly Student Center in the hours after the tornado to help register volunteers. While there, she picked up the Spring 2011 issue of Crossroads magazine and read a profile of Alvarez, who had been her instructor for several of her Spanish classes.
“I have that memory of sitting at the table and reading that two-page spread about him, having no idea at the time that he had died,” she said.
“He was such a great professor … he was hilarious. He would always tell us to write our papers in Spanish without using Google Translate. Then he would call us out if someone did because the translations were terrible.”
Smith says one of her fondest memories of Alvarez was during one of the department’s annual banquets.
“I remember that, according to the program, he was supposed to play music for just a few minutes near the end of the night,” she says. “But it turned into a sing-along for at least half an hour, and I remember others shouting, ‘Otra, otra,’ which is how the audience asks for an encore in Spanish.
“He was incredibly entertaining that night and no one seemed to notice that the event ended much later than anticipated.”
Alvarez was one of three individuals with ties to Missouri Southern who lost their lives in the tornado.
Abraham “Abe” Khoury, 26, was a student working on his degree in business and entrepreneurship. Donald Lansaw Jr., gave his life shielding his wife, Bethany, a former staff member at the university.
The Alvarez-Khoury-Lansaw Memorial Scholarship was formed to honor the members of the MSSU community. The endowed scholarship is awarded to full- or part-time students who have a financial need, a minimum 2.5 GPA and a demonstrable record of community service.