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Memorial Saturday for Olshanskaya

Memorial Saturday for Olshanskaya

Natalia Olshanskaya P’04, a professor of Russian who came to Kenyon in 1997, died Wednesday at her home in Mount Vernon. She was 66.

Her death, from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, was confirmed Thursday morning by her husband, Don Monson.

Born Nov. 25, 1949, Olshanskaya grew up in Odessa, Ukraine — at the time, a part of the Soviet Union — where she studied linguistics, English and translation theory. She received all of her degrees from the University of Odessa: a bachelor’s in 1969, a master’s in 1971 and a doctorate of philosophy in 1980.

She taught at the Odessa State University from 1975 to 1992, according to Kenyon’s website, before leaving for the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Olshanskaya was instrumental in setting up an exchange program with Odessa State and St. Andrews, Monson said, where she taught for a year before coming to the College of William & Mary in 1993.

“It was about the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union, and I think she was interested in getting out,” Monson said. “She was not very much in favor of the regime in the Soviet Union … but she was not an open dissident. She was just living her life and doing her job.”

Monson met Olshanskaya at first-year registration at William & Mary, where he taught French. They bonded over a shared nostalgia for Scotland, as Monson had taught at the University of Edinburgh.

Olshanskaya arrived at Kenyon in 1997, where she taught until last March when she was diagnosed with ALS. She loved teaching at Kenyon, Monson said.

“In some respects, the most satisfying part of her teaching career was working with students here at Kenyon,” he said. “We had students here [at our home] many times, cooking Russian food like pirozhki and borscht and other things.”

For Alex Harrover ’17, an English major who took Olshanskaya’s beginning and intermediate Russian classes, she was “royalty on campus” who distinguished herself through a “grand, refined presence.”

Though the work in her classes was rigorous, and at times “grueling,” Harrover said that Olshanskaya’s readily apparent perfection of her craft and ability to yield results brought students back to her classes, even when they had initially taken one of her classes solely to satisfy the language requirement in Kenyon’s curriculum.  

“You’d leave each class having made a measurable amount of progress,” Harrover said.

Harrover also noted Olshanskaya’s intense loyalty to her students, providing as examples her habit of attending musical, theater or dance performances to support students of hers appearing in those productions, and her devotion to learning about the backgrounds and interests of each student. The degree to which she cared for her students was also evident in her choice to delegate the teaching of basic- and intermediate-level Russian language courses, Harrover said, even when her experience and talent would have qualified her for higher endeavors.

“She could have been teaching graduate students,” he added.

In addition to the work of the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, Olshanskaya enjoyed theater, cinema and traveling. Monson said in the past few years they had visited Russia, Ukraine, India, Morocco, Portugal, China and Mexico, sometimes with her daughter Ksenia Sokolyanskaya ’04.

There will be a memorial service at the Church of the Holy Spirit  Saturday, Jan. 30 at 2:30 p.m..

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