On Wednesday, Sept. 16, Charles “Carlos” Piano H’06, died at 83. He was a professor emeritus of Spanish and longtime member of Kenyon’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures (MLL). At the time of his death, he lived in Oxford, Ohio.
Piano grew up in New Jersey and graduated summa cum laude from Rutgers University in 1958. In 1960, he attended graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he earned his master’s degree in 1960 and his doctorate in 1967. He taught at Kenyon for 37 years before retiring in 2006.
When Piano began teaching at Kenyon in the fall of 1969, he joined a small department of four French and German professors. According to Professor of Spanish Clara Román-Odio, Piano “stood by [his colleagues and students] when the MLL Department went through growing pains.” Over many years, Kenyon’s Spanish faculty grew to include seven members, and the MLL Department became one of the largest on campus, covering eight languages.
Piano was instrumental in developing and expanding the MLL Department. He helped establish the International Studies major and the Kenyon Intensive Language program, while diversifying the departmental majors to include area studies and modern languages, among other academic programs that are present on campus to this day.
“Carlos, a skillful administrator, worked tirelessly in different capacities (among them as departmental chair) to advance initiatives that both strengthened MLL and enriched the College,” Professor Emerita of Spanish Linda Metzler wrote.
Piano also served as director of the Great Lakes Colleges Association Latin America Program in Bogotá, Colombia for seven years.
Piano not only made a tremendous impact on his department, but also touched the lives of individual students and colleagues, many of whom remember his stories to this day. According to his colleagues, friends and former students, Piano radiated kindness and generosity.
“I remember when, in my job interview, he offered me to teach his Spanish American Poetry course, my specialty at the time,” Román-Odio remembered. “This generous offer influenced my decision to join the Kenyon community.”
Similarly, Professor of Chinese Jianhua Bai recalled how Piano instantly made him feel welcome when he first arrived to Kenyon by giving him a personal tour of the campus.
“I feel that I lost a best friend and family member,” Bai noted. “He made MLL a pleasant place to work and be around.”
According to Metzler, “Carlos Piano harbored the intimate conviction that shared stories — stories read, studied, said aloud — could illuminate individual lives and render common experience meaningful as little else could.”
A gifted storyteller, Piano would often recount how he found himself at Kenyon: While teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an assistant professor of Spanish, he came across an advertisement listing a Spanish teaching position at Kenyon and applied without hesitation. At the time, Spanish had not been taught at Kenyon for a year, since the death of Professor James R. Browne, the sole faculty member capable of teaching the language. According to Metzler, when Piano toured the campus for the first time, then-Professor of French Dr. Edward Harvey pointed out a grave in the cemetery and said, “Therein lies your predecessor.”
“I am comforted in Carlos’s loss by imagining that the stories he taught — and the ones he told — continue to swirl about those whose lives he touched, delighting, teaching, and richly perplexing us,” Metzler wrote to the Collegian.
Piano is survived by his wife, Helina Oinas Piano, and daughter, Aili Piano, an editor in New York City.