Mississippi State University’s Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures is holding a celebration of life service at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Chapel of Memories for beloved Professor Emeritus of Foreign Languages, Monika Dunlap.
Dunlap was born in Germany and came to the United States as a young adult. She graduated from MSU with a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts then pursued further post-graduate work at the University of Maryland. She returned afterwards to teach at MSU, which, according to her obituary, was a job Dunlap treasured.
A German who taught French in the United States, Dunlap is remembered by her colleagues and students as a remarkable woman.
Rosa Vozzo, an MSU Spanish instructor, was a graduate student with Dunlap at MSU before they both became instructors in the department of CMLL. She said she has been close friends with Dunlap ever since.
“Monika was a different kind of person,” Vozzo said. “I don’t think there is another one like Monika. Monika was not only physically beautiful- that’s the first thing I think a lot of people notice about her, how beautiful, striking she was- but also Monika got along with everybody. I don’t know anybody that she could not find a way to connect to and get along.”
Warm, supportive and caring, Dunlap embodied the characteristics of a mother, and some students even saw her as one.
“I think the students saw her as a good teacher but also as a mother figure. She was very nurturing, loves to hug, loves to tell you how good you look that day, that type of person,” Vozzo said.
Amie Russell, undergraduate coordinator of the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures who worked with Dunlap for over 10 years, said she once overheard a student call Dunlap her “campus mom.”
“Her classroom was kind of like family. They were just really close. Especially her upper level classes because those classes tend to get smaller. She often called her students her kids,” Russell said.
Riley Vergara-Cruz, a senior majoring in marketing and French, had Dunlap for several classes, including her very first college class ever, French II at 8 a.m. on Mondays. She said Dunlap was one of those teachers that inspired students to actually learn, not just get the assignment finished.
“In the classroom setting, she was very, very supportive,” Vergara-Cruz said. “She always pushed us to do our very best. If she knew that we did our homework halfway through the night just to get it done—she could tell and she would call us out on it just to make us do better and then she would work with us in the classroom.”
According to her colleagues, Dunlap brought a special, personal touch to the department. She was extremely hospitable and would do things like bring fresh flowers from home to put in the office. She loved to cook and paint, and had her paintings hanging in her office. She would make German Chocolate Cake and madeleines and bring them to class for her students. Russell said the department will not be the same without Dunlap’s warmth and color.
“It’s going to be little things like that, that are everywhere. That’s what’s going to be hard to replace right now in our French section just because she was such a big personality,” Russell said.
Lydia King, a French instructor who started working at MSU two years ago, said Dunlap welcomed her into the department with open arms.
“We were great friends. She was really a mentor to me when I started working here,” King said. “Monika just kind of showed me the ropes. She was a very warm and loving person, so intelligent, a really educated woman and everyone loved her. She was kind of like our mom here. She kind of embraced us all and kept us on our toes.”
King said Dunlap loved her job so much that she did not want to retire.
“She loved teaching here. This was her passion; she didn’t want to retire. She wanted to keep teaching forever,” King said.
Vergara-Cruz said Dunlap was beloved by students not only for her warmth and kindness, but also for her sassy sense of humor.
“She would joke with us as if she was a 22-year-old college student too, which is why I think everyone loved her so much,” Vergara-Cruz said.
Even though she was German, Vergara-Cruz said Dunlap inspired a love for learning and a love for the French language and culture that is of invaluable worth to the university and the department.
“She had a way of showing students how amazing French culture and the French language can be and she influenced a lot of students to choose to be French majors or even minors, and she’s not even French. She was German, but she lives in Mississippi and she still found the beauty in what she was teaching, and I think that was very influential for the department because it got students to actually want to learn French and not just get a degree,” Vergara-Cruz said.
Dunlap’s celebration of life service will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Chapel of Memories and will feature students and colleagues sharing memories of Dunlap as well as music, refreshments and flowers.