Retired professor Denise Minor, who taught Spanish for 12 years, passed away Thursday, July 1. She was 62.

Born July 24, 1958, in Pocatello, Idaho, Minor earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Boise State University before beginning a career as a journalist. She later moved to San Sebastian, Spain to teach English, where she realized she loved Spanish and teaching. She soon returned to the United States to earn a master’s degree in Spanish from San Francisco State.

For many years, she taught Spanish to health-care professionals at the UC San Francisco, in a program she developed. However, she deeply desired to earn her doctorate, and at 40 years old, she enrolled in a PhD program at the University of California, Davis. Shortly thereafter, her son Max was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and she spent the next decade in and out of school while caring for him and her family, before finally earning her PhD in Spanish linguistics in 2007. 

In 2007, her ultimate dream came true when she was hired at Chico State to teach upper- and lower-division courses in Spanish and linguistics, including Spanish phonology, Spanish teaching methodology, and bilingualism in North America. In 2015, she began teaching graduate courses for the master’s degree in teaching international languages, a program she helped create.

“Denise stood out because of her unconditional commitment to our students in the department,” said faculty member Rony Garrido. “She was a tireless advocate for any kind of project or program that would benefit heritage language learners and other students to support the skills they need to be successful graduates.”

Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts Tracy Butts (left) and Provost Debra Larson (right) present Denise Minor (center) with Professional Achievement Honors at Inspired '19.
Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts Tracy Butts (left) and Provost Debra Larson (right) present Denise Minor (center) with Professional Achievement Honors at Inspired ’19. (Jessica Bartlett / University Photographer)

A curious intellectual with contagious enthusiasm, she was the source of many treasured conversations and fostered lifelong relationships with her colleagues and students, Garrido said.

Alumnus Juan Diaz-Flores (Mathematics, 21) met Minor while taking “Bilingualism in North America”—a course Minor developed—and said not only was she a supportive and enthusiastic teacher, she made the subject approachable regardless of a student’s major or minor. Ultimately, she became a friend and mentor.

“It was one of the most eye-opening courses of my academic career. She made me view my bilingualism in a way I never viewed it before and understand how truly special it is. It encouraged me to learn more about my own culture and strengthen my two languages,” he said. “It was one of those classes you take because it’s a requirement, but it turned out to be one of the top two defining experiences for my own personal growth.”

Minor’s research interests were numerous, including sociolinguistics, Spanish of the United States, code-switching, and language immersion programs. She also received an HFA International Fellow Award to develop a summer study abroad program in Quebec, Canada. Her scholarship and professional achievements were a testament to her commitment to creating inclusive and equitable learning environments for all students, most notably those with learning disabilities or differences, heritage language learners, and second-language learners.

Minor published three books, including a memoir entitled “No Screaming Jelly Beans: Trying to Pursue a Career While Raising a Son With Autism.” More recently, she was working to have Spanish declared the co-official language of California.

Journalism professor and ChicoSol editor Leslie Layton-Flores met Minor when she was looking for outlets for her students to publish in Spanish. As her students produced numerous articles in English and Spanish, the two women became friends and started a book club together, and Minor joined the board of advisors for ChicoSol.

“Students just adored her and said she really changed their lives,” Layton-Flores said. “She was a brilliant, lively human being. She was somebody who just cared so much about students, and introducing the whole idea of bilingualism and trilingual and cross-cultural education in a joyous way. She delighted in learning.”

In her free time, Minor was an impassioned world traveler, visiting Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Argentina, Uruguay, Canada, and most of the countries of Europe. She also wrote fiction and was involved in the disability community, but she was happiest in front of a class with her students. She retired in 2019.

She is survived by her husband, Alex, sons Max and Nathan, and brothers Paul and Michael. Services are still being planned. The family requests any memorial contributions in her name support the Denise Minor Memorial Scholarship Fund.

The University flag will be lowered Monday, July 19, in her memory.