Taught Spanish, language she loved

Serita Pereira Spadoni was especially proud that her mother had been born in Spain.

So in the academic year before she began her career teaching Spanish in Delaware County, she and her husband, Bernard, took their three children to Madrid.

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Serita P. Spadoni shared her mother tongue with her children and Marple Newtown students.

There, and later in Valencia, the children - a daughter, 13, and sons 11 and 9 in September 1957 - spent the 1957-58 school year in private schools.

Before leaving the States, said her daughter, also named Serita, "my mother sat us down and taught us numbers and how to say the vowels." That was it.

"The experience" in Spanish schools, where no one spoke English, she said, "was total immersion."

On Sunday, March 27, Mrs. Spadoni, 96, a middle school teacher in the Marple Newtown School District from 1958 until she retired in 1972, died at the Neighborhood Hospice in West Chester after a stroke.

The time in Spain, Mrs. Spadoni's daughter said, shaped her life.

"I taught Spanish at Radnor High School, Norristown High," her daughter said. "I did volunteer service in Mexico. I also taught literacy for the Chester County library system," often to Hispanics.

Mrs. Spadoni's son Robert "is married to an Ecuadoran," her daughter said, and taught in the social-studies department at Henderson High School in West Chester, where he worked with Hispanic students.

Mrs. Spadoni's other child, Charles, is a lawyer and, his sister said, "I remember him being sent on business trips to Spanish-speaking countries because he had the ability to converse in Spanish."

Born in Belem, Brazil, Mrs. Spadoni did not speak Brazilian Portuguese at home but the Spanish of her mother.

She arrived in Philadelphia in 1917, the year she turned 2, and later graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls.

In 1937, she earned a bachelor's degree in physical education at what is now West Chester University, where, her daughter said, Spanish was not taught.

A physical-education major was appropriate for the future Spanish teacher, her daughter said, because not only did she often cover 25 miles on Saturday outings with a hiking club but also, as a teenager, she had been the only girl, the catcher, on a neighborhood baseball team.

After she married in 1938, Mrs. Spadoni was a social worker for the state, then a clerical worker with Curtis Publishing, and since 1948 a West Chester resident.

To be certified as a public-school teacher of Spanish, Mrs. Spadoni studied the language in the 1950s at what is now Drexel University, Swarthmore College, and the University of Pennsylvania while raising her children.

Then came the Spanish adventure in 1957-58.

Mrs. Spadoni's husband, who did not speak Spanish, returned to his job in the States in August 1957, her daughter said, while "Mother stayed with us during the school year."

Mrs. Spadoni audited courses in Spanish at the Madrid campus of Middlebury College.

And after a maternal cousin was found to be living in Valencia, the family moved there from Madrid.

In the 1960s, while teaching in the Marple Newtown district, Mrs. Spadoni taught evening classes in Spanish at what is now West Chester University.

From the 1950s into the 1970s, Mrs. Spadoni taught Sunday school for preschool and kindergarten children at Birmingham Friends Meeting.

And in a year lost to memory, Mrs. Spadoni won best in show at the Kimberton Fair in Chester County for a quilt, the first one she had made.

Besides her daughter and sons, Mrs. Spadoni is survived by four granddaughters and a stepgrandson. Her husband died in 2005.

A memorial service was set for 2 p.m. Saturday, May 7, at Birmingham Friends Meeting, 1245 Birmingham Rd., south of Route 926.


Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.