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Ernesto E. Moreno, 1915-2010: UT professor of Spanish was native of Cuba

Ernesto E. Moreno, a retired University of Toledo professor of Spanish who with his American wife had escaped Fidel Castro's Cuba, died of cancer Nov. 29 in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, South Detroit Avenue. He was 95.

Before he was hospitalized several weeks ago, he lived independently in South Toledo and still drove at least once a week to his church, Gospel Hall in Clyde, Ohio. He checked stock reports online and sent and read e-mail.

“That was his character,” said his daughter Diane Zerby. “He was always interested in the new and always active.

“He was a very dignified person, very honest and authentic. He was strongly moral,” she said. “He was a very social person, and I truly believe that's one of the things that kept him alive for so long. He had friends of every age group. He would just introduce himself, like at the apartment building he lived in. People would move in and he'd say, ‘I'm your neighbor. If you need anything, let me know.' ”

He taught Spanish and Spanish literature at UT for 16 years, retiring in 1982.

“He enabled a lot of the students to achieve fluency in Spanish,” daughter Maryellen Barron said. “He had had as students pretty much all of the Spanish teachers in the area.”

He was strict in class — and animated. “I read a note from someone who said he could even make grammar sound interesting because he was so passionate,” Ms. Barron said.

Christine Monday was in his Spanish language class as an undergraduate. When she was a graduate student, she assisted him in research on the Spanish author Benito Perez Galdos.

“He taught me a lot,” said Mrs. Monday, a teacher of Spanish the last 27 years at Northview High School in Sylvania. “He was a very soft-spoken man with high academic standards. He loved to read and loved literature, and the kind of ideas he exposed me to and helped me understand stayed with me.”

In retirement, he was a contract Spanish-language linguist for the FBI.

Mr. Moreno was born June 20, 1915, in Holguin at the eastern end of Cuba.

He attended a Quaker school and, later, a public school in Havana. He received a doctorate and, early in his career, was sent to mountainous areas to teach. He later taught geography and physical education at Candler College — a Methodist school where he met his wife, Ida Mae, who was from Minnesota — and Havana Military Academy.

He and his wife married July 14, 1957, in Minnesota. They returned to the island before the revolution. By late 1960, after the revolution, the chants of “Death to the Americans” by Castro supporters became too much. Mrs. Moreno said, “I'm going home,” Mrs. Zerby recounted. The couple left under the pretense of visiting her gravely ill grandfather in Minnesota.

“They could only take one suitcase and $400,” Mrs. Zerby said.

He received a doctorate from the University of Minnesota and taught in Minnesota and Wisconsin before he was hired by UT.

Mr. Moreno became a U.S. citizen in the late 1960s. He last visited Cuba about 15 years ago when his brother Hugo was ill, a visit U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) helped arrange, Mrs. Zerby said.

He first visited in 1980, stuffing his luggage full with clothing for relatives. The Cuba he found was not the Cuba he'd called home.

“I remember him talking about how things were just kind of a shell of the way they used to be, that it wasn't the same experience at all,” Mrs. Zerby said. “Even though he fully embraced the United States as his country, it wasn't where he grew up.”

Neither was Castro's Cuba, she added.

Mr. Moreno's wife died in 1981.

Surviving are his daughters, Diane Zerby and Maryellen Barron; sisters, America Moreno Bajuelo and Emma Moreno Batista; brother, Carlos Moreno, and six grandchildren.

Services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday in Monroe Street United Methodist Church, where he was a member until the 1990s. Arrangements are by the Ansberg-West Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio or the American Cancer Society.

Contact Mark Zaborney at:

or 419-724-6182.

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