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James Agustín Castañeda

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JAMES AGUSTÍN CASTAÑEDA, Professor of Spanish and a specialist in Golden Age Spanish Literature at Rice University, died on November 1. He was 75 and had been teaching at Rice since 1961. A lifelong scholar and athlete, he was also a devoted husband, father and grandfather. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, he earned his B.A. Summa Cum laude from Drew University (1954) and both his M.A. (1955) and Ph.D. (1958) from Yale University. He also completed a certificate in French at the Université de Paris (1957). His teaching career began at Hanover College (1958), and in 1961 he accepted an appointment as Assistant Professor of Spanish at Rice University. In 1963, he was promoted to Associate Professor, and to Professor in 1967. He served as Chair of the Department of Classics, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish from 1964-72 as well as Master of Will Rice College from 1969-76. He was a Visiting Professor at the University of North Carolina and Mount Holyoke College. Castañeda had a long and fulfilling career in athletics. He grew up playing sandlot baseball, and in 1951 he was first baseman for the Brooklyn Cadets which won the All-American Amateur Baseball Association tournament. Castañeda drove in the winning run of the final game, was named first baseman of the tournament all-star team, and was a runner-up for the Most Valuable Player award. In 1954, Castañeda signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles and played for one season for Cordele, Georgia in the Georgia-Florida League. He later played baseball in Spain including a stint with Real Madrid. At Rice, Castañeda served as Freshman Baseball Coach (1962-67), Assistant Varsity Coach (1967-83) and Head Golf Coach (1983-98). He was very proud to have coached 18 Academic All-Americans and to have coached the Rice golf team to three straight NCAA tournament appearances (1990-92). He was also a member of the Rice Bowling team (1969-83) and achieved a high score of 276, he played golf regularly, and he was goalie for Houston United in the Houston Amateur Soccer League (1964-81). In addition to these activities, Castañeda played a vital role in overseeing Rice's participation in the NCAA. He had served as Rice's faculty representative to the NCAA since 1974, and had continued to serve in this role until his death. His many athletic awards included the Most Valuable Player of the Parade Grounds League, Brooklyn, NY (1955); Rice University Athletic Hall of Fame Honorary "R" Man award (1986); and Hall of Fame at Drew University (1997). In 2002, Rice University established the James Castañeda Golf Scholarship. While athletics was vitally important to Castañeda, he was an accomplished and dedicated scholar and teacher. He taught many classes at Rice, from "Spanish Culture and Civilization" to "Golden Age Drama." One of his favorite classes was "Don Quijote" which grew out of his love for his favorite book, Don Quixote de la Mancha about which he once said,"it is the one book that I have read, reread and reread. Cervantes' understanding of human nature is really impressive. I admire his idealistic view of life...." Castañeda's scholarship is wide-ranging and includes five books, as well as a sixth book in-progress, more than 20 scholarly articles, 52 book reviews and more than eighty speaking engagements. His scholarly honors include: Danforth Fellow (1954), Fulbright Scholar (1956), Spanish Teacher of the Year and Foreign Language Teacher of the Year, Texas Foreign Language Teachers' Association (1982), and Meritorious Service Award, Association of Rice Alumni (2000). He also served as the President of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (1982), and he was decorated for his service by King Juan Carlos I of Spain (1983). Castañeda loved to travel to Spain where his grandfather was born. He served as a professor at more than ten summer Hispanic studies programs. As recently as the summer of 2008, he was a tour guide for an alumni group to Spain. During the Spring of 2003, he wrote a letter to his grandchildren, Courtney and Ramsey. He noted that, "Last week I finished my 42nd year of teaching at Rice and all I hope is that I have had a positive influence on the lives of my students." Jim Castañeda loved life, learning, and family. He will be missed by family and friends, but he left a legacy at Rice University and in life that will be remembered for many years to come. He is survived by his wife, Clara Luz Gutiérrez Castañeda, son, Christopher J. Castañeda, daughter-in-law, Terri A. Castañeda, grandchildren, Courtney Lynn Castañeda and Ramsey Harris Castañeda, and step-daughters, Eyvette López Hetherington, Michelle López Varma, and Lara Gago. A memorial service will be held at Reckling Park, Rice University, Friday November 7 at 4pm. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the James Castañeda Golf Scholarship, Rice University, Office of Development-MS 81, P.O. Box 1892, Houston, TX 77251-1892.
Published in Houston Chronicle on Nov. 5, 2008
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