Sandra Clevenger, a lifelong Grand Rapidian other than three years abroad in Spain, was dubbed “The Work Horse” near the beginning of her 42 years teaching in the Spanish department at Calvin—there were hardly any women in the Calvin faculty, and she was the only person in the Spanish department with a PhD.

“Back then, I taught all the upper-level literature courses for the Spanish department. It was insane teaching a new course every year, but thankfully things have changed since then,” Clevenger said.

Clevenger’s favorite part about her Calvin experience was the student-oriented aspect of the Spanish department, speaking to the dedication she had toward her students from the beginning. “Spanish is viewed more as a service kind of department because we have many student activities like Spanish chapel, Spanish table, Spanish house, and all kinds of events—it’s really quite different from any other department,” she explained.

Clevenger attributes her lifelong love of teaching to her family line of educators, as her father was the first superintendent of Christian schools in Grand Rapids, and she had many other family members who were involved in higher education.

Her own higher education began at Calvin as a music major, but after her first year, she transferred to Michigan State University to earn her bachelor’s degree in French. She also earned her master’s degree at MSU in Spanish, and then went on to New York University for her PhD in Spanish.

Clevenger believes it is important for English speakers to learn foreign languages, and that it is especially important for Christians. “In America, it is always beneficial to be able to speak Spanish, but we’re also called to learn languages as Christians,” Clevenger said. “Wanting others to learn English instead of you learning their language does not demonstrate a Christ-like attitude; if you’re going to show love for your neighbor, you have to be willing to reach out to others and not expect them to cater to your ‘more important’ language.”

Clevenger carried this passion for the Spanish language all the way to Spain for one semester abroad, but not without her pug, Bebe. “I stayed with a Spanish family and the grandmother of the family became so attached to Bebe,” Clevenger said. “I would come home at night after teaching classes and see Bebe and Grandma watching soap operas together. She would spoil Bebe so much!”

During retirement, Clevenger plans to dedicate more time to her passion for quilting, as she taught several quilting interim courses at Calvin. She is very thankful for her time as a Calvin professor and plans on returning to visit her former colleagues.