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Honored former TWU professor dies

Profile image for By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer
By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer

Rose Spicola, a retired Texas Woman’s University professor, recently died in Tampa, Fla., where she was living.

Spicola, who died Nov. 21 at the age of 84, worked at TWU from 1966 to 1998 as a reading and early childhood reading professor at TWU and was named Cornaro Professor Emerita in 1986.

The Cornaro Award is given for “distinguished teaching and outstanding commitment to scholarship and the advancement of learning,” according to the TWU website.

It was named after Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, who was the first woman to receive a doctoral degree.

It’s a high honor for a TWU faculty member, said Margaret Griffin, a retired TWU professor who also taught in the reading department.

Spicola co-founded in 1966 the Fall Forum in Reading at TWU, which is now called the Rose Spicola Forum in her honor.

Griffin said Spicola was vivacious and had a magnetic personality. She was quite a leader and scholar, Griffin said.

“We became professional and personal friends,” she said. “We did a lot of collaborating together.”

Griffin remembers the early years of their friendship when they lived close to one another.

“We had a lot of fun together,” she said. “We started playing tennis.”

“She also taught me how to build a fire in a fireplace,” Griffin said, adding that she’d never done that before. “She added fruit to my refrigerator.”

One summer, the two professors led a group of 16 students to Australia and New Zealand to teach early childhood reading, she said.

Spicola was asked by the dean of TWU’s College of Education to come to the university, Griffin said. Shortly after she came to TWU, Spicola was named a Fulbright Scholar and spent a year in Liberia, Africa, teaching adults how to read.

Griffin said Spicola honored both her parents’ accomplishments. Spicola set up the Lillian Rizzo Spicola Doctoral Scholarship in Reading in honor of her mother.

She wrote a book about her father, Charles Spicola, before he died. The book was about her father’s work in Ybor City, Fla., where Spicola grew up, including establishing the Rotary Club there, Griffin said.

Spicola is survived by two sisters and a brother. She was predeceased by her parents and an older brother.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Lillian Rizzo Spicola Doctoral Scholarship in Reading or Friends of Reading at TWU. Direct gifts for TWU to Patrice Frisby, development officer annual giving, TWU, P.O. Box 425618, Denton, TX 76204-5618.

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is