Joseph R. de Armas was born in 1924 in San Antonio de los Banos, 35 kilometers southwest of central Havana, Cuba, a year before the Cuban Socialist Party was formed and a few shy of an economic depression that would set the course for de Armas’ homeland.
De Armas taught in Havana public schools, earning Ed.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Havana of 1959. He left in 1961 to do post-doctoral work at the University of Cincinnati, The Ohio State University, and Columbia University. He had already been teaching 22 years when Denison President A. Blair Knapp appointed him an assistant professor of Spanish in 1966.
When he arrived at Denison, de Armas shared his intimate experience of Cuba with both subtlety and transparency. His study of contemporary poetry in the Spanish language, particularly works that delved into social reform, political development, and revolution, gave students the opportunity to understand and absorb another culture through the eyes of Gertrude Gómez de Avellaneda and other Cuban-born writers. And his extensive travel to places like Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Martinique, Venezuela, and Colombia made him a sought-after guest lecturer on Latin America at Ohio colleges.
“Joseph, plain and simple, delighted in his Spanish conversation classes,” says Charles O’Keefe, professor of French, emeritus. “I still remember seeing him virtually dance off as he left his office for those classes. He had intense affection for all his students but, in the case of conversation classes, that affection was deepened by getting to know students through regular conversations about such things as ‘what’s wrong with the world, what’s your favorite movie and why, or how do you get along with your roommate?’”
De Armas became the coordinator of the Latin American Studies Program at Denison. In 1982, he served as political advisor and senator of the International Parliament for Safety and Peace, in conjunction with the United Nations. He co-authored Cuban Consciousness in Literature 1923-1974, a critical anthology of Cuban culture with Charles W. Steele in 1978. He also worked on a bilingual translation of No Eden for Women, published by Carmen Conde, in 1986. De Armas retired as professor of Modern Languages that same year.
He died October 3, 2017, in Miami, Fla., at the age of 93.
—Sheila Haar Siegel