Lecturer in Hungarian
1955 – 2007
Agnes Mihalik started teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1982 as a lecturer in Hungarian, a position she held until her untimely death from cancer on July 31, 2007. She was 52. She was born on June 5, 1955, in Miskolc, Hungary. She received an M.A. in English and French from Lajos Kossuth University in Debrecen, Hungary. In her native country she taught English at the University of Economics in Budapest from 1979 to 1981, and at the Miklos Radnoti High School. She also taught Hungarian as a second language to foreign students. After she came to the U.S. in 1981, she received a master’s degree in education from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education.
Agnes Mihalik created and nurtured UC Berkeley’s program in Hungarian language and culture. In her short life, she mastered three languages: English, French and her native Hungarian. As a language teacher, Agnes knew that mastering even one’s native language is a rare quality, and that this is a human being’s primary duty and occupation in life. Throughout her life, she taught languages to others. In the U.S., at Berkeley and at Stanford University (through its program in rarely taught languages), she taught Hungarian to students to whom it was a very difficult foreign language. One Berkeley student wrote in an anonymous teaching evaluation: “I would have preferred an easier language, but Agnes is the best.” Another wrote: “The instructor herself is amazing—her kindness, her optimism, and her attention—she is a rare language teacher of a rarely learned language!” Agnes Mihalik also taught Hungarian to those Hungarians and Hungarian Jews who grew up in the diaspora, deprived—by several generations, and through a series of historical catastrophes—of what may seem every person’s inalienable right, to possess a native language. For them, Agnes Mihalik represented their absent mother tongue. It shows clearly in the way her students speak of care and love in their teaching evaluations: “I’ve never had a professor at Cal who cared so much for her students”; “Such an exquisite sensitivity to the class as a whole and each student. Such precision.”
Also a music lover, Agnes Mihalik studied dance professionally at the Shawl Anderson Dance Center and gained a certificate in dance and movement therapy from California State University in Hayward. For the last 12 years of her life, she taught dance, creative movement, and communication to participants in the Frail Older Adult programs in Oakland’s adult day centers, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers (she worked for the Oakland Unified School District and the Pleasant Valley Adult School). Her colleagues speak of her kindness and vitality that “managed to coax out a spark of life” from patients who had not responded to anything or anyone else.
The granddaughter of bakers, Agnes Mihalik was herself a gifted baker and a culinary artist. Many a student and friend received her gifts of bread. In 2006, she baked 200 traditional Hungarian bread rolls for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution.
Foremost in her life accomplishments, Agnes Mihalik counted her daughter, Mahlika, now 11, the child of her marriage to the Bay Area musician Joseph Al Fresco.
Agnes Mihalik touched the lives of hundreds of people through her work and through her friendship, and she will be remembered by many.
Colleagues from Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures