July 17, 1932 - May 12, 2023
Our mom, Marguerite Hessini – educator, writer, artist, world traveler, polyglot, and lover of life – passed away peacefully in her home on May 12th, 2023. She continues to be loved and admired by her children – Sylvie, Leila and Patrick, her in-laws – Christine, Christian and Diane, and her grandchildren – Andre (27), Christine (25), Lukas (22), Nejma (21), and Kenza (19), her sister, Christiane Kamp, and many close nieces and nephews and their families.
Marguerite was born in Strasbourg, France in 1932 to Helen and Charles Wolff. World War II started when she was a schoolgirl, and Strasbourg was right in the midst of the conflict and bombings. In 1939 her parents, their four children, and maternal grandmother were evacuated in cattle cars to the Dordogne Region of France, where they spent two years as refugees before returning to Strasbourg.
Marguerite was a lifelong learner and understood the importance and power of education – formal, experiential, and otherwise – early on. She focused on and excelled in her studies and was awarded an opportunity to go to England to further her education after her Bachelor’s degree (Ecole Normale). She went to Algeria to run a girls’ school in Kabylie in 1956 where she fell in love, and married Sassi Hessini in 1959. Their two daughters Sylvie and Leila, were born in Constantine. In 1965, an opportunity was extended to Marguerite to teach at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas for a two-year stint and the family moved to the United States.
Arrival in the small town of Winfield was quite a change for Marguerite and Sassi but they adapted well. Patrick was born and everyone became a US citizen in 1973. Marguerite taught French, German and Linguistics at Southwestern College and became Division Chair of the language department, while Sassi taught French and coached tennis at Winfield High School.
Marguerite was a continuous learner, completing her Ph.D. in Linguistics and receiving many post-doctoral invitations around the world to further her research and contributions. As a professor, she often took groups of students to France to explore the culture, food and language. She also traveled on her own and continued to pursue her interests in languages becoming fluent in six of them. Marguerite was an accomplished artist and enjoyed working with her hands in many diverse mediums including clay, painting, mosaics, glass, and metal. Marguerite loved exploring the world and spent extensive periods traveling and studying across Europe, North America and Latin America. She also returned numerous times to a region where she had deep affinities – North Africa – visiting Leila and Christian when they lived in Morocco and Egypt and traveling with Leila to Palestine, Lebanon, and Turkey. In 1990, she was awarded a Fulbright grant to return to Algeria where she reconnected with Sassi’s family and taught English at the University of Algiers.
She retired from Southwestern College in 1997 after a rewarding, 32-year career and eventually moved to Durham, North Carolina to be near Leila’s family and participate fully in the lives of her two granddaughters. She taught Kenza and Nejma during weekly French classes, engaged them in various art projects, and accompanied them on camping and beach trips. She took memoir writing classes, participated in a French literature club, and continued her pursuit of Spanish. Marguerite also regularly visited Patrick, Diane, and her grandchildren in Minneapolis and explored the Bay Area with Sylvie in San Francisco. For Marguerite’s significant birthdays, her family gathered to celebrate her and her extraordinary life in various places, including her beloved France, Minnesota, and North Carolina.
Marguerite was always there for her children, grandchildren, close family in France, and dear friends. She appreciated the importance of fostering close relationships with friends and loved ones and developed her own community of close friends after moving from Winfield to Durham.
During the last few years, her children were committed to helping her remain independent and stay in her home, where she passed away peacefully with Leila by her side. Her children would like to recognize and express appreciation for Sara Lee, her primary caregiver over the last couple of years, and the other caregivers who were there to support Marguerite and enrich her life.
A small family service to celebrate Marguerite’s life will be held in North Carolina, with a larger service to be held in France with her extended family sometime in 2024. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Carter Center for its role in advancing rights, justice and peace.