In Memory

Margot Hollaender Epstein

Margot Epstein  a German and French teacher who inspired and befriended generations of South Pasadena High students, died October 6, 2004 at age 83 after a two-year battle with cancer.

Epstein, affectionately known as "Frau" was famously short of stature but fitted with a larger-than-life personality that almost magnetically drew people to her.  She was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1921.  Her love of people and philosophy of tolerance was almost certainly forged during the greatest tragedy of her life.  She was a Holocaust survivor who managed to get a work visa at age 18 and travel to England.  Her mother, stepfather and 15-year-old brother eventually perished under the Nazis.  Many years later, she spoke of her experiences to German school children and recorded a testimony for the Shoah Project.

Epstein moved to New York City, where she met her husband, Jerry, at a dance.  They relocated to Los Angeles, where Jerry worked in a series of technical jobs.  They had two daughters, Anita and Michelle who was known as "Mickey."  Soon after her daughters entered school, Epstein enrolled in Valley College and went on to study German and French at UCLA, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.  She was hired as South Pasadena High's German and French teacher in 1964 and worked there for 22 years.  Her classes were the Euopean-style salons of the school, with far-reaching intellectual discourses on almost every subject under the sun.  She became known for voluminous vocabulary lists, strict grading policies and somewhat lax discipline.  Her insistence on treating students as adults and as equals endeared her to countless teenagers over the years, many of whom became her lifelong friends.

"She was definitely the most inspiring teacher I ever had," recalled Kathy Spielman, a SPHS grad who, along with her whole family, remained closed to Epstein for over 30 years.

Epstein also kept strong ties to her native city along the Rhine and shepherded several groups of students on trips, through Europe.  Her friends were her lifeblood and self-made extended family, and she loved keeping in touch with legions of them from literally every phase of her life.  After her retirement, she traveled widely, sang in the choir at the nearby synagogue and often read aloud to children at the local library where her daughter Mickey worked.

She is survived by her two daughters, Anita's husband, Jeff, and their three daughters, Cindy, Jacquelyn, and Madeleine.  Jerry Epstein died in 1997.

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04/26/09 12:53 AM #1    

Michael P Carlson (1979)

I never had the pleasure of having Frau Epstein as a teacher, but had her for study hall. Instead of doing my studies, I ended up helping Frau with typing her German tests and sometimes even assisting in the grading of them. All that whilst my background in languages was French. I became an honorary member of the German Club because of her and enjoyed a very lovely evening she hosted in her home for members of the Club.

01/02/10 09:42 AM #2    

Patsy Robinson (Jacobs) (1974)

Mögen Sie am Frieden sein, Frau Epstein.

06/17/10 04:17 PM #3    

Mitjl Capeto

Margot was a compassionate and giving person.  As a first time teacher, she took me under her wing.  I am a better person having had  the opportunity of working with her.

08/21/11 10:11 PM #4    

Robert Young (1984)

 I had Frau Epstein for French in 7th grade at SPJHS, then again in 9th grade in SPHS.

My French is almost all forgotten now from lack of usage, except for a few sentences and verbs which I learned in her class, from her unique teaching style and discipline.

She was not an easy teacher, but she held great values and helped us students study really hard to learn French and German from an authentic master.

I'm pleased to have been in Frau's class.   One of my teachers whom I'll remember my entire life.

11/23/12 07:49 PM #5    

George Keith Ainsworth (1968)

I remember Mrs. Epstein well even though she was never my teacher. She was one of the most widely loved and respected teachers in the school. One story says a lot. AT an away  H. S. basketball game a fight broke out between the teams, even though she was only about 5 feet tall, she waded right in like the death camp survivor she was and helped break it up. She came to school next day with two swollen and black eyes , just another day teaching. If you want to see her picture look in the dictionary under courage and character.

01/01/13 03:32 PM #6    

Ralph Shirley (1968)

Frau Epstein had a profound effect on my life.  It never made sense why I took German, living in California.  But I did.  Or should I say, I took a semester and three semesters took me!  Shortly after going to work for John Deere, in Iowa, they put me on a project with our sister factory in Germany.  Over the next 30 years, I made 33 trips and eventually spent two years there as an ex-pat.  From the rudiments of the German language that she taught me, I learned over a three decade span to read, write and speak a passable German.  Because of the experience in her class, i was able to live and work in Germany and visit many other countries in connection with my work.

One day while taking her class, we turned to a page that had a photograph of kids up against a fence.  One of the kids was in a jumpsuit with wide horizontal stripes.  We asked what it was about.  She explained that the Nazi camps would issue those to people who were going to the gas chamber the next day.  Then, she broke down and left the room for a minute.  When she came back, she explained that the boy looked like the brother she had lost.  I never saw her lose her composure again, but it was a sobering moment I'll never forget.

Margot and her husband Jerry came to visit us in Iowa.  They couldn't find the hotel due to road construction.  They stopped to ask for directions at a 7-11.  The clerk couldn't tell them how to get there, but a customer overheard the converstation. He said, "I can't tell you how to get there either, but  "Just follow me.  I know how to find it."   It was out of his way, but HEY, this was Iowa. Having lived in North Hollywood and returning from a trip to Boston and New York, they were blown away by the gracious response.  It was fun to have her visit us and to come out to see her.

I visited the town of Bonn and found Frau Epstein's family home next to Beethoven's home. As much as I dreaded  her class, and didn't really have a bent for language, I have huge respect for her, her background and her dedicaton to teaching students, preparing them for life.


06/10/15 11:22 PM #7    

Victoria 'Vicki' Nugent (1966)

I remember die Frau.  I had her for German and participated in German Club under her tutelage.  I can't know for sure but my suspicion is that she had something to do with my getting the (now defunct) SP Women's Club Award for Foreign Languages.  She certainly engendered a love of languages and foreign cultures in me, both of which I went on to pursue.  May future SPHS students be so lucky!



01/11/16 08:09 PM #8    

Roy Nakamoto (1970)

Yes  I also remember  Frau Epstein somewhat.   My older brother,  Jeffrey Nakamoto in the 12th grade,  had her so  he somehow got me to take it in his same class.   This was back in 1967-8,  when I was a  9th grader at  SPJHS.    I dropped  my  French class taught by  Miss Cassyd  at the Jr. High  and  had to walk all the way up to the High School for  Epstein's class  and  then back to  Jr. High afterwards.   Was it a  pink  covered textbook that we used?  So  we learned our  Der - Die - Das  and few command phrases  such as  "Kommen sie hier"  and  "Ich bin  mude"  which I had an opportunity to use when I went vacationing in Germany 20 yrs later  but  my  pleasure in class was learning to sing  folk songs in the textbook  such as  "Mussi Den"  or  "Die Lorerei" 

Those moments  will be with me to  delight whatever is ahead.    Thank you teacher.

Roy Nakamoto,   Class of 1970

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