By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HYDE PARK - The lessons in determination and discipline Olga Arruza learned as a young piano student in Cardenas, Cuba, proved invaluable to her as an adult.
When she was growing up, her mother, Maria Teresa deBergue, used to stand over her as she practiced, ensuring her daughter played for hours. This constant attention instilled in Ms. Arruza the commitment to become a concert pianist.
In later years, as the head of the Spanish and music departments at St. Ursula Academy, she had a reputation for being strict. "She did not put up with any nonsense. She knew you didn't go to school to waste time. Many of her students that didn't like it growing up, came back to say 'thank you' to her later," said her son, Ignacio Arruza of Miami.
Ms. Arruza died April 3 of complications from Alzheimer's disease at Coral Gables Convalescent Center in Miami. The former Hyde Park resident was 84, one month shy of her 85th birthday.
After studying piano at Rafols Conservatory in Camaguey, Cuba, she continued her studies at Tulane University, around 1935, under the tutelage of Walter Goldstein.
"Her music was very important to her. She will be remembered for her love of the piano," her son said.
She returned to Cuba a year later and took pharmacy classes at Havana University, where she met her husband, Jose Arruza, who was also studying pharmacy.
The two earned doctorates in pharmacy. They were married in 1944.
Invited to join the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra in 1950, Ms. Arruza turned the offer down to raise her family.
In 1961, the Cuban government closed all Catholic institutions, and four of her children were sent to live in the United States through the Peter Pan program, an effort established by Catholic charities that placed about 14,000 Cuban children in U.S. orphanages, foster homes and schools.
Four years later, her husband - then a pharmacist with Eli Lilly Corp. - was accused of serving as an agent for the U.S. government and sentenced to a 30-year prison term. The following year, Ms. Arruza left Cuba with her youngest son and settled in Sidney, Ohio, where two of her sons had been relocated after the Peter Pan program brought them to live at St. Joseph Orphanage in Price Hill.
Around 1966, she and her sons moved to Cincinnati. Ms. Arruza began her career at St. Ursula Academy in 1967.
She earned a degree in secondary education from Xavier University and a master's degree in music from the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, where she studied with pianist Santos Ojeda.
In 1973, she released a recording of solo piano music featuring the works of famed Cuban composers.
Ms. Arruza retired from St. Ursula Academy around 1989, at 70.
She lived in Hyde Park until 1996, when she moved to Miami, to be closer to her son, Ignacio.
Her sons, Jose Antonio Arruza and William Arruza, died before her.
Besides her son, Ignacio, other survivors include two other sons, Javier of Springboro, and Eduardo of Chicago; four granddaughters; five great-grandchildren and her former husband, Jose, of Miami. Mass of Christian burial will be at 10 a.m., June 26, at St. Mary's Church, 2845 Erie Ave., Hyde Park.
Cremated remains will be buried at Spring Grove Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to the Alzheimer's Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1700, Chicago, Illinois 60601-7633.
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Olga Arruza was pianist and educator