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FARMINGTON — Determined, empathetic and caring are some of the words San Juan College staff members and students used to describe theater instructor Mollie Mook-Fiddler, who died earlier this week of cancer.

Mook-Fiddler, 42, was facing her third round of ovarian cancer when she died Sunday, according to Linann Easley, director of the Henderson Fine Arts Center.

San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass sent out a statement to the college community, praising Mook-Fiddler for the “quiet strength” she displayed as she battled cancer over the last five years.

“The positive impact she had on all, as well as her kind and thoughtful nature, will forever remain with us,” Pendergrass said in the statement.

Mook-Fiddler started at San Juan College in August 2012, replacing Teresa Carson as the college’s theater director, according to The Daily Times' archives.

She graduated from the University of Colorado at Denver with a bachelor’s degree in acting and directing and earned her master’s degree in acting from the University of Iowa.

Mook-Fiddler also worked on the theater faculty at such institutions as the University of Colorado at Denver and Durango High School in Durango, Colo.

A Daily Times story published on May 19, 2013, detailed Mook-Fiddler’s first battle with ovarian cancer when she was 37 years old.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Mook-Fiddler also tested positive for BRCA, a genetic mutation that can drastically increase the risk of developing ovarian and breast cancers.

In 2015, Mook-Fiddler took a medical leave for the spring semester and part of the fall semester after the ovarian cancer returned, Easley said. Mook-Fiddler returned to work when she was in remission for a second time. She took leave again toward the end of the spring semester earlier this year, Easley said.

“We hoped after the second time she had nipped it,” Easley said.

Mook-Fiddler directed a number of plays at the college, including "The Laramie Project," "You Can’t Take It With You," "The Fantasticks" and "James and the Giant Peach."

During an interview Wednesday, Easley along with theater students Tressa Smith and James Padilla, spoke about the impact Mook-Fiddler left on San Juan College and themselves.

Smith and Padilla both worked on the production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” that Mook-Fiddler directed in March. Padilla worked on the technical crew, and Smith was the stage manager.

Padilla shared a story about Mook-Fiddler’s commitment to the production as she ran a tech rehearsal with a 101-degree fever. He remembers telling Mook-Fiddler to go home and rest. She followed by telling Padilla she would not go home until rehearsal was over and told Smith to start the second act of the play.

“She had this particular look in her eyes. She was determined,” Padilla said. “Once she had that look, we were never going to talk her out of it. ... At that point, I knew there was no stopping her.”

Padilla said that was the kind of person Mook-Fiddler was.

For Smith, it was Mook-Fiddler’s ability to empathize with her students that made her special.

“She was always wanting to check in on her students,” Smith said. “She wanted to know if we were OK.”

Smith remembers speaking to Mook-Fiddler in her office after a particularly rough and stressful day of tech rehearsals for “Anne Frank.”

“She said, ‘What is going on with you?’” Smith said. “She just asked that question, and I started crying.”

Easley said Mook-Fiddler was good at using theater to promote social justice and was interested in developing a diverse theater program.

She and Mook-Fiddler were developing a play last year based on the stories of veterans in the Four Corners region. They hoped to investigate the stories of how families handle the deployment of their loved ones and wanted to include stories about the Navajo Code Talkers.

Easley plans to continue working on the project by seeking grants and possibly working with members of the college’s English and sociology departments to interview area veterans.

Those interested in donating to Mook-Fiddler’s medical expenses can visit https://www.youcaring.com/mollie-mook-fiddler-648805.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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