Merrie Lee Ojeda, a Spanish teacher at Telstar High School, was known for her fun personality and devotion to her students. Submitted photo

BETHEL — Senora Merrie Lee Butters Ojeda was deeply loved.

She was loved by her family, her friends, her colleagues and her students at Telstar High School.

She was fun and funny. Warm and caring. Smart and serious. Kind and thoughtful. A little wacky on occasion, and she could be more than a little loud when cheering on her “Rebels.”

“Her dedication to her students was absolute. She was a friend to all, a dedicated peer to her fellow teachers and a proud Telstar graduate, who was always ready to get involved in projects designed to benefit those around her,” said SAD 44 Superintendent David Murphy.

A woman who lived her life to the fullest died in January.

She will be remembered in a celebration of her life at the school on Saturday, May 14. The event, which will include readings, sharing memories and a slideshow of her life and loves, is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.


The celebration is being organized by her family and friends, and people are asked to dress colorfully — as colorfully as she might — in her memory.

Ojeda was born in Bethel and attended Bethel schools, graduating from Telstar in 1971. She spent a year at UMaine Orono before moving to California, where she met her husband, Eduardo Ojeda. The two married in 1974 and moved to Mexico to farm with his family.

They already had four children when their youngest, Lisa, was born in 1990. A tiny baby, she was sick and needed treatment in the United States, so the family moved to Bethel, where Merrie Lee finished up her college degree and started work as an ed tech in the Telstar district. She was named the Spanish teacher at the high school in 2000, where she and her students thrived.

Merrie Lee Butters Ojeda, a Spanish teacher at Telstar High School, loved participating in Project Graduation events at the school. This is her pictured with colleagues during Project Graduation in 2021. Her last. She died in January of cancer. Submitted photo

According to Sally Smith, one of her dearest friends and the office assistant for the district’s adult education program, Ojeda loved to travel and took many students overseas to Spain, Greece, Italy and Ireland over the years. Exceptionally loved by students, she was always the first teacher to be selected to chaperone Project Graduation, school dances and many other events.

“Merrie Lee was always jovial,” remembers Telstar Librarian Kelley Fraser. “As a matter of fact, she would sing or whistle while walking the halls of Telstar. Before staff meetings she would sing ‘Marian the Librarian’ from The Music Man to me.”

Fraser said “I will never forget her booming voice at Telstar events. She was such a proud Telstar Rebel. She will be greatly missed.”


Eileen Meisner, a secretary at Telstar, said she had the privilege of meeting Ojeda through the Adult Ed program while she was finishing her degree. “She was kind, funny and loved the students!”

Not only did Ojeda readily volunteer for Project Graduation, including staying overnight with graduates, Athletic Director Gail Wight said “she also kept ‘clock’ for field hockey games, sold tickets at basketball games and was the recorder at the finish for track meets.”

She was active in both the Telstar Athletic Boosters and the Telstar Alumni Association.

Her school spirit was unmatched, Wight said, and she always led the Rebel yell at events. “During homecoming celebrations you knew when her group scored, you heard her yell SCORE all over the fields.”

Robin Gundersen, who is secretary to the superintendent, said “Merrie Lee was one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. She was kind and thoughtful, and she always looked for the positive in any situation or person.” And, Gundersen said, “she was very supportive of Telstar and the biggest fan. It didn’t matter what sport or activity, she was always there cheering for and supporting the students.”

When Ojeda died, Smith said, “it was hard on the kids because a lot of them didn’t know how bad it was,” how sick she was.


“She had a really positive attitude. She didn’t want anybody to be sad,” Smith said. “She always said ‘hola’ to everybody she saw. She put on a happy face even when things were going bad with her. She still made sure other people were okay.”

The cancer that took Ojeda was her second bout. Last August, when she recognized how sick she was, Ojeda sent an email to her Telstar colleagues that read: This summer I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. This is breast cancer that has traveled from the original site to another part of the body. When I had my mammogram and it was clean, I thought I was in the clear, but that wasn’t to be. I now have it in my sternum with a couple small spots on my liver and another couple on my lung. I will begin radiation to the sternum today and will follow later this month with chemo for the rest. I am in some pain, so if I don’t always have my ‘cheery’ on, that is why.  …I don’t really want to talk about it, as most of the time I’m okay, but there are times when I feel overwhelmed and I will just cry if anyone sympathizes with me. I prefer going the Scarlett O’Hara route and thinking about it tomorrow.

Ojeda started school last fall as usual, but left later in the semester as the cancer spread. When she left, the district migrated Spanish students to online learning rather than fill her position.

She died on Jan. 22, three days before her 69th birthday.

On Jan. 26, students and staff were called to the school gym, where they spread out in a big square around the basketball court.

It was a moment to reflect and honor their teacher and friend.


Merrie Lee Butters (Ojeda) and Dean Murphy were co-presidents of the Telstar High School Class of 1971. Murphy now lives in Costa Rica. Submitted photo

As they stood in silence, Principal Mark Kenney said “there is no denying that everyone who knew her loved her. She was a proud alumni, teacher, mother and grandmother who never hesitated to help the Telstar community. Her sentimentality at assemblies proved how much she cared for us. Her booming voice, yelling ‘Let’s Go Rebels!’ at games will be forever missed.”

He finished by saying “our Telstar home and family will not be the same without our biggest fan,” and asked for those gathered to hold a moment of silence “to reflect in your own way on your memories of Senora Ojeda.”

Victoria Monsalve Ojeda, who is Ojeda’s oldest daughter, was born and raised in Durango, Mexico, and Spanish is her first language.

When she graduated from college she was a social worker with Maine’s Child Protective Services and, although she liked working with children, she found the constant stress of the kind of work she was doing hard to continue. Her mother encouraged her to become a teacher, and she did.

She has been teaching Spanish at Mt. Valley High School in Rumford since 2003.

Monsalve Ojeda said the outpouring of love for her mother during her illness and, now, following her death has been comforting.


Merrie Lee Butters Ojeda died on Jan. 22, 2022. Submitted photo

“It’s just, I guess, proof of what we already knew, that she was such a wonderful person and that as teachers we don’t always know how much impact we have on the community.”

She described her mother as an introvert, and said she hopes “that she can see from heaven, or from the spiritual world, how much people really loved her. … It cements what we know. She was a great teacher. She was a great mother. She was a great wife. She was just a good person. People other than us really loved her.”

When Ojeda was sick, she regularly received cards and letters from colleagues and students, so many that Monsalve Ojeda said she couldn’t read them all before she died. “She was just so ill in the end that she wasn’t able to. It hit really fast and really hard, but she did get to read some of them.”

Ojeda died at home, about a day after her doctors told her family she had, at most, only days to live.

Monsalve Ojeda said she wasn’t sure if her youngest brother, who is stationed in California, would be able to make it home for the celebration of life, but the rest of the family will attend. They are deeply touched by the community effort to organize the event, and said her mother would love to see people gather. “She was loving, and kind and funny, and she was selfless. She always put others first, especially her family.”

Reflecting on a woman she’d known since they went to kindergarten together, Smith said she doesn’t want anyone to forget her friend, Merrie Lee. “She was an amazing person. She was fun, but she was smart, serious sometimes and just, you know, she had a lot of spirit.”

Her passing “has left a big hole in my heart. I will miss her forever,” Smith said.

Ojeda’s family and colleagues have established the Senora Ojeda Book Award to be given to a graduating senior. Donations for this scholarship can be sent to SAD 44, One Parkway, Suite 204, Bethel, Maine 04217.

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