Ksenija Oset Powers, who taught Russian at Nauset High School and later became the chair of the language department at Provincetown High School, died at Oakleaf Manor Retirement Community in Lancaster, Pa. on Jan. 23, 2024, following 10 days of hospice care. A longtime resident of Truro, she was 86.
Ksenija was born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia) on Feb. 19, 1937 to the late Simon and Smilja (Bošnjak) Oset. Her father, an engineer and the son of a wealthy merchant, was imprisoned by the Nazis for two years during World War II. Her mother, whose father served briefly as governor of Croatia, devoted herself to Ksenija and her sister, Natasha.
Ksenija had a privileged childhood, her son, Alex, said. She loved to skate, ski, hike, and travel; she also played the accordion and even did some modeling.
After graduating from gymnasium, the equivalent of a college preparatory high school, she earned a B.A. from the University of Zagreb before following her sister’s lead and moving to the U.S. She was studying foreign languages in a master’s program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas in 1960 when, at a graduate student-faculty mixer, she met her future husband, Richard H. Powers, a history professor. She received her master’s degree in 1962.
Soon after their marriage, Dick was offered a professorship at UMass Amherst, where their son was born. When Dick agreed to chair the history department as a founding faculty member at the school’s Boston campus, the family moved to Wayland. Another move came after Dick received his family’s properties in Truro as a gift in 1965. The family, which by then included a daughter, Odette, relocated to Truro in 1967.
Ksenija took a job teaching Russian at Nauset High, and during the summers she completed work on a second master’s degree at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., awarded in 1971. That same year she took a new job at Provincetown High School, where she taught French and Russian and became the language department chair. She retired after 27 years there, in 1998 — the year after her husband died.
During her teaching career, Ksenija also coached the Provincetown High School girls’ tennis team. She taught her children to play and organized tennis matches for her family on their home tennis court and at the Provincetown Tennis Club and the Chequessett Country Club in Wellfleet. Both her children went on to play college tennis.
Ksenija cared deeply about her students and believed that each one could succeed in academics and in life. For that reason, “she could be very tough,” Alex said. “She was a force of nature who, through her own example, wanted to show her students that they could do whatever they wanted in the world.”
One of her students, David Andrews, went on to study Russian at Middlebury College; he then earned a Ph.D. in Slavic languages and literature at the University of Michigan, during which time he studied at the Pushkin Russian Language Institute in Moscow. Ksenija was pleased that he went on to chair the Slavic languages department at Georgetown University, from which he recently retired.
In her retirement, Ksenija received visits from former students, listened to classical music, read widely, enjoyed Corn Hill Beach and Pamet Harbor, and nestled in her own beautifully landscaped property. Her husband, Alex said, “had a green thumb” and planted their Truro land with flowering trees. She often dined with her family and with a group of retired teachers at Napi’s and at Fanizzi’s in Provincetown.
Until recently, Ksenija also spent four months each year in Zagreb, where she would get together with her university friends and take the tram to attend professional tennis events.
In 2020, Ksenija fell outside her house and broke her hip. She had locked herself out. Alex said she dragged herself up the driveway until she got a phone signal. “She was one tough lady,” he said.
She is survived by her son, Alex “Sasha” Powers, and wife Barbara of Frisco, Texas; grandson Timothy Powers and wife Vivian of Marktheidenfeld, Germany; granddaughter Alyssa Biedermann and husband Jonas of Munich, Germany; and by her daughter, Odette Newton, and husband Billy of Lancaster, Pa.; grandson U.S. Army Capt. Rick Newton and wife Olivia of Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; granddaughters Jessica Settle and daughter Penelope of Lancaster, Pa., Sophie Newton of Houston, Texas, Joanna Newton of Lancaster, Pa., her stepdaughter Rebecca Dick of Arlington, Va., step-granddaughters Anna Guggenheim and husband Simon and children Ellie and Ben of Alexandria, Va., and Milly Dick of Washington, D.C.
Ksenija was predeceased by her husband and her sister, Natasha Zanze.
Funeral and memorial arrangements will be made at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to a charity in her memory.