Vladimir Rus, who left his native Czechoslovakia after refusing to spy for the Communists, taught Long Island students foreign languages for 40 years -- sometimes with comic books.
"He said they were excellent sources of idiomatic conversation," said one of his sons, Tom Rus, of Parkton, Md.
He said his father, a longtime Levittown resident, also was a driving force in the village's successful battles to protect community gardens from development.
Vladimir Rus died at home in his sleep, the family said. He was 86.
Rus was born in 1926. During World War II, he endured forced labor under the occupying Nazis, removing rubble and bodies after air raids in Munich.
After the war, he attended law school at Prague's Charles University. But "after the Communists assumed power, they asked -- and asked is probably a euphemistic way of putting it -- if he would essentially be a spy on his law teachers, which he declined to do," Tom Rus said.
Instead, Vladimir and his older brother Svata crossed the border into Germany. Because Svata had the only winter coat, he traveled northwest to England; his younger brother headed south to Italy, according to a family legend.
Rus spent two years in a displaced persons camp before sailing to South Carolina, where he became a University of South Carolina undergraduate.
At a summer job in Myrtle Beach, he met Daphne Batts. They married in 1952 and moved to Levittown in 1959.
In 1963, Rus received his doctorate in German literature at NYU. He went on to teach high schoolers Latin, Italian, German, Russian and French, first in Greenport and then in Great Neck. After retiring in 1996, he continued teaching for another 10 years at The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, chairing the language department.
Rus also published translations of German and Russian poetry, but his passion was teaching, his family said.
"I don't think it's too much to say that he lived for it," Tom Rus said. "He was fluent in many languages, but there was always a Czech accent and he had a very deep voice. So students' natural inclination was to do imitations of him. It was very good-natured."
He added: "His legacy is probably the fact that quite a few people became proficient in languages who might not have been otherwise."
In addition to his wife and son, survivors include another son, Francis "Todd" Rus, of Oakdale; a daughter, Kristina Rus, of West Babylon; and five grandchildren.
A funeral service is planned for 9 a.m. Saturday at Thomas F. Dalton Funeral Home in Levittown.