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13 In 2002 - A Reunion Essay
Author: Vicki M. Pascual, wife of NESHS ’58 alumnus Efren Pascual

From San Jose, California        Victoria “Vicky” Malgapo Mogan
From Placentia, California        Norma Afable Grajo
From San Jose, California        Estrella “Thea” Reyes
From Sayreville, New Jersey    Conchita “Chit” Palomo dela Pena
From Jamesburg, New Jersey   Mernilo “Nilo” Dionisio
From Hedgesville, W. Virginia  Horacio “Ace” Lotuaco
From Chicago, Illinois              Esperanza “Esper” Magbitang Tanghal
From Chicago, Illinois              Erlinda “Linda” Baguisa Siwa
From Chicago, Illinois              Rolando “Rolly” Siwa
From the Philippines                Illuminada “Lumeng” Mariano Antonio
From the Philippines                Remedios “Remy” de San Jose Almodiel
From the Philippines                Romeo “Romy” Padiernos
From Chesapeake, Virginia     Rodolfo “Rudy” Mariano, Reunion Host/Coordinator

Author Vicky M. Pascual
The named 13 members of the NESHS Class of 1958 gathered in Chesapeake, Virginia from July 12 – 15, 2002 to celebrate their 44th high school class anniversary reunion. 13 members, just a small fraction of their original class, but no less diminished in the wholeness of their efforts and spirit. Most of the alumni attending came with their spouses. Among the spouses present were Conrad Mogan, Frank Grajo, Fort dela Pena, Annie Dionisio, Violeta Lotuaco, Jess Tanghal, and Lina Mariano. I came to represent my husband, Efren. Efren, unfortunately, was unable to attend due to business commitments in the Philippines.

Starting Thursday, July 11, the alumni, their spouses and guests started arriving by air and by land. For the host couple, Rudy and Lina, the two long years of preparation and planning for this reunion was slowly unfolding and happening before their eyes. The couple eagerly met the first arrival, Romy Padiernos, at the Norfolk Airport. Romy arrived from Manila before noon that day. Romy had the privilege of enjoying the quietness of the Mariano household, but not for long.

The following morning, classmates and guests started arriving in droves. Former classmate, Doming Cenon (with wife Linda) arrived with Lumeng Mariano from Virginia. Thea Reyes arrived shortly after the Cenons. Rudy also made several trips to the Norfolk Airport to provide transportation for arriving classmates Vicky (with husband Conrad), Norma (with husband Frank), and Esper. A second group headed by classmates (who are also husband-and-wife) Rolly and Linda Siwa completed a 2-day 2-car caravan, with siblings and friends, from Chicago. The group of “arrivals” were later joined in the evening by Chit (with husband Fort) and Ace (with wife Violy).

Saturday, 8 AM was the formal start of the reunion festivities. For Nilo, Annie and myself, to make sure that we get to Chesapeake on time, we left New Jersey at 1 AM Saturday for the 7-hour drive to Chesapeake. We made it with some minutes to spare and, after a hurried breakfast, we convened at the Wellesley Inn where most of the class members were billeted. Joining the early morning tour were guests: Rufino Baguisa Jr. (Class 1970) and wife Lilibeth; Reynaldo Baguisa (Class 1962) and wife Edna; Ding Alejos (Class 1959) and wife Marlene; Dolly Reyes Gamboa (Class 1961); Romy Reyes (Class 1966) and Tony Rodriguez (Class 1947, 1st President and one of the founding “fathers” of the “Samahang Gapan Association”) and his wife, Maria Elena. Also with the group were Tom Bagasan (and daughter Johanna), Lita Townsend (friend and kabayan of Lina) and Alberto Diala.

The surprise arrival of NESHS teacher/class adviser, Ms. Gregoria Velayo Reyes added to the build up of nostalgia in the air. The ladies quipped that “Miss Velayo”, as she is still fondly called, looked almost as young as they are and as smart as she was some 44 years ago. To those compliments, Miss Velayo responded with a sweet smile.

After the extended pleasantries at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel’s tourist shop, the group continued on to the day’s next scheduled tour stop. We viewed the Battleship Wisconsin, and in the afternoon took a 2-hour Norfolk Naval Base and bay cruise. Needless to say, the ladies were grinning and cameras were snapping as the gentlemen recorded the day’s events for posterity.

Early in the evening more guests arrived. Husband-and-wife Colin and Connie Bantua (relatives of Thea from Fairfax, Virginia who courteously obliged to Thea’s request to pickup-&-drive Remy de San Jose Almodiel from Fairfax to Chesapeake); Hector Magno (NESHS Class 1959); Louie Alibutod (Class 1962); Baby Mariano (Class 1966) and Dey Mariano de Guzman and family.

As the sun was setting to the west, all the elements for the exciting luau party were set in place. The party, without a cue, started then. The ladies “made an entrance” and were resplendent in their island-inspired costumes. The gentlemen were equally handsome in their Hawaiian outfits. Food was sumptuous, Filipino dishes galore complete with native desserts, fruits and drinks. As the evening’s spontaneous events unfolded, Thea , Erlinda, Chit, Norma and Esper gracefully did a Hawaiian dance number. Not to be outdone, Jess, Hector and Ding entertained with a number of Tagalog folk songs.

It was not clear who or how it started . . . the crowd began chanting “Speech! Speech!” Ace then took the microphone and acknowledged the very fine hospitality of Rudy and Lina. He further acknowledged the presence of classmates and their spouses. Each were called forward to greet the gathering, and each expressed joy at being together even just for a weekend of celebration. Ever the gracious Ace, he then requested the other guests to come forward and say a greeting to the group.

The members of the other NESHS classes were the first group to be called forward. They were unanimous in their appreciation of the “togetherness and unity” of the Class of 1958. “We have our own reunion, but your kind of reunion is one we would like to emulate ...”was how Louie Alibutod (Class 1962) aptly expressed it. Ding Alejos’ (Class 1959) candid statement was: “There are only seven graduates from our class scattered in the United States but there are just two of us here (referring to Hector), so we would like to join you”. Reynaldo Baguisa’s (Class 1962 and younger brother of Erlinda) wishful question was: “Bakit kami hindi magkaroon ng ganitong reunion?” He continued, addressing classmate Louie “… gawin nating ganito ang ating reunion, ha!”

Hector Magno (Class 1959) had a nice story to tell. He recalled that on his first day as a Grade I lad in Gapan, he went back home from school crying. Convinced that their son is not yet ready, his parents pulled him out from his school, and waited another year before enrolling him again in Grade I. He regretfully said: “Kung hindi ako umuwi noon, eh di graduate din ako ng 1958.”

When Miss Velayo was called, Hector took charged and interviewed Miss Velayo. Among the many questions he asked Miss Velayo was “... bakit ho ba parang gustong gusto ninyong maging teacher nila noon (referring to the Class of 1958)”. Miss Velayo tactfully replied “Masarap maging teacher nila, kasi masarap silang maging estudyante, madudunong at mababait, at hanggang ngayon mababait pa din.”

Sunday was another feast, this time a seafood festival. Crabs, prawns, squids, and other bounties of the sea. It was a day of gustatory activity, reminiscent of a Gapan fiesta when plentiful food is served everywhere in town. After lunch, the class members held their business meeting to map out next year’s activity - the Class of 1958’s 45th anniversary reunion in the Philippines.

A heavy downpour, which cooled the summer air, quickly came-and-went. Everybody then took an afternoon respite and prepared for the reunion’s culminating activity - the dinner-dance at the Chesapeake Convention Center.

Early evening at the Center, in formal attires, the gentlemen were dashing and the ladies captivating. The soiree started with the singing of “Bayang Magiliw” and the “Star Spangled Banner” by Jess Tanghal, Esper’s husband. The singing of the national anthems was followed by the recitation of graces led by Thea Reyes. A buffet dinner was served shortly after the invocation of grace.

As we dined, we listened to music of the 60s provided by a very entertaining DJ. After dinner, guest speaker Hector Magno, president of “Samahang Gapan” and NESHS '59 alumnus, talked and lectured on how to maintain good health after 50. Romy Padiernos, in his speech, honored three ladies present: Classmates Lumeng and Remy; and former teacher Mrs. Gregoria Velayo Reyes. Romy proudly mentioned that “. . . Lumeng and Remy were both widowed early and were left, as single parents, to tend and provide for the education and other needs of their then growing children. Doing so was very difficult for them … and to have done so . . . successfully well is heroic of them”. Former teacher, Miss Gregoria Velayo, Romy described as “... a very fine lady who was and still is our mentor.”

On the lighter side of the dinner-dance’s program were a romantic ballroom dance number given by Rolly and Linda Siwa, a Hawaiian dance number by Nanette Ibay, (sister in-law of Rudy Mariano); and a “kundiman” duet by Hector Magno and Ding Alejos. In lieu of a presentation by the Northeast ladies, Esper, Violy and myself devised parlor games – fun games that were well enjoyed by the participants and spectators as well. At the initiative of Romy Padiernos, the evening closed with the singing of “Auld Lang Syne”. For those who were headed back to their respective home cities early the following morning, the reunion ended after the singing of the last note. It was a happy, touching and yet sad moment, for this time the hugs and handshakes were for farewell and goodbyes.

For some celebrants, the evening did not end there. We further convened at the Mariano’s and refreshed with coffee and “bibingka”. Esper amused us with her innumerable recollections of the alumni’s high school days. We raptly listened to Esper’s chronological and detailed narration of those yesteryears. She even vividly remembers who was sitting next to whom in their classroom. In that setting, we stayed up all night . . . but at 5 AM, we said goodbye to Esper. Fort, Chit and Lina then drove her to the airport for an early morning flight to Chicago. When they drove to the airport . . ., those left at the house grabbed a few hours of sleep.

Monday morning, as breakfast gradually extended to lunch, more warm embraces and goodbyes were exchanged. The eagerness and excitement of meeting again next year, in Manila and Gapan for the 45th Anniversary reunion, was evident. The last group keeping the Marianos company (Chit and Fort; Conrad and Vicki and Romy Padiernos) left for New Jersey at 5 PM. At that moment, the past weekend’s euphoria were no more and . . . they became fond memories that were left with Rudy and Lina.

In the past two reunions of Class of 1958, I had the honor of being asked by Ace to document my experiences and observations. In my first article, covering the 1998 reunion in the Philippines, I wrote about my impressions of the class members’ camaraderie, concern and care for each other. At the next reunion, that is, the Year 2000 reunion in California, I witnessed how the alumni and their spouses, collectively tagged the “NESHS Class of 1958 Alumni Family” truly lived up to the name as they interacted with one another as a family. This year when Ace requested me to prepare an article at the conclusion of the gathering, I was reluctant to do so for not knowing what topic to best dwell on; and the concern that my literary enthusiasm would be somewhat dampened by Efren’s absence. Nonetheless, I obliged to Ace’s request and . . . am glad that I did.

In retrospect: What made this reunion a success? Is it the unrelenting effort of the Host/Coordinator? Is it the number of attendees and guests? The places visited and toured? What made it memorable? What highlighted the affair?

This year’s reunion with 13 class members present, though small in number, was big in accomplishment. It had all the ingredients for a successful affair. Pleasant ambiance, good food and cordial and accommodating Host/Coordinator. Rudy and Lina did a splendid job and, indeed, a very tough act to follow.

The highlight of the 2002 reunion, in my estimation, happened during the Luau Party … when non-members of the class delivered accolades and praises for the Class of 1958. The 13 members received, on behalf of their whole class, a recognition far beyond their expectations. They were recognized as the Class to be emulated, the Class to be looked up to, and undoubtedly the “best graduate of their alma mater”. As Romy Padiernos aptly put: “Hearing the impromptu testimonials from non-members of the class and realizing how good our class has been, . . . that was the most memorable thing of this reunion.”

Compliments, praises, accolades . . . full of inspiring and motivating words. Also “wake-up calls” and reminders that there is still a long road to trek leading to more years of celebration. Celebrations that can be attained by togetherness. Togetherness that can be attained only by being “present.” Maybe it is a dream that if each and every one of the 13 members who showed up at this years’ gathering can bring “one more classmate” to the next reunion, then a fuller network of classmates will be reuniting. While it is flattering to hear the praises and accolades from the increasing number of guests and friends, it will be more rewarding and fulfilling to see the core of the NESHS Class of 1958 grow in number with each reunion celebration.

Maybe it is a dream now, but was it not merely a dream, some 10 or 12 years ago, for a reunion of U.S. and Philippine alumni to happen? That first dream was realized; … and the new dream can be attained by the untiring effort of each and every member of the NESHS Class of 1958.

 Last modified: 05/20/09