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
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
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