Gingoog Institute Class ’56
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas () - November 18, 2006 - 12:00am
For many years, when time allowed it, I hied back to my hometown of Gingoog City, but only stayed home to enjoy the company of my siblings – Nene, Gingging, Tenten and Greg. My last trip there three weeks ago was highlighted by an unplanned reunion of sorts with some of my former classmates in Gingoog Institute (High School Class ’56).

The renewing of ties, oddly enough, began at the Protestant cemetery in Lunao, some 15 kilometers west of Gingoog, where our father and two grandnieces are buried. At the foot of the tombs were the tombs of the parents of our former piano instructor, Mark Fernandez. A couple of tombs to the left was the Valdevilla clan which was partaking of the customary merienda under the shade of two structures where relatives had been laid to rest. They invited us to join them, and there I met my former classmates, Downey, and his older brother, Dennis. The last time we saw one another was at our graduation ceremonies (50 years earlier!).

Downey recalled that at our juniors-seniors prom, where I delivered the class prophecy, I "saw" the future of each class member. I saw Downey as a swashbuckling captain of an international maritime vessel plying the Caribbean seas. Perhaps he had openly expressed that wish, but that never happened, though, as he pursued the law course and went into private practice and eventually became a Regional Trial Court judge in Cagayan de Oro City 129 kilometers from Lunao. He became, in effect, the captain of litigants’ fates; indeed, he is considered a "most influential" person and the proverbial local boy who made good. His brother Dennis, also our classmate, was at the cemetery too, as was their older sister, Susan, who was our Spanish instructor. I could not recall what I said about Dennis’ future, but he worked in Indonesia for many years and is now retired.

As to my own future, the prophecy, written upon the guidance of the school principal, Mr. Mar Caperas, who considered me one of his favorite students, said that I would become a Brenda Starr, and indeed, I became a writer at the Philippine STAR.

That afternoon of All Souls’ Day, my sister Tenten and I took a stroll along the street (cemented as practically all the streets in town are) behind our house, and found out that another classmate, Lucy Chavez (now Balatayo) was living near us. We had a chat and shared stories about the bygone days. We spoke of classmates who had gone ahead of us – Mila Manzanilla, who had a Coca-cola figure and who was so enviably light and graceful that her male partners would toss her up in the air when they danced the boogie woogie. Gone too were Ging Valdevilla and the valedictorian Eulalio Minerva, who had been a certified public accountant in Cebu City. We chuckled over our crow’s feet, and aches and pains here and there, but we were, thankfully, still in possession of kind hearts and spirits.

The next evening we had a dinner of roasted chicken and ice cream at Mark’s house. There I had a happy reunion with Mark’s sister, Susan Rola, who decided to come to Gingoog on her way to Camiguin Island, to see me. Susan, now a widow of a retired RTC judge in Cagayan de Oro, had been our band majorette and had a string of suitors in school. She said she never had a boyfriend in school. After graduation, she worked as a clerk in a lawyer’s office, and after three months, her boss proposed marriage.

I guess it was the fortune of bright and pretty girls to be whisked off to the altar by their boyfriends, such as what happened to our salutatorian classmate Herminia Tagalo (now a barangay captain), and before her, Judith Caballes, valedictorian of Class ’54, and my first cousin, Consuelo Palma (Class ’55). Let me tell you, however, that marriage was far from my mind, as my mother wanted me to become a lawyer, although she was pleased that I would end up a writer for a national paper.

I must say a few words about our beloved alma mater, which is now called Gingoog Institute Christian School. It was one of the first Protestant schools – first offering the elementary, and the then high school levels – founded by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in 1949 in Mindanao. It provided the basic academic training and spiritual nurturing of students coming from the town and the barrios who would later become politicians (two of them Gingoog mayors), doctors (one of them my brother who is practicing in Australia where our sister Jocelyn, another alumna, is supervisor of a hotel) and nurses (including my sister Tenten), engineers, court judges, entrepreneurs, educators and journalists.

Somehow, the number of students dwindled with the years, and the elementary school has been closed down. The principal today is Rudy Alegado, an alumnus, and his challenge is attracting alumni to devote some of their resources to the construction of new facilities, upgrading teaching standards, and retaining good teachers.

Founders day celebrations that fall in November have drawn only a handful of alumni to the homegrounds. Class ’56 has never gotten together for a homecoming as a batch. It would be a sentimental journey, a profound gesture too, to return to the good old GI at next year’s foundation day, and that was what Susan and I had in mind as we took a tricycle to visit with another classmate, Chita Ferrer Villanueva, who married a businessman from Batangas (In our time, we rode in horse-driven carriages called tartanillas, and the fare then was 10 centavos, no matter how far we went.)

Chita runs a sari-sari store on what was once the busiest street until the public market was built in the town outskirts and drew commercial and real estate activities away from the old site. Chita’s store and that of her sister Gin (also an alumna) still have regular customers. Chita ordered tall glasses of halo-halo from her sister, and that was most refreshing on an awfully hot day. (If there’s something that a neat and quiet Gingoog lacks, it’s trees around the city, although nearly all the households have lined the streets in front of their houses with flowering euphrobias and bougainvillas.) We made a list of classmates we could remember and would write about our reunion next year.

The names: The Valdevilla brothers, Rudy Asero, Norma Valdevilla, Luis Valdevilla, once a police chief; Nora Ferrer Ceniza, Gil Escalera, Herminia Tagalo, the twins Wigberto and Wenceslao Cevallos, Jaime Rincal, Eunice Lumaban, Amor Palma, Luz Pallugna (who lives in the US) Eddie Pambid, Retired PC Gen. Ronnie Bagsican, Esmeraldo Blancaflor, Delilah Gambe, Emerenciana Ong, Dalmacio Ong, Godofredo Chavez, Estrella Reyes, Maria Sanchez.

We had to tell Judge Valdevilla of our plan, said Susan. "He has a lot of influence." But the judge and his wife Myrna, had gone some place; we lost our chance to have a free lunch.

We then went to Rudy Asero’s house. He was not at home, but his wife Aida and daughters served us cake and Coke, and to our delight, we were shown an album of pictures of our graduating class, and individual pictures, mostly of girl classmates. Aida said Rudy had guarded those pictures with dear life. Later, Rudy went to my place and promised his cooperation in making our planned reunion come true.

We hied off to the house of Maning Arazo, the GI alumni coordinator, who told us we should get a list of our class members from the registrar, Ging Mercado (whose sister-in-law, Violeta Montenegro, is a Class ’57 member, and husband Buddy and all her other in-laws are alumni).

Please announce our planned reunion in your column, my co-convenors said. Yes, of course. I have devoted a whole column to that grand homecoming. And another column after the event is sure to come out. Indeed, Class ’56 is fortunate to have a prophecy of my becoming a writer for a national paper having come true.
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