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Like the sunflower, she blooms

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Like the sunflower, she blooms
‘My mom is the beautiful soul who is the loving wind beneath our wings,’ says Ton Concepcion of his mother Menchu.
Photo by Ed Ramirez

My mom is tough yet sweet,” says Rica Concepcion Araneta of her mother Menchu de las Alas Concepcion, who celebrated a milestone birthday last July 14. “She keeps the family together.”

Last Sunday, her five children Robie, Jojo, Patrick, Rica and Ton surprised their beautiful mother with a party at the Rigodon Ballroom of The Peninsula Manila. Although the youthful Menchu was starting to get suspicious of the forthcoming surprise when she saw relatives having their makeup done at the salon they frequent, she was utterly unprepared for the razzle-dazzle that awaited her.

Raul and Menchu Concepcion. Photo by Büm Tenorio Jr.

As the doors to the ballroom were slowly opened by son Jojo, amazement sparkled in Tita Menchu’s eyes, followed by a look of concern. “What if not all our friends were invited? They might make tampo!”

Then, the gracious hostess that she is, she paused to greet all the well-wishers who surged forth to greet her, telling one of them, “You didn’t tell me!”

“Well, it’s too late,” her friend apologized as she kissed Menchu.

 

* * *

Menchu spent her actual birthday with the family at the Henann Resort in Bohol, and she told her guests it was her “best birthday ever” because every single member of her family was present. Her husband RaulRonnie,” their five children, in-laws, their 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren all reveled in each other’s company at a luau-themed beach party, with all of them in resort wear.

When Ronnie turned 80 in 2011, Menchu and the kids surprised him not only with a party at The Pen, but also with his biography, which she authored (yours truly was co-author).

That six-month period between the time Menchu met with her book team  to the time the book was published showed not only how loving a wife Menchu is, but also how focused and determined. She had piles and piles of scrapbooks clearly documenting Ronnie’s successful career and advocacies, they could fill up an entire room. She saw the book project through from start to finish, even if her husband would sometimes wonder why she was still on her computer at 2 a.m.!

(From left) Ton, Rica, Patrick, Jojo and Robie Concepcion. Photo by Joanne Rae M. Ramirez

According to son Jojo, his mom’s fragile beauty belies her inner strength and steely will.

“Under that delicate exterior is a very strong and matapang woman. As my dad would say — she is a Batangueña,” Jojo recalled when he paid tribute to his mother during the surprise party, which bloomed with sunflowers — Menchu’s favorite — from the vivid floral centerpieces to the giveaways, pads of stationery trimmed with sunflowers.

“There was a time in Naples, Italy with my brother Ton and his wife Karen when she ran after a robber who had stolen my brother’s bag. Shouting ‘magnanakaw, magnanakaw’ on the streets of Italy, as if the Italians could understand what she was saying. The poor thief got so scared and eventually dropped the bag and ran off,” Jojo recounted one of the family’s favorite anecdotes of Menchu. Yes, you don’t mess with this pretty woman.

Raul and Menchu Concepcion during their wedding on Nov. 21, 1959.

Jojo also revealed that his mother is an astute businesswoman, and as a result built a “small” fortune “that one can argue could rival my dad’s.”

Jojo described Menchu as a “very loving, caring and protective mother.”

“Would you believe that until maybe five years ago she used to call me every day — just to say hello, how was I, what was new, and whether I needed anything? Note that I have been married for 36 years already,” he added. “She sends each of us a monthly supply of a sack of rice, and toilet paper — I don’t know why toilet paper — and other things to the house.”

* * *

Carmencita “Menchu” Concepcion is the 12th child of the late former Finance Secretary Antonio de las Alas of Batangas and his wife, the former Natividad Lontoc

Menchu was 19 years old and with an 18-inch waistline when she first met the dashing Ronnie Concepcion.

When he was courting Menchu, Ronnie was already working on his own business selling flour. Every day, after supplying flour to his clients in El Cano, he would pick up Menchu from her classes in UST in his own delivery van. He was always in his starched white collared uniform. “Of course I was glad he was there to pick me up.  He was always on time; he never made me wait.  But my mother would still send the houseboy to UST to chaperone Ronnie and me home — to think my house was only perhaps 15 minutes away.  That was the practice before.  No argument,” Menchu recalled in her husband’s biography, The Odyssey of Raul T. Concepcion.

Sunflowers, Menchu’s favorite, adorn each table.

 When I Fall in Love by Nat King Cole was Ronnie and Menchu’s favorite song, the theme song of their courtship.

Ronnie was very loving of Menchu, also a popular print and ramp model of her generation, that he even proudly escorted her when she joined the first Santacruzan of the Manila Press Club. Other popular socialites who joined the Santacruzan at the time were Criselda Lontok, Rosemary Lopez, Lorna Samson, and Ines Villareal.

According to Menchu’s older sister Ching Montinola, their father approved of Ronnie because he saw how responsible the young Concepcion was. The courtship that started in the early part of 1958 and lasted for a year and a half culminated at the altar when Ronnie, then 27, and Menchu, then 20, exchanged “I do’s” before 500 guests — including Anita Noble Nakpil and Ernesto Medina Cue as principal sponsors — on Nov. 21, 1959 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Quezon City, the parish church of the de las Alases. Menchu walked down the aisle in an elegant Ramon Valera. A photo of Menchu in her wedding gown was among several photos her sons had blown up for the surprise party.

* * *

When Menchu took to the mic later on to thank some 300 guests at the Peninsula’s Rigodon Ballroom, she was radiant like a sunflower but very composed. “I was starting to suspect my children were planning a surprise tonight, but I didn’t expect it to be this big! I am not even dressed for it.”

She then thanked her children for not putting her age on the greetings emblazoned on the TV screen and on the giveaways. “You know me,” she quipped.

Jojo pointed to the screen behind his mother to reveal what her enduring beauty secret is and pictures of his dad Ronnie provided the answer.

Concepcion grandkids and great-grandkids (from left) Paulo Concepcion, Nicole Inocencio and baby Ana, Katrina, Maita,Izzy, Mykie, Raul, Gabe, Natalia, Carsy, baby Diego and Franco.

This November, Ronnie and Menchu will be celebrating 59 years of marriage. She says he still looks for her every night before he goes to sleep.

“That is my mom, beautiful yet tough, a fantastic business lady, a caring, protective mother and the center of our family,” says Jojo.

Like the sunflower, she that arches to meet the sun, Menchu blooms in Ronnie’s enduring love and basks in the devotion of their children.

MENCHU DE LAS ALAS CONCEPCION

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