SAN ISIDRO, Nueva Ecija – From American soil to the Philippine sun; from the South Expressway to the North Expressway; from a balikbayan’s vision and a vow, for a village’s dream come true.
We are referring to an unusual story of love, of caring, of dreaming, the result of which was seen recently when many Novo Ecijanos headed by San Isidro Mayor Sonia Lorenzo and friends from Manila and nearby towns trooped to Anita Subdivision, Poblacion San Isidro, to witness and enjoy the blessing of a neatly built steel structure named The Alemar Chapel and Multi-Purpose Building.
Why The Alemar, why San Isidro? In a recent interview, the sole donor of The Alemar - Balikbayan editor and journalist Betty Geronimo-Johnson, a former Manila newspaperwoman - happily explained: “Firstly, to thank the Lord for the many blessings and good life I had in America.” The Alemar, to honor her beloved parents; Alejandro Geronimo of Baliuag, Bulacan and Maria de Guzman of San Nicolas, Gapan, Nueva Ecija, using the first three letters of Alejandro and the first three letters of Maria. San Isidro, because, after checking the north and south of Manila upon returning to the Philippines after four decades of living and working in Washington, D.C., USA, she decided to retire on a 500-square meter lot in San Isidro that has a view of Mt. Arayat on one side and a panoramic view of the ricefields from her bedroom.
Betty also cited that San Isidro was the first capital of Nueva Ecija and is the next town after San Nicolas.
Soon after settling down in her new ranch-style house, Betty knew exactly what to do next. She called a meeting of the village people and announced that she would be pleased to donate the chapel of their dream if the men would work “bayanihan-style”, and the women would prepare food for them. The villagers – a good mix of professionals (teachers, engineers, instructors), bankers, government employes, students – gratefully accepted the challenge. Within hours after the meeting, the lot for the would-be chapel (donated by Anita Subdivision developer Anita Bunag) was cleared and cleaned; trucks of sand, steel, soon came rushing down the road. For many hot days, many men led by foreman Carlos Reyes were seen working and sweating away, taking short breaks only when the women came with food and drinks. Village folks who worked hard and well included Dante dela Cruz, Jose Uytingco, Engineer Rene Alonzo and wife Judith, Lorenzo Francisco, Amang and Osie Dueñas, professor B. Pangilinan, Jun Altamera, Jul Lagotdot, Enteng Reyes, Mameng Goduco, Do Franco, Maryann, Gemma and Berly Francisco, Inday dela Cruz, Kapisanan ng mga taga Anita president Larry Lubis, and steel contractor Eddie Garcia. Donor Johnson appointed Judith Alonzo officer-in-charge of the Alemar, with the main task of supervising the maintenance and safety of the building and premises.
When asked where she got the money to fund the chapel, her reply was, that it all came from hard work in America.
Work for Betty started even while at the University of Santo Tomas and Manila Central University. From a vernacular writer, she rose to become a fine proofreader for a Manila daily, then a translator, later on to a desk job at the old Manila Times and Manila Chronicle. For five years, she worked at the American Embassy-USIS as editor and chief translator, supervising a staff of 10 Philippine dialect editors and translators.
She went to the United States in the 1960s, where with her job as Kislap-Graphic Bureau Chief and as a legislative assistant at the National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C., she enjoyed and moved into the best of two worlds: the diplomatic and political life in the American capital, and the Philippine foreign service and Filipino community life. After a few years in Houston, Texas as the wife of a Texan economist (where she also worked for the editors of The Houston Post and the Gulf Publishing Company), Betty returned to her favorite city of Washington D.C., resuming her professional career as a journalist, this time as editor for the US Department of State-funded Fulbright Educational Exchange Program. She retired in 1995, after working at the Bureau of National Affairs.
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