By Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, Ph. D
Editor-In-Chief, Fil-Am Observer
February Issue Feature Article
THIS month’s issue—and this year—inaugurates another commitment of Fil-Am Observer to serve the community of the Filipino-Americans who have called Hawaii a home away from the homeland.
The editorial board has unanimously selected the couple Dr. Serafin Colmenares Jr. and Dr. Leticia Colmenares as this paper’s first Outstanding Couple of the Year. This decision is based on the extraordinary professional and personal achievements of Jun and Letty—achievements that are a veritable proff of the kind of mind and character they have, competent professionals as they are, dedicated public servants as they are, committed community workers as they are, and caring parents as they are.
The proofs are self-evident: their years and years of serving various communities of Hawaii.
Jun, a doctorate degree holder in political science from the University of Delhi, moved from a variety of professional involvements in Hawai’I as soon as his status allowed him to do so. Along that professional mobility was his drive to keep on giving at the same time: as a lecturer of political science at Chaminade University, Leeward Community College, and the UH School of Continuing Education; as a utilization review analyst of a private medical service organization; as a bilingual health worker of a government health center; as a case manager of a religious organization engaged in health and aging issues; as an evaluation analyst with the Department of Health’s Executive Office on Aging before he wa appointed by Gov. Linda Lingle in 2007 as the first executive director of the Office of the Language Access.
Letty, a doctorate degree holder in chemistry from the University of Hawai’I, also moved from a variety of professional commitments as a chemistry instructor in the Philippine’s Mindanao State University, as a lecturer in chemistry at Honolulu Community College, as a research associate at the University of Hawai’I, and then as an assistant professor of UH Winward since 2004. Together with her colleagues, she has continued to publish in various internationally refereed journals, a testament to her keen scientific mind.
It was in 1974, at MSU—a state university in the Philippines known for its edge in science and technology education, research, and training—where Jun and Letty met for the first time, Letty in her senior year in chemistry, and Jun as a returning scholar who had just wrapped up his graduate studies in Delhi. Letty would soon wind up her studies, joined the faculty of MSU where Jun stayed on as instructor, then assistant dean, and eventually acting dean. In between these professional commitments and engagements, Letty would soon continue to work on her graduate work in chemistry, first getting a master’s at the University of the Philippines, and then receiving an East-West Center grant to do her doctoral work at the University of Hawai’i.
Letty’s graduate studies in Honolulu would soon bring the whole family to the United States, with Jun and their two sons, Serafin III and David Roy joining her as her dependents.
Jun recalls that the immigration rules probihited him from taking on a job during their first year together as a family in Hawai’I and that the family had to make do with Letty’s stipend as grantee. The stipend could hardly see them through, but they persisted. As soon as Jun was allowed to work after a year residence in Hawai’I, he took on odd jobs, he says, and did not mind what jobs where those. He recalls with fondness now what he went through: “I worked as an assistant manager of a store and restaurant, sold vacuum cleaners, and insurance, moved and painted stuff, did inventory and field enumeration work…”
Soon, Letty was able to wrap up her doctoral work, and as part of her post-doctoral training, she was allowed to stay in Hawai’I for two more years. Jun and Letty planned to go back to the Philippines after her post-doctoral work but the sons urged them to stay on and applied for their permanent residency. Because Letty had a contact with the East-West Center to go back to the Philippines and do her two year home-country service, she went back to the Philippines to fulfill that contract: Jun and the children remained in Honolulu, with Jun at this time working for his second master’s degree—in public health, which he took at the University of Hawai’i.
It was not a walk in the park in the beginning for the new immigrants, with the children’s helping out in so many ways, working during their spare times even as they where doing their schoolwork and graduating on top, with Serafin III finishing a bachelor’s in microbiology, summa cum laude, and eventually a doctorate in cell biology, on full scholarship, from Harvard Medical School; and with David Roy finishing his bachelor’s in science and his master’s in education. The children soon went on to follow the same road to excellence less traveled by many immigrant families burdened by the wages of eking out a life in a new land—and with four successful professionals in a family, this feat of Letty and Jun and their children, is indeed, a rarity. It is not very often that we see three doctorate degree holders in a family—and this extraordinary achievement of the Colmenares is one exemplar that is difficult to duplicate. Certainly, their collective and individual sacrifices and hard work had paid off.
While Jun and Letty continue to serve to serve the community, Serafin III and David Roy are now on their own, exploring the world before their armed with their extraordinary skills, academic training, and experience. Serafin III is now a fellow of the National Institute of Health while David works as a mathematics teacher of a Honolulu Public School.***
[Posted by Rudy Ram. Rumbaoa/March 2, 2009]