On Global Filipinos: Losing my friends to COVID-19: DI Dodie Potenciano (Part 2)

Dodie dancing with a tearful daughter Chona at her October 2015 wedding.

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

Because I was tall for a Filipina and I love to dance during Filipino Gala nights, a good friend Nena Lozada Smith introduced me to Dancing Instructor Dodie Potenciano.

He was a terrific dancer and I would hire him as my DI whenever I would attend dancing parties of the Filipino community in New York.

When he had a stroke four years ago, he would call me on Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day. When I returned his call days after February 14th, his phone was disconnected. That was the time my good friend Angie Cruz told me that Dodie has passed away in a nursing home. I was distraught and regretted that I did not return his call immediately.

Juliet Payabyab introduced me to his younger sister Vicky Potenciano Vitug who told me that Dodie was named after their father’s brother Diosdado Potenciano, a pharmacist and an unsung hero as a guerrilla who died in the hands of the Japanese. Dodie inherited his jolly and compassionate disposition.

Their older brother Reynaldo as an engineer, and the oldest brother Julian as a Certified Public Accountant immigrated to the United States in early 1970s. Rey became a U.S. citizen and petitioned for their parents, Esperanza (Angeles) and Laureano Potenciano, now deceased.

Vicky said, “Both of them were hardworking. My mother owned and operated a grocery store and passenger jeep back in the Philippines. My father worked in Citibank in Manila.”

With younger sister Vicky at the nursing home during Christmas 2017.

In 1976, both of them immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Queens. Dodie and Vicky, both still single at the time, were petitioned by their parents and arrived in Queens in 1983.

“My mother volunteered at a senior center where she later became the social work interpreter because she spoke eight languages. She was also an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised seniors. She used to travel with her senior friends to Albany and lobby for their many social causes. Our father, by then retired, was my mother’s chaperone and avid supporter. They were a very loving couple and devoted parents to us,” said Vicky.

Dodie went to Arellano University but never finished his studies. He went to three other colleges and universities because he could never decide what he wanted to do. He worked as an electrician in Manila City Hall before his immigration to the U.S.

Vicky continued, “Dodie was way too smart but restless; a happy-go-lucky person; he lived for today and was never concerned with his future. He was always a One Day Millionaire. He would spend all his money in a day. To him, Life was too short to worry about anything. He used to say, Live for today because tomorrow may never come.”

How did Dodie become a dancing instructor?

Family visits Dodie. With sister Vicky, brother-in-law Vic and nephew Leo.

“Dodie was a born dancer,” shared Vicky. “When we were kids, he would just dance for hours. What’s amazing was that he was self-taught. He learned the steps just by watching. He was gifted. It was this obsession for dancing that pushed him to become a Dance Instructor. In fact, he left a high paying job as a Long-Haul Truck Driver to become a DI.  He was not happy as a truck driver.”

He had two daughters from his previous relationship.  His younger daughter Zaza died of cardiac arrest when she was very young. His only surviving daughter Chona remained in the Philippines and was raised by our family. 

Vicky continued, “Since Dodie’s job situation is unstable, I provided the financial support for his daughter for over 20 years.  Proud to say that she finished college and is now, happily married with one son.”

In 2015, Dodie married Generosa “Rose” Ompoc from Queens.

A friend of Rose had invited her to a ballroom party in Woodside. Shy by nature, she was reluctant to join but eventually relented.  That evening turned out to be a blast.  She met the man of her dreams.  She said this “stranger,” a man in a suit, asked her to dance. She said she found him irresistible. He was very charming, polite, and “pogi.” She didn’t know why she felt her heart beating fast and felt her face “flushed.”  She thought: Love at first sight.  The following months went by so fast.  They started dating.  And the more she got to know him, the more she wanted to be with him forever. They were married July 1, 2016.

Unfortunately, a month into the marriage their happiness was cut short.  On August 7, 2016, Dodie suffered a stroke. His right side was paralyzed and he required extensive rehabilitation. Upon discharged from the hospital, he was sent to a Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. On April 20, 2020 he was taken by ambulance to New York Presbyterian after he was infected with the coronavirus at the nursing center. He died on April 24.

When Vicky visited Dodie for the last time, bringing him dishes he liked to eat, “He just grabbed me and gave me a tight hug.”

“You are my best friend. Thank you for all you do for me,” he told his sister. “I think it was his way of saying goodbye,” said Vicky through tears.

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(C) The FilAm 2020

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