Forever young

By Vicky Vitug

Is there a formula for longevity?  

With this question hanging in my head, I went to the Senior Center to see if any of my friends could give me an answer.  

Lola Virgie was known as the ‘favorite teacher of problem kids.’ 

Virginia Del Rosario: Family is her ‘happy hormone’

Lola Virgie who is almost 90 years old, mulled over the question. Her response took me back a long trip down memory lane where 52 years ago she came to the U.S. in 1970 as a hopeful immigrant teacher.  She brought with her a small suitcase, her BSE and master’s diplomas on Education, and a few dollars in her pocket.  

Knowing that she would eventually run out of money she eagerly took on the first paying job she found as a secretary and immediately rented a small room at the YWCA in Brooklyn.  Determined to be a teacher, she took the Teacher Certification exams while simultaneously working.  As soon as she obtained her NYC teacher certification, she was hired as an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn.   It did not matter where the school was located because she was mentally prepared for harsh realities.  She said, “Being a teacher was a passion worth fighting for!”  

Her resolve was tested on her first day in school.  She was headed towards her classroom when she met some aggressive kids on the school grounds.  One brazen kid accosted her loudly exclaiming, “She looks like that tough lady character on TV!” with his finger pointed at her long waist-length black hair.  Other rowdy kids joined in and asked her directly, “What is the color of your belt?”

Though, a bit surprised and confused with their question, she didn’t flinch.  Without thinking she confidently responded “black”.  To her big surprise the kids reacted positively and exclaimed “Wow”.  Thinking back on the kids’ reactions, she recalled that their eyes even lit up and their mouths fell half open.  She told me later that her only reason for responding “black” was because she was wearing black shoes at that time. 

As days passed, she learned from the rumor mill in school, that her quick response of “black” earned her the secret title of “black belt teacher” (as in karate black belt), a perception that worked to her advantage.  Interestingly, all her students, including the notoriously unruly ones, became well behaved in her classroom.  With her smooth-running classroom, she came to be known as the “favorite teacher of problem kids”.  

Soon, many of the so-called “problem kids” were placed under her tutelage.  She took on all of them and provided great education in a caring yet highly structured and disciplined manner.  She said that teaching those troubled kids was extremely stressful but seeing them improve motivated her to work harder.  Her efforts were apparently noticed and she was eventually promoted as assistant principal of her school.  

Today, she is reaping the rewards of her retirement and is living happily with her extended family:  stepchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. She said they make her happy.  These caring family members are her reason for living longer. Their presence in her life was her longevity formula, her “happy hormone”.  They are Lola Virgie’s dopamine.

Ate Nene (left) with daughter Riza: Dancing is her dopamine

Apolinaria Ramos-Tolang: Still kicking her heels at 92

Ate Nene from Leyte earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education from the University of San Carlos, and worked as a PE teacher in the Philippines for 30 years. Widowed in 1990 with seven adult children and several grandchildren, she migrated to the U.S. in 1992 upon her eldest daughter’s petition.

With deep sadness leaving her family, she adjusted to her new home in Queens with her eldest daughter’s family.

As the days passed, she learned to appreciate NYC especially when she joined the Hillcrest Senior Community Center. There she found life again by immersing herself in their various activities. She made new friends.

In this setting, this forever dancer found her “happy feet”. Her non-stop graceful dancing caught the attention of everyone especially the Senior Center’s director, who later on, hired her to teach a dance class. Ate Nene accepted and thus became a Hawaiian Dance instructor.

Her unique teaching style made her class stand out. She has a way of making her students giggle as they sway their hips. Their dance also elicits friendly vibes as they wave their hands with graceful movements. Eventually her dance group became well received and very popular among seniors in the neighborhood.

Her 92nd birthday will be celebrated at the Senior Center with friends and family.

A proud mother and grandmother of professionals! Her seven children and their families are her main source of happiness! She credits them for her emotional stability and credits her active lifestyle as the reason she’s still kicking her heels on this earth! Dancing is, was, and will always be a part of her life. Food, supplements and medicines may sustain her but her dancing motivates her to wake up each day and look forward to another day spent with friends!

Indeed, without consciously planning, she accomplished a feat for herself: a long, happy life through her positive attitude, her simple modest lifestyle and dancing!  

© The FilAm 2022

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