The Frank and Fe Cepeda Story: Respetu
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
BEADS of perspiration trickle down his forehead as he labors for a project his uncle promised would generate a share in income for him.
Toiling under the scorching equatorial sun that blessed him with a dark complexion, he feels bad about skipping his classes. Worse, he feels bad that it is not worth skipping his classes after all for he doesn’t get the share he looks forward to getting.
Frank Cepeda, now 68 years old, remembers full well how he strived to earn an education on Guam.
Tun Frank shares with Variety how he ended up studying on Guam. He remembers with gusto how he, along with Pete A. Tenorio and Edward DLG Pangelinan went to Guam to pursue higher education.
Tun Frank says ninth grade was the highest attainable level of education on Saipan at the time.
He says students here on island went to Chalan Kanoa Elementary School from first to sixth grade and Saipan-Chalan Piao Intermediate School for seventh to ninth grade.
After that, Tun Frank says, students had a choice between going to the Pacific Island Central School in Truk or the trade school on Guam.
Having a relative on Guam makes going to school on Guam the more logical choice. But those years he spent with his relatives, he says, gave him some of his most unforgettable experiences.
“I was made to work. I ended up being one of the manpower [that his uncle needed badly and lacked],” says Cepeda.
He says he couldn’t do anything then. Forced by the circumstances, he followed what his uncle wanted him to do.
He says, “I didn’t have time to study after school. Staying there I had to help.”
Although tuition at the Tumon Jr. Sr. High School was free, Tun Frank says he had to work for his allowance.
“My parents over here couldn’t produce anything to give me any money to even buy a shirt or buy lunch,” says Tun Frank.
At a young age, he says he learned hardship. Nevertheless, counting his blessings, he feels good that he was fortunate to have studied on Guam where he met his wife Fe Luz Ada.
The second oldest in a brood of 11, Frank Cepeda is the second son of Gregorio Torres Cepeda and Ana Guerrero Deleon Guerrero.
Tun Frank tells Variety that he was born on the island of Alamagan on June 24, 1942.
He recalls that his parents were probably sent to Alamagan between 1939 and 1940 during the time when the Japanese were fortifying the islands in preparation for war.
The elder Cepeda, a fisherman, and his wife, according to Tun Frank, were sent with the others to work on the roads and the military outposts on Alamagan.
The second oldest until 1968 when his brother died, Tun Frank says he was one of five sons of his parents and now remains the oldest of the siblings.
Fe and Frank Cepeda, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, share with Variety that respect and honesty are two main ingredients to marital bliss. He his childhood on Alamagan.
At the age of three, “I was in Alamagan, I was only three years old I guess. I still remember my mother and I were out gathering wild tomatoes.”
He tells Variety that he returned to Saipan only in 1946, long after the gates of Camp Susupe had been opened to release the internees.
He says he slept through the long boat ride back to Saipan in 1946.
“The next thing I remember I fell asleep on the boat. I didn’t remember anything else until I woke up here on Saipan. That was a long sleep. I got up to what looked like a cubicle,” narrates Tun Frank.
He describes the quarters in Chalan Kanoa. “I got up to what looked like a cubicle made by the military. The place was divided into five rooms.”
Asked if it were one of the stockades where the war survivors stayed, he says, “No. It wasn’t Camp Susupe. We were still in Alamagan when Camp Susupe was opened to release the civilians.”
He remembers fondly that the quarters were close to the Joeten Store. “I stayed there until 1957 when I left Saipan for Guam to study.”
He says he was fortunate to have had the opportunity to move to Guam and study despite the challenges he had to go through.
During that time in 1957, he said his proficiency in English was weak as the islands had been under the Japanese administration since 1914.
He acknowledges the efforts of his teachers back then who provided the foundation. He appreciates the efforts they invested in preparing them for higher education. “They did a good job in helping us.”
On Guam, the young Frank Cepeda was bent on acquiring education so he could improve his lot in life.
Staying with his uncle is just half the battle.
But Tun Frank takes things in stride. He knows he needs to soldier on.
He say he worked for his uncle thinking he would keep his end of the bargain to cough up a share of the earnings from the construction projects.
He narrates, “Life was hard. Sometimes I missed school. I was thinking that if I worked instead of going to class, I would get money which I needed very much. I needed to decide on my own.”
He says being young, he couldn’t go against his uncle’s decisions. He says he had to go along with it.
After spending two years with his uncle’s family, he had the chance to quit staying there and relocated to the Andersen Air Force Base where an American family took care of him.
At Tumon Jr. Sr. High School
The then 17-year-old Frank Cepeda found refuge from his personal battles in the classroom at Tumon Jr. Sr. High School where Tun Frank says he found courage and confidence.
Skin burned from exposure to the sunlight working for construction projects of a kin, Tun Frank says he stayed at the back of the class while the good looking ladies, including Fe, who would become his future wife, were in front.
He says his skin was so dark and his hair was almost blonde due to long exposure to the sun.
When he moved to Andersen Air Force Base, things changed.
He recalls he and another cousin found work cleaning yards and earning $5 a week.
On the base, he found a family that took care of him and treated him well.
Apart from paying him $5 a week for cleaning yards, he says he was given food and shelter for FREE.
He remembers fondly his foster family, the family of then Lt. Col. Harold H. Vague, who later on would retire as a two-star general in the United States Air Force.
Life was hard but Tun Frank says he was motivated enough to want to education. “I suffered to earn my subsistence. I suffered but I found time to study.”
He tells Variety he was elated to graduate from high school.
Tun Frank says there’s this class called Problem of American Democracy, a civics class, where he says they had an aggressive teacher or show-off for a lack of a better adjective.
The teacher, he says, gave them a diagnostic test. So they did take the test and when he received the results, he tells Variety how disappointed and embarrassed he was to have earned a D Minus.
So he says he crumpled the paper out of shame and kept it under his table.
But then, with his eyes glowing in excitement as he narrates, his teacher discussed the results of the test.
He says the teacher aired his frustration that only one of the 30 students barely passed.
Then all of a sudden, Tun Frank says, it dawned on him it was he whom the teacher was referring to.
That incident, Tun Frank says, afforded him the courage and the confidence to face life’s challenges — that he can make it.
(To be continued)