Monday, July 11, 2011

The Agnes McPhetres Story

Agnes Manglona McPhetres: Go the distance
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - Reporter

NOT everyone gets to be born in a cave.

Imagine how a young Agnes Manglona McPhetres fends off bad remarks from playmates and she turns it around.

The youngest of Ana Ada Manglona and Jose Mendiola Manglona’s 10 children, Agnes was born in a cave on Jan. 2, 1942.

“I was born in a cave,” says Agnes who remembers how children her age teased her.

She says she turned that around for a while. She says she told those who were teasing her, “Only famous people are born in a cave.” Indeed it is a matter of perspective.

She tells Variety, “Several of my brothers and sisters were already married before
I was born. Some of my nephews and nieces were older than me.”

On Saipan, Agnes says she grew up with the Carolinian community in Chalan Kanoa and she says she appreciated those years. She also recalls walking from home to school and to her father’s farm near the airport.

School for Agnes was the Chalan Kanoa Elementary School, the only school on Saipan.

She finished grade school there except for one year — during fifth grade — that she stayed on Guam.

She admits that during that time there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women. “I really wanted to do something. The only future that ladies look forward to is to be a nun,” says Agnes.

So at 13, she says, she went to the convent of the Mercedarian Sisters in Chalan Kanoa.

“They called us nuns but we were not really nuns,” says Agnes.

She says she stayed with the sisters until they moved to Maturana Hill which prior to their transfer was once a hospital.

“We were brought up there. We were the ones who rebuilt it. We were renovating all those Quonset huts into livable convent and place for us,” remembers Agnes.

She admits it was a very interesting time to be at the convent and she never regretted any moment she spent there.

“It was a training of your will and character. And of course it helped lay your principles and a lot of other talents,” says Agnes.

The nuns, she says, pushed them to discover their full potential. She says, “They helped build character and nurture talents.”

Staying with the nuns, Agnes says, makes one into a more refined individual.

Of all the nuns she had had the opportunity of knowing and learning from, Agnes says she looked up to Sisters Bertha, Remedios, and Rosario.

“I stayed with them until I was 18,” adds Agnes. Then she says the nuns sent her to the United States to continue her education.

Asked by Variety how it was like to take her first flight to the mainland U.S., she says, “Actually that was a very interesting experience.”

She shares with Variety how her first commercial flight to the mainland almost turned out to be a tragedy. It was her first PanAm flight to the United States.

She clearly remembers that on their way from Hawaii to Los Angeles, the plane had problem in landing. She says since the plane didn’t have enough fuel it had to make an emergency landing and was allowed to land in Ontario.

She recalls they didn’t use the stairs but instead used the emergency exits upon landing with the ambulances ready at the airstrip. “It was an exciting yet scary trip.”

From there, she says, they were transported to the hotel where she first saw an elevator.

She says, “I kept punching all the buttons not knowing what to do.”
“The elevator and the escalator — those were the things that shocked me,” says Agnes who was carrying a Trust Territory passport at that time.

For a year, Agnes says, she stayed at Donnelly Community College in Kansas City, Kansas then she moved to College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska where she earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education major in languages and mathematics.

Looking back on her student years, she says, she lived the entire time in the dormitory.

“I liked it. I didn’t have to go out that much. Winter was fierce and summer was awful. I spent most of my time reading,” tells Agnes.

She admits she had to work while she was in college. She remembers babysitting and cleaning houses at that time.

So after earning her degree and becoming the first woman from the islands to do so, she says she wanted to take back what she learned and share it with the community.

At the time, she says, help was needed in Truuk when a typhoon devastated St. Cecilia School. She remembers working with John Sablan — Mike Sablan’s father — who was then the district administrator.

It was also on Truuk where she met her future husband Sam McPhetres who was working for the Peace Corps. Then after a year, she returned to Saipan to work for the Trust Territory government as executive director for Manpower Development Council under the Trust Territory Department of Education.

When she came back, Agnes started to buckle down to work and focused on doing something for the island.

At that time, it was an interesting time for a woman to be holding a significant position.

As a pioneer, Agnes helped break the glass ceiling.

She had help, she says, from the director of education David Ramarui who encouraged her.

“He wanted me to take over the staff development for the whole trust territory government system. I don’t know maybe he saw that I worked hard,” the educator says.

During that time, Agnes was already blazing the trail for Micronesian women in the field of education.

Determined to prove that women could go so far as the men did, she pursued her goals with full conviction and commitment.

And she was never irresolute in making those big decisions.

She says, “Women need to pursue their full potential.”

And realize her full potential she did as an educator by trusting in herself, believing that a woman could accomplish any goal in equal measure as the men do.
(To be continued)

Agnes Manglona McPhetres’ Story II:
Empowering Women
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - Reporter

THE women are the future of the islands.

So says Agnes Manglona McPhetres in a conversation with this reporter.

For Agnes, despite some relegating women to minor roles, she fervently believes in what women can do to help the commonwealth extricate itself from the rut.

She has been through a lot as a woman, especially during her time when men dominated the political landscape of her time.

As the first president of the Northern Marianas College, and being a woman in a position that some claimed should have been held by men, Agnes says it was difficult. But she says she had to persevere and prove her worth.

“They are not used to seeing a woman in that position,” says Agnes.

She tells how she experienced discrimination on account of her gender.

During her time in the Trust Territory government days, when they were resolving a problem, Agnes remembers, “I would say certain things.

Somehow the guy next to me heard what I said and repeated what I said verbatim.

Then they would look at him and tell him, ‘That is one of the best ideas we have ever heard.’”

There was a time when she had to visit the outer islands.

“I wouldn’t be permitted in the men’s house. So I told the chiefs, ‘Then we would not have a meeting.’” She says the chiefs then made an exemption for her to join
them at the men’s house to proceed with the meeting.

She also tells this reporter how the men during her time treats women as a sex object and how she confronted this on many occasions.

“You have to be very strong to know how to say ‘no’ without offending people.
That’s an art I learned through so many years of experience,” says Agnes.

Moreover, as president of the college and when she and a male assistant would receive guests, Agnes says she recalls the guests addressing her male assistant thinking that she was the secretary.

If she were not strong, if she didn’t believe in what she is capable of doing, Agnes would not have accomplished the things she did.

It took someone with Agnes’ courage and commitment to push for the establishment of the college.

When she left the Board of Education, the governor asked Agnes what she wanted to do and she said, “I want to become the president of the college.”

At that time, Agnes says, there was a move to have the idea of a college nipped in the bud.

But the governor then issued an executive order establishing the college with Keith Porter as the bilingual coordinator.

“We didn’t have a campus—we didn’t have anything,” remembers Agnes.

So she told the governor she would like to become the president of the college and she says this statement had taken the governor aback.

She tells how the college started with seven people using the Marianas High School classroom in the afternoon.

While doing this, they had to look for a more permanent home and finally they struck a deal with the Commissioner Janet McCoy to allow NMC to take over the buildings to be vacated by the nursing school when it moved to the Marshalls.

The three wings of the Dr. Torres Hospital that belonged to the Trust Territory government became the NMC’s first building.

“We didn’t have any equipment. What I did was I arranged a memorandum of agreement to borrow their equipment until we had the money to purchase our own equipment.

That is how we started refurbishing our campus,” she says.
Agnes, who was in early 40s at the time, married with two children, would be spending most of her time at work.

“Sometimes I wouldn’t see daylight. I would go to the college, sometimes very early in the morning at 4 a.m. and leave around 8 p.m.,” says Agnes.

The college was her life.

But she had to be make the sacrifices in order for the college to get the equipment, the funding, the staff and faculty, and the accreditation that it needed.

“When you don’t have anything—you don’t have money, you don’t have staff, you have to be very creative,” she tells this reporter.

She says her strong point is knowing federal grants —knowing sources of funding.

“That helped a lot in the funding of the college,” she says.

She adds how she searched for staff. She would visit offices and talked to people and found out some who were dissatisfied with their jobs and offered them a place at the college.

She says these people moved to the college bringing with them their FTE status and salary resulting from Agnes requesting the governor to allow them to do so.

She labored hard for the college to earn the accreditation.

“We were working with University of Guam and GCC to bring their credit over here.

So we were like the coordinating agency for higher education at that time. It was just a paper college.”

To gain the accreditation, legislation was needed to separate the Board of Education and Board of Higher Education which were one at the time.

Agnes acknowledges how Felicidad Ogumoro was involved in the first legislation.

Soon, they gained two years candidacy.

Agnes says she was thankful for the windfall of federal grants they received at the college.

She tells Variety how they managed to obtain the land grant status, the struggle over the condemned hospital building with the Director of the Public Health with
Typhoon Kim as a way for divine providence to intervene destroying the roofs of the majority of the buildings with the Health department abandoning them.

Agnes says she struck a deal with the FEMA and worked out an arrangement with the buildings which soon became the NMC’s.

The students of the vocational class helped rebuild the facility with faculty, staff and community members helping repaint the first campus.

“The campus wasn’t yet ours. We worked with MPLC and the governor. In six years, the land was deeded to the campus.”

For 18 years, Agnes cared for the college like it was her own child.

Asked why she had to leave, “Actually I had a goal. My goal was to build the college, to have a very strong accreditation, to have a four-year degree in education, to bring land grant status—I fulfilled every one of them,” she says.

But she says the only thing missing was “I didn’t not stay long enough to see the
four-year degree implemented.”

Despite what she says was dissension at that time, and the negative publicities, “to me that doesn’t matter. What matters was I left a good institution—a really strong institution.”

Asked on what the college needs, she says frankly, “You need a strong leader, qualified leaders. You need qualified people who assist the leader; a qualified CEO and an honest CEO; a person who is not seeking for himself but for the development of the institution.”

For Agnes, credentials are not enough.

“You have to know how to work with the people.” She believes it is always an uphill battle to work with different types of people.

“You have a faculty. The faculty is a different type of people. You have to deal with them with care and attention. They are the true backbone of the college. You have to recognize that they are the brain of the college. Without the faculty, you don’t have a college,” she says.

For Agnes, running a college is a “careful balancing act”—one has to have knowledge about different levels of governance.

For the young women of the CNMI, Agnes advises for them to love themselves and be strong. “They will have to have a very healthy self-esteem. Nobody can put them down.”

She also says for them to pursue their highest dream.

“Every woman here has a place in this commonwealth and has to seek the highest potential. This island is going to be changed, not by men, but by the women,” says Agnes.

For the former NMC president, the women are a silent power in the commonwealth with a lot of leadership potential.

She adds, “They will bring the CNMI out of the crisis.”

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