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 strove 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.
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)
The Frank and Fe Cepeda Story Part II:
Two peas in a pod
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
IT’S a phone call he received at Andersen Air Base one night 50 years ago that changed his life.
“One night, I received a call in Andersen. One of the ladies — Rose Naputi — says,
‘You know Fe is saying she loves you,’” recalls Tun Frank of how he found out about
Fe Luz Ada’s inchoate feelings for him.
He tells Variety that he and Fe had an opportunity to talk about it the day after that revelation.
With joy in his eyes, Tun Frank remembers the day he and Fe sat at the back of Joe Lifoifoi’s car.
He says he broke the silence and had the courage to ask Fe, “Is that true what Rose was telling me?”
And there was a nod that prompted Tun Frank to ask, “Prove it.”
And there goes that first kiss that will remain indelible in Tun Frank’s memory.
Now, 50 years hence, Tun Frank admits he owes it to Joe Lifoifoi if not for his lending him his car he wouldn’t have known Fe’s true feelings for him.
Both are convinced that they are meant for each other.
Tan Fe tells Variety that she knew from the start that she would end up marrying Tun Frank.
She says she and Tun Frank were good friends but deep inside, she knew they are going to end up getting married for some reason.
She remembers hearing discouragements from some people but these did not dissuade her from marrying Tun Frank. She says, “But still, I know in my heart, that I am going to marry him.”
Describing her husband, she says she likes a person who is not foolish. “He has been honest and I like somebody that I can challenge.”
Meanwhile, Tun Frank says he admires Tan Fe’s mother who is a school teacher. He believes that her impressions of him changed the day he finished at the top of his class. He says that gave her an opportunity to see him in a different light.
Tan Fe comes from a well-to-do family. Born on Jan. 2, 1945, Tan Fe is one of six children of Herman Torres Ada, a hospital administrator, and Candelaria Pereira Cruz, a school teacher, of Hagatna, Guam.
She describes her childhood. “It’s a controlled life. I couldn’t play with anybody. I couldn’t just play with Tom, Dick, and Harry.”
She tells Variety that her parents were very strict and she could only play with certain children.
At that time, she says, her dad was also a businessman. She says she and her siblings are among the first on Guam to get the latest toys. “We are the first ones to get them.”
She has no favorite toy but she admits if there’s a toy she doesn’t like she gives it away.
Asked what’s the most important value she learned while growing up, she tells Variety, “You have to respect. You have to respect each other and learn how to work around the house and take care of yourself by helping each other.”
For Tan Fe, she has a comfortable life on Guam.
In spite of these comforts, she says they were taught to do a little bit of everything.
“We also grew up on a farm. We had a farm. We were raising chickens, birds, ducks, pigs, and we had some kind of vegetable farm,” she says.
On weekends, Tan Fe says the siblings were taught to help pick some fruits, take care of the chickens, pick up eggs, among other chores.
She says they own the Herman Ada Store, more like the Joeten Store at the time on Guam, selling washing machines, refrigerators, grocery items, among other things.
Tan Fe says this was the kind of life she left when she decided she would marry Tun Frank and there were no regrets.
In the beginning, Tan Fe says her parents were worried over how she would cope living on her own on Saipan knowing she had everything on Guam.
She tells them frankly, “I am not marrying his family; I am marrying Frank.”
Trusting she made the right decision, her parents consented to her marriage to
Frank and the two exchanged wedding vows on April 8, 1961.
Coming back to Saipan with Frank, she was on her own.
“I don’t even know how to wash. I don’t even know how to cook. And he is there,” says Tan Fe telling Variety that her husband helped her with the household chores.
“When we got married, he joined the military service and we had a wonderful life,” she says.
She also admits that like any other couple, they also have their own ups and downs.
The hard part, she says, was being alone to handle it all with Frank on deployment. But she managed.
During those long months that her husband was away, Tan Fe says she also taught her children to be independent.
She says she remembers how she would prepare their meals in advance.
While working at the military exchange, she says, she would check on her kids every hour on the hour.
Moreover, Tun Frank says the day he exchanged “I do!” with his wife, he vowed to stay committed to her.
When he joined the military, he says, he promised himself he would discharge his duties and know his responsibilities. “If I had to die, so be it. But I have to have something for my family — security.”
And he was fortunate. He rose through the ranks and reached the rank of Sergeant Major after 18 years in service.
He says he also served in the special forces —Green Beret—and he was also deployed to Vietnam jumping behind enemy lines.
While deployed, Tun Frank says he never leaves the family empty handed.
“I never left the family without anything,” says Tun Frank who believes he has been a good provider for his family.
Meanwhile, on the home front while he’s on deployment, Tan Fe has her hands full taking care of the children and working at the military exchange.
Like any other Army wife, she is the center of the family’s gravity — she pulls the family together at the time when her husband is on deployment.
She’s the family’s unsung heroine facing the challenges at home and at work all on her own in the absence of her husband who is out serving his nation.
But while both face their own personal battles, it is the greater good of the family that they both strove to achieve.
They raised three biological and two adopted children.
During the times that she was alone, Tan Fe says she has to be strong for the family. “I didn’t want to depend on my parents. If others could do it, I could do it.”
She worked for the military exchange store for 18 years and is now looking forward to leaving her post as supervisor of the in-patient department of the Commonwealth Health Center after 20 years.
In the vicissitudes of 50 years, Tun Frank and Tan Fe both share the values of respect, honesty, and commitment.
Young though they were when they got married, both tried their best to fill the shoes of responsible adults.
Now, both are looking forward to reading the newspapers and reciting a prayer together and spending quality time together.
Sharing the same values, Tun Frank and Tan Fe are truly two peas in a pod. It’s no wonder they have been enjoying a blissful 50 years of married life that’s founded on mutual “respetu.”
[Spice is the section of Marianas Variety devoted to people with interesting stories and events that matter. For suggestions, email firstname.lastname@example.org]