’68 B.S. FOOD TECHNOLOGY
1995-1996 President, UPAA-SD
We have learned early in life from our parents that the formula to success entails dedication, hard work and commitment in attaining an education at the University of the Philippines. Indeed, I acknowledge that my experiences, training, especially as an athlete, and, foremost, an education at UP have given me the competence to deal with life’s challenges over the years, whether in my job, with my family and the community I serve. To me, success is achieving a meaningful life, one in which I can make a difference in the environment I come in contact with.
I was born in Bangued, Abra, a year after the end of WWII; the eldest of seven children of Santos Biares Barros and the former Nicolasa Alejandre Purugganan. A couple of years after, my twin sisters, Carmelita and Carmencita, were born. Then our family moved to Manila to be with our father. A U.P. mechanical engineering graduate, he was hired as one of the pioneer engineers of the newly established National Shipyard and Steel Corporation (NASSCO). The shipbuilding facilities were constructed in Mariveles, Bataan with war reparations from Japan and the U.S. When the employees’ housing units were completed in 1954, our family with now five daughters relocated into the new NASSCO community in Mariveles. Although, our mother had a Law degree and could have pursued a legal career, she made the decision to devote her full time raising her seven children in the fledgling community of NASSCO. When my sisters and I started to attend the two-classroom school, our mother got involved with the community to campaign for the school’s expansion. In five years, when I graduated from sixth grade from the NASSCO Elementary School, the school building had expanded into more than six classrooms with a home economics practice house. Even with two more babies added to the brood of five, our mother continued to be involved with the community group that spearheaded the building of the parish church and eventually in establishing the NASSCO Barrio High School in the late 60’s. Our mother’s devotion to her family, as well as commitment to community service, had become my inspiration.
Years in UP with Academics and Athletics
Because there was still no high school in the NASSCO community, I was enrolled by my parents at UP High School after I passed the entrance examination. I was weaned from my family at a young age to get a good UP education. I stayed in Area 14, UP Campus with my aunt who was married to history professor, Honesto Villanueva, of the UP Arts and Sciences. Although lacking in constant parental tutoring, I was able to keep up rather well with UP High’s rigorous academic program. I gained self-discipline and resolve to survive in the hard line environment of UP academics and even managed to get involved in extra-curricular activities, like UPSCA and UPHS Glee Club.
In 1963, I graduated from UP High School, transitioning into college life smoothly. My dilemma, though, was deciding the degree to pursue. Early on, I begged off from my parents’ desire that I study to be a doctor, persuading them, instead, to have my younger sister, Carmelita, be the one to take-up medicine. To appease my father, I decided to pursue engineering. But in the first semester of my junior year, I learned about the new bachelor’s degree in food technology offered at the UP College of Home Economics. Since I loved to bake, I readily shifted to the five-year course, enrolling at the UPCHE the following semester. I felt rapt with the food technology coursework, which focused heavily on food safety, preservation and product development. The student researches in product development were the forerunners of exportable products like dried mangoes, mango juice, canned mango scoops, langka in syrup and ube powder. Because our father had misgivings about my degree’s worthiness, I had to convince him that I would be landing a very good job as a food technologist in the food industry with the exceptional training at UPCHE.
Pursuing a degree in food technology was not my only “focus” during college. I managed to be a member of a champion Varsity team. On my second year in college, I was asked to join the swimming team by the swimming coach, Miss Violanda. I had initial reservations with the training, which entailed swimming miles every afternoon at the women’s pool. However, I was enticed to join because of the cordiality and warmth shown by the team, most of who were swimmers since high school. Regimented, intensive training and tactical coaching of a number of strong swimmers made the Varsity Women’s Swimming Team maintain the UAAP championship from 1964 to 1967. Ultimately though, most of the senior swimmers had to drop-out from the team because we had to give full attention to our studies to graduate. I realize that the times I spent with the swimming team, training and competing, was the most memorable period of my UP college life. The team became my second family; developing lasting friendship with teammates. As an athlete, I gained confidence, strength, tenacity and perseverance to push on and race to the finish, no matter what. I learned to value teamwork; to appreciate every member’s contribution, regardless of its magnitude.
Career in Food Technology
After graduating in 1968 with a BS in Food Technology, I got employed with Milmore Corporation as a food technologist in product development. The company pioneered in packaging enriched rice in 5 to 10 kilos sealed bags with brand name, SUNRICE, sold in groceries. I was to develop the snacks made with the byproducts of rice milling. Nonetheless, I did not stay with the company long enough to be able to execute the manufacturing of the products I developed. I received an attractive job offer from a fellow food technologist, Libia deLima, to work with her in the research and product development project of Aguinaldo Development Corporation (ADECOR) in Davao. As a former swimmer, I could not resist the added perk of spending weekends at the Aguinaldo Pearl Farm. As I prepared to move to Mindanao, I filed my application for the third preference (EB-3) immigration visa to the US at the embassy. This was again to appease our father, who had apprehensions about my move to the south, away from my siblings. By then, my sisters and our only brother were attending UP and we were all staying in the UP Village apartment rented by my parents.
Leap to Married Life
My move in 1971 to Davao ushered in the major “leap” in my life. In ADECOR farms, I got to know closely one of the company’s agriculturists, Abe Ellorin. In due course, we fell in love and got married the following year at his parents’ adopted hometown in Davao del Norte. Abe’s family immigrated to Mindanao from Pangasinan in the early ‘50’s. Our eldest son Abram Nicolai was born the next year and then our daughter, Nichi Renea, less than year after, in ADECOR farms. ADECOR closed its livestock operation in Davao in 1975 and we were retrenched from employment. Abe went on to fulfill his plan to develop a portion of his family’s property into a citrus plantation. He then got employed as a farm manager in a couple of commercial livestock farms through the six years that we remained in Davao. After our third child, Max, was born, I got employed as a food technologist in the South Davao Company (SODACO) owned by the Consunji’s. We stayed in the SODACO dairy farm while I worked in quality control and meat/dairy products development. As the company was to launch the new dairy product I developed, the farm workers staged a strike with the support of “rebels” and closed the farm. We had to leave the farm, eventually relocating to Manila because we were concerned with the safety and future of our three children.
Immigration to the US
After our youngest child, Bernard, was born, our family immigrated to the US in 1982 and settled in San Diego. I got employed with the County of San Diego, initially with the Air Pollution Control District and then with the Environmental Health Services as Assistant Sanitarian, as soon as my food technology credentials from UP was approved by the State board. I subsequently passed the state registration examination, becoming a Registered Sanitarian (later renamed Registered Environmental Health Specialist). I have been serving the county as a Registered Environmental Health Specialist of the Department of Environmental Health for more than twenty years. As the Epidemiology Liaison with the primary task of conducting food-borne illness surveillance, response and investigations, I have a significant role in the achievement one of our department’s primary goals, that of reducing food-borne illness in the county.
My husband and I have managed to raise well our four children in San Diego, despite the daunting schedule of work, family activities and household chores. I give credit to my mother, who lived with us after our father passed away, and helped us take care of our children. Our daughter obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Masters in Education from UCSD and is currently a science teacher with La Mesa-Spring Valley Unified School District. Our son, Max, graduated from SDSU with a degree in Information Technology and worked with Solar Turbines for about six years. He is presently enrolled in pre-medicine courses at SDSU. Our youngest son, Bernard, graduated cum laude from UCLA with a degree in Ethnomusicology. He is now working on his thesis for his MA in Ethnomusicology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Sadly, though, our eldest son Abram, a Graphic Artist, passed on at the age of 27.
Upon arriving in San Diego, I tried to seek for connections to the Filipino community. In 1984, during my inspections in National City, I met a restaurant owner, Delia Ramos, also a graduate from the UP College of Home Economics. She invited me to the upcoming meeting at her restaurant of the newly formed UP Alumni Association. There I first met Dr. Juanita Caccam and Edith Galvan, also a county employee. I became active with the association because of the UP “vibes” I have been missing. I held different positions in the organization, becoming the president in 1995 to 1996. During my presidency, I introduced the scholarship awards program to recognize the members’ outstanding children and to entice the UP alumni in San Diego to join.
I became involved also with the Samahan Philippine Dance Company, as well as my children. Nichi performed as one of Samahan’s principal dancers until graduating from college in 1997. While in the Philippines for an after-college adventure, she auditioned with the Bayanihan Dance Company. Because of her Samahan dance experience, she was accepted to perform with their centennial touring group that performed overseas and in several areas in the Philippines. One summer, I brought my six-year old son, Bernard, to a rondalla rehearsal to learn how to play the bandurria with Dr. Caccam. At the end of summer, he had mastered playing several Philippine music, thus becoming a rondalla musician. His involvement with the rondalla and kulintang ensemble inspired him to pursue a career in Ethnomusicology with emphasis in Philippine music.
As a delegate of the UPAA-SD, I got involved with the Council of Philippine American Organizations (COPAO). I held positions from assistant treasurer up to vice-chairperson with Dr. Aurora Cudal as the chair. When I co-chaired the centennial celebration of the Philippine Independence day during the Philippine Faire in 1998, I proposed that COPAO sponsor the Outstanding High School Senior Awards. For the first time, five outstanding students were honored and received their awards during the Philippine Faire ceremonies commemorating the centennial of Philippine Independence. Henceforth, the recognition of outstanding students during the Philippine Faire has become a tradition.