By Bro. Dr. Ferdinand Magno, 13 Men and a Baby
About forty six years ago as a senior HS student at St. Louis University Boys High School in Baguio City, Bro. Dr. Rafael Riego Vera Cruz, Son of Seventy Eight, decided that he wanted the opportunity to study abroad for one year as a HS exchange student via the American Field Service program.
Bro. Sonny, along with countless other students from his school turned in their applications and after a careful selection process, he was one of only two that got accepted. He packed his bags after getting his family’s approval and came to McAllen, Texas, then a small city in the Rio Grande Valley to attend another year of senior studies at McAllen High School, home of the Bulldogs and thence became part of the McHi Class of 1970.
Forward to 2015, forty five years later, Dr. Vera Cruz traveled thousands of miles to return to his roots and attend his high school’s 45th year reunion. This is not the first time that Sonny visited the Valley as he was likewise present five years ago during the 40th year celebrations. His classmates heaped a lot of praises on him for his dedication and loyalty, being from halfway around the globe.
Since 1947, The American Field Service exchange program has attracted about 400,000 students who wanted to have the same opportunity that Bro. Sonny experienced. The program matches successful applicants with host families, who adopt them for a year while they study and promote good will thru community service and speaking engagements. Kuya Sonny recalls speaking before several local chapters of the Rotatory Club as he promoted his country the Philippines in order to foster peace and understanding thru exchange of communication and education.
AFS started in the Philippines back in 1956 and in a 24 year period from 1957 until 1979, about 1000 young Filipinos came to the US and 600 young Americans went to the Philippines as exchange students. In 1980, the program stopped operations and after a 20 year hiatus, AFS Philippines morphed into its current form, the AFS Intercultural Programs Philippines Foundation, Inc.
Unbeknownst to Dr. Vera Cruz five years ago, there were two other Taunas who call the Valley home, Bro. Dr. Allan Francis Maun Mercado, Untouchables 17.5 and Bro. Dr. Ferdinand Christopher Lyndon Quebral Magno, 13 Men and a Baby. So this time around in addition to a McHi reunion, Bro. Sonny got a mini-Tauan get together as well.
After graduating from McHi in 1970, Sonny took up Pharmacy, then a five year course at the University of Santo Tomas, and upon earning his degree in 1975, Dr. Vera Cruz topped the Pharmacy boards, a glowing achievement that he is so proud of. He then went into medical school at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery.
Bro. Sonny joined Tau Mu Sigma Phi, the Thomasian Medical Students’ Fraternity, in 1978 with six other medical students and called themselves Son of Seventy Eight. After obtaining his medical degree in 1980 and one year of internship, Dr. Vera Cruz underwent further medical training in Anesthesiology. He currently practices at Chinese General Hospital in Santa Cruz, Manila and at his alma mater, the University of Santo Tomas Hospital. From 1988 to 1990, Bro. Sonny underwent two more years of subspecialty training in Obstetrics Anesthesiology and Pain Management at the LA County USC Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.
Bro. Sonny’s visit to the Valley was great timing as the weather is unseasonably cool with plenty of sunshine to spare. Bro. Peng Magno first took him to the old high school where he was able to take pictures with the school’s mascot. After the brief nostalgic trip, the two Tauans paid Bro. Allan a visit at his medical office in Edinburg, north of town. Stories about life and old times were told over dinner consisting of steaks, lobster and scallops at the famous Santa Fe.
Dr. Vera Cruz owns land in Antipolo, Rizal, east of Manila where he plans to raise livestock someday so the following morning Dr. Mercado showed Kuya Sonny his 100 acre ranch where several cattle are being raised. Bro. Allan offered some wise tips on how to raise cattle and cultivate the land to make it viable for them. The rest of the day was spent with Dr. Magno who took him shopping at the RGV stores in Mercedes and to Harlingen for a short and brief tour of the Iwo Jima Memorial.
The climax of Bro. Sonny’s visit took place Saturday night when he and around seventy of his former McHi 1970 classmates converged on Pier 19 at South Padre Island, about 74 miles east of McAllen. The event took place at Pier 19 Restaurant and Bar located on the Laguna Madre, between the Isabella Causeway and the Brownsville ship channel. Kuya Sonny was able to reunite with old friends and rekindle ties with former classmates over great food, drinks and music, which was provided by a band headed by one of their own. When asked what he remembers most about his former classmate, Victor Hernandez said, “Sonny was quiet back then.” They were all united though in their amazement that Dr. Vera Cruz took time off from his busy practice and endure a 24 hour sojourn to be with them on this special occasion. The party ended a little over midnight with promises to hook up once again five years from now.
To help nurse a hangover from the night before, Bro. Peng Magno with daughter Jackie came to the island for Sunday morning brunch with Bro. Sonny and his friend Victor at the Beachside Bar and Grill, located inside the Pearl, a well known three star hotel on the gulfside of the island. It was obvious that the two party goers were tired yet still reeks of excitement from the previous evening’s festivities. The rest of the day was spent shopping for more ‘pasalubongs’ at the local outlet stores and of course some much needed rest and relaxation.
In addition to being a loyal alumnus and a fratman, Dr. Vera Cruz is a quintessential family man. He is married to Dr. Marivic Vera Cruz, an Obstetrician-Gynecologist who practices at the famiily owned hospital in Novaliches, Quezon City. The two of them have four children, the oldest daughter, Nikki, is currently a Radiation Oncology resident at Jose Reyes Memorial Hospital, the second daughter, Katherina, recently passed the oral revalidas thereby obtaining her Medical degree from the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, the third born, a son named Rafael, is a medical school freshman at the UST-FMS and the youngest duaghter, Sophia is in sixth grade. Despite of their busy medical practices, the two are able to balance family and professional life, a must in these day and age.
All things come to an end so on the eve of Bro. Sonny’s departure from McAllen, he gave his classmates and brods a going away party at Koko’s Uptown Cafe, a place known for it’s Mexican delicacies and Margaritas. It was obvious that he is very much adored and well-loved by his former McHi classmates. While at the bar, Allan and Peng were approached by one of his batchmates who jokingly claimed ownership of Bro. Sonny just because they got to know him first. The two Tauans silently agreed and smiled. One by one, we all said our goodbyes to Dr. Sonny Vera Cruz with a promise to see each other again in 5 years.
It takes institutions such as McAllen High School and fraternities like Tau Mu Sigma Phi, the Thomasian Medical Students’ Fraternity to produce successful, loyal and dedicated members like Bro. Dr. Rafael ‘Sonny’ Vera Cruz. Despite of time and distance, Sonny makes it a point to honor his past by attending these occasions on a regular basis. By seeking out Tauans who reside nearby and getting to know them and their families firsthand, Bro. Sonny promotes our ideal of brotherhood, that unique and special bond that ties us despite of time, age and distance.
HAIL TAU MU!