A Feature Story, Fil-Am Observer, Jan 2009
Dr. Jun and Dr. Letty Colmenares—
Observer’s Outstanding Couple of the Year Standing Out
By Aurelio S. Agcaoili
Today’s issue—and this year—inaugurates another commitment of Fil-Am OBSERVER to serve the community of Filipino-Americans who have called Hawai’i a home away from the homeland.
The editorial board has unanimously selected the couple Dr. Serafin Colmenares Jr. and Dr. Leticia Colmenares as this paper’s first Outstanding Couple of the Year. This decision is based on the extraordinary professional and personal achievements of Jun and Letty—achievements that are a veritable proof of the kind of mind and character they have, competent professionals as they are, dedicated public servants as they are, committed community workers as they are, and caring parents as they are.
The proofs are self-evident: their years and years of serving the various communities of Hawai’i.
Jun, a doctorate degree holder in political science from the University of Delhi, moved from a variety of professional involvements in Hawai’i as soon as his immigration status allowed him to do so. Along that professional mobility was his drive to keep on learning and to keep on giving at the same time: as a lecturer of political science at Chaminade University, Leeward Community College, and the UH School of Continuing Education; as a utilization review analyst of a private medical service organization; as a bilingual health worker of a government health center; as a case manager of a religious organization; as a program officer for an organization engaged in health and aging issues; as an evaluation analyst with the Department of Health’s Executive Office on Aging before he was appointed by Governor Linda Lingle in 2007 as the first executive director of the Office of Language Access.
Letty, a doctorate degree holder in chemistry from the University of Hawai’i, also moved from a variety of professional commitments as a chemistry instructor in the Philippine’s Mindanao State University, as a lecturer in chemistry at Honolulu Community College, as a research associate at the University of Hawai’i, and then as an assistant professor of UH-Windward since 2004. Together with her colleagues, she has continued to publish in various internationally refereed journals, a testament to her keen scientific mind.
It was in 1974, at MSU—a state university in the Philippines known for its edge in science and technology education, research, and training—where Jun and Letty met for the first time, Letty in her senior year in chemistry, and Jun as a returning scholar who had just wrapped up his graduate studies in Delhi. Letty would soon wind up her studies, joined the faculty of MSU where Jun also stayed on as instructor, then assistant dean, and eventually acting dean. In between these professional commitments and engagements, Letty would soon continue to work on her graduate work in chemistry, first getting a master’s at the University of the Philippines, and then receiving an East-West Center grant to do her doctoral work at the University of Hawai’i.
Letty’s graduate studies in Honolulu would soon bring the whole family to the United States, with Jun and their two sons, Serafin III and David Roy joining her as her dependents.
Jun recalls that the immigration rules prohibited him from taking on a job during their first year together as a family in Hawai’i and that the family had to make do with Letty’s stipend as a grantee. The stipend could hardly see them through, but they persisted. As soon as Jun was allowed to work after a year of residence in Hawai’i, he took on odd jobs, he says, and did not mind what jobs were those. He recalls with fondness now what he went through: “I worked as an assistant manager of a store and a restaurant, sold vacuum cleaners and insurance, moved and painted stuff, did inventory and field enumeration work…”
Soon, Letty was able to wrap up her doctoral work, and as part of her post-doctoral training, she was allowed to stay in Hawai’i for two more years. Jun and Letty planned to go back to the Philippines after her post-doctoral work but the sons urged them to stay on and applied for their permanent residency. Because Letty had a contract with the East-West Center to go back to the Philippines and do her two-year home-country service, she went back to the Philippines to fulfill that contract. Jun and the children remained in Honolulu, with Jun at this time working for his second master’s degree—in public health, which he took at the University of Hawai’i.
It was not a walk in the park in the beginning for the new immigrants, with the children helping out in so many ways, working during their spare times even as they were doing their schoolwork and graduating on top, with Serafin III finishing a bachelor’s in microbiology, summa cum laude, and eventually a doctorate in cell biology, on full scholarship, from Harvard Medical School; and with David Roy finishing his bachelor’s in science and his master’s in education. The children soon went on to follow the same road to excellence less traveled by many immigrant families burdened by the wages of eking out a life in a new land—and with four successful professionals in a family, this feat of Letty and Jun and their children, is indeed, a rarity. It is not very often that we see three doctorate degree holders in a family—and this extraordinary achievement of the Colmenares family is one exemplar that is difficult to duplicate. Certainly, their collective and individual sacrifices and hard work had paid off.
While Jun and Letty continue to serve the community, Serafin III and David Roy are now on their own, exploring the world before them armed with their extraordinary skills, academic training, and experience. Serafin III is now a fellow of the National Institutes of Health while David Roy works as a mathematics teacher of a Honolulu public school.
Published at FAO, Feb 09/Hawai'i