She was his dream girl. A beautiful, smart, feisty female that can stand up to his quirky, sometimes brutal sense of humor that, like sonar, can only be deciphered and appreciated by someone at par with his level of intelligence.
This male was an aspiring student of medicine, hell bent on discovering the cure for cancer. He was enrolled as a medical student at Northwestern University, but switched gears along the way and went into a different path altogether. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Microbiology from Oklahoma University in 1962 and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Northwestern University in 1983.
Meanwhile, at the same campus at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City in the early 60’s, Venus Veronica Bacatan was the quintessential collegiate lass, active in Kappa Phi Omega Sorority, was involved in many clubs and organizations, and eventually graduated from UP with a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service in the early 60’s. Joe remembers distinctly (he was a new high school graduate of Ateneo de Manila, but was spending a brief three-month stint at UP before attending college at University of Oklahoma) and swears on his Grandmother’s soul that he saw Veronica at the U.P. campus, even describing her attire while he was busy squiring different pretty female students around the university.
Veronica moved to the United States in 1966, got married, and became the wife of the late Robert Leighton for more than twenty years, but unfortunately, the marriage did not turn out to be a love match for them. She has one son, Bobby, a wonderful young man and father who is married to Christina, and she is “Lola” to Maya, 15, and Christian, 12, her wonderful family who loves her back as deeply as she loves them. “Vero,” as everyone calls her, a young mother at that time, singlehandedly started her own publication in 1984 in Chicago, which we all know as “Via Times,” and subsequently, took over and produced the Chicago Philippine Reports TV (CPRTV) in 1990’s. She is the first and only ethnic female publisher/TV producer recognized by the mainstream media and has become a one-woman information center for Chicago when it came to Filipino community activities and resources for help. Via Times Newsmagazine, CPRTV broadcast, and www.viatimes.net have been consistently serving the Filipino communities worldwide in its very popular tri-media platform due to Veronica’s diligence, persistence, perseverance and stamina for her pursuit of truth and justice for the community that she serves. She enjoys serving as the conduit for proper visibility, credibility and promotion for her community’s recognition and achievements in the America’s mainstream arena.
Their paths would not cross again until around 1996, when one of Joe’s friends invited Joe and Veronica separately at that time, to one of the community functions in Chicago. Like the frozen timeframe of a romantic movie, for Joe, seeing Veronica at that time was like a bolt of lightning from the past, the same jolt he felt when he saw her at the U.P. campus many years ago. In his mind’s eye, she was his dream girl and he was not letting her go this time.
Not all love stories are perfect, and theirs is the perfect, imperfect love. She was divorced from Robert Leighton at the time she met Joe, while Joe was still married at that time they struck up a friendship. Call it what you will, in fact, the mess began the moment they knew they were drawn to each other. Friends, family, acquaintances, even strangers passed judgment on their relationship, but love is love, and twenty- two years later, they celebrated this messy, strange, unplanned relationship in this beautiful union attended by friends and family, those that stood by them and believed in them all these years.
The venue was the Chicago City Hall on Randolph & La Salle Streets, a full sixty days in the making after Joe was discharged from the hospital. He fought for his life in the three months that he suffered from life-threatening pneumonia coupled with a heart complication, plus other health issues, and it was at this time that Veronica realized she needed him in the way that desperate lovers needed to breathe each other’s air, lest they perish without it. They made plans to marry as soon as he felt strong enough to stand in front of the judge, and here is when we say “the rest is history”.
The bride certainly did not wear white. She stood in front of the judge with a full lace, silver-fitted long gown by famous designer Carolina Herrera-like, while Joe looked dapper in his blue suit, both of their faces flushed with happiness and excitement. With best friends Don and Flor Kramer graciously providing the Cadillac Escalade as their wedding carriage and acting as their main sponsors, I was tasked with being the unofficial “Matron of Honor” holding Veronica’s bouquet while they recited their vows, palms raised to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help them God”.
The lunch reception was an intimate affair. Veronica picked one of the most iconic restaurants in Chicago called the Italian Village which opened in 1927, its cavernous basement reminiscent of the “Speakeasy Days” of Chicago in the 1940’s when patrons dined in the smoke-filled rooms, this dimly lighted, romantic venue known for its classic Italian dishes.
Guests were longtime friends, composed of Veronica’s Philippine News days (before Via times), like former boss, Bishop Vic Esclamado of Philippine Independent Church, longtime BFF’s Rose Eloriaga, Fernando & Josefina Guerrero, Jenita Julian (now Forrest), Dalisay Villalon, Lourdes Mon, Lesty Naval, Connie Bohannen, Faye Mendiola, and Jane Palomar, as well as writers and staffers for Via Times and CPRTV which included Elsie Niebar, Jovie Calma, new Mama Lou Maningas Cabalona who came with Baby Reign, Ryan Tejero, Melody Rabor-Dizon, Pastor Nancy Abierra, Jan Paul Ferrer, former “anak” columnist Edwin Tumlos and wife Liza, Chaz and Jhun Patron with Lindy Tan, sisters Mariquit Divinagracia and Rhodora Gutierrez, son Bobby and family, wife Christy and daughter Maya, hair and make-up artist Robert Chavez, photographer Rosie Reed, and funnyman James Delacruz who brought his sound system for this event. Renowned Hall of Famers Drs. Amelita & Rupert Mayuga and Edith & Nestor Ardiente, Marilin Solomon, Nell & Lain Frias, Jenita Julian, Angie Francisco, and Mhel Toledo are important personalities that added glamour to the occasion.
Young singers Kayla Tejero and Alyssa Solomon serenaded the newlyweds with love songs, while others, Jovie Calma and Riz Villasenior, opted for the heart- wrenching songs of yore. In between, I called longtime loyal friends to share their favorite “Joe and Vero stories”. They included friends like Dely Villalon, Lourdes Mon, Lourdes Livas, Elsie Sy-Niebar, Edith Ardiente, Riz Villasenor, sister Rhodora Gutierrez, and son Bobby Leighton.
What touched everyone the most was Veronica’s tearful admission (At Last), of how, when Joe was teetering between life and death, this was the moment she knew that if and when Joe got better, they would tie the knot and become husband and wife. Of course, it helped that Flor Kramer helped this idea along by offering her help and assistance in planning this small, intimate wedding of only twenty people. By the time the nuptials happened, more than sixty of their nearest and dearest were there at the reception. This is called the “Vero formula” of the starting number times 5 minus the discount, in this case, 20 times 5 is 100, with a discount of 30% equals 70 guests.
All in all, this was indeed the happy ending we all wished for them. Yes, good things can certainly come from “not so good” beginnings. For even in the barren soil, the smallest plant can push its way up to thrive under the sun’s gracious, indiscriminate glory, as God’s love was present in their union that day.
To Joe and Veronica, we wish you nothing but love, love and more love, and all the time to enjoy each other in this new path that lays before you both, as husband and wife, “til death do you part”.
City Hall Judge that officiated the wedding posing with, L-R: Girlie Pascual (bridesmaid), Flor Kramer (ninang), Veronica, Judge, Joe, and Don Kramer.
Seated are the happy bride and groom, Veronica and Joe. Standing: Girlie Pascual, Mariquit Divinagracia & Rhodora Gutierrez (Veronica’s sisters), Flor Kramer, Don Kramer, Lourdes Livas.
Sitting: Lindy Tan, Mhel Toledo, Chaz and Jhun Patron. Standing: Chie Rivas.
Sitting, L-R: Pastor Nancy Abiera, Fernando and Jo Guerrero; standing: L-R: Melody & Dino Dizon, Veronica & Joe, Jovie,new mom Lou Cabalona holding Baby Reign Malaya.
Seated: Angie Francisco and Faye Mendiola. Standing, L-R: Vincent & Jenita Forrest, Joe Mauricio, Veronica,
Girlie Pascual and Robert Chavez.
Dr. Rupert Mayuga, longtime friend & hall of fame awardee, giving his words of wisdom.
The Leighton family, Maya, Christy, Veronica and Bobby Leighton.
Clockwise: James DelaCruz, Lourdes Livas, Marilin Solomon, Girlie (standing), Alyssa Soloon, Lain & Nell Frias, Bobby & Christy Leighton, Lisa Glore, Rose Eloriaga, Nestor & Edith Ardiente, Mariquit Divinagracia, Rhodora Gutierrez, Flor Kramer.
Bride Veronica with Jenita and Vince Forrest.
Clockwise: Kayla, Ryan & Pressian Tejero, Robert Chavez, Lesty Naval, Connie Bohannen, Jenita and Vince Forrest, Faye Mendiola, Edwin and Liza Tumlos.
Jovie singing “Ikaw” while the newlyweds dance and James DC assisting in the sound system.
Edith Ardiente, CFAA HOF Woman of the Year, giving a sweet testimonial for Joe & Veronica.
Lourdes Mon, PIWC Overall Chair 2018, and Veronica’s old BFF, giving a testimonial.
Left to right: Riz and Marilou Villasenor, Tom Padua, and Drs. Amelita and Rupert Mayuga.
From left to right: Flor Kramer, Veronica, Marilou Juachon and Ruth Juachon.
Melody Dizon of VT/CPRTV saying nice words about the bride & groom.
VT Columnist Elsie Sy Niebar, gave a testimonial and sang a song.