By: Elsie Sy-Niebar
*Indeed, Jesus Loves me. He gifted me my 80th BIRTHDAY last August 24th,, the exact date He brought me into this Lovely World!
*My heartfelt thanks to CPRTV Anchorperson Girlie Pascual and Jovie Calma (no longer associated with VT/CPRTV) for their super-fabulous performance as the Emcees at my Birthday Bash!
*Our bright and bushy tail retired School Teacher Jo Wee Sit sends ‘Hello’ to Everyone saying ‘I am alive, at buhay na buhay’
In the interest of space, I asked my Boss, Ms. Veronique Leighton to allow me to “Love Myself” this time by using some space in this Notebook issue for my Life Story story following My “Gatsby”inspired 80th Birthday bash last August 24th! Please bear with me. Here’s Brother Don Azarias’ introduction at the celebration held at the Four Points, Sheraton Hotel.
“Ladies and gentlemen: Over the years, I have presided over the introduction of various people on special events where their educational attainments and accomplishments are being touted. In all honesty, I find tonight honoree’s curriculum vitae one of the most impressive. I feel honored to be tasked of introducing the woman of the hour – a woman they call Elsie Sy-Niebar. Elsie, through her hard work and determination had espoused various advocacies which benefited those whom she calls our “less fortunate brothers and sisters in Christ.” She is one compassionate and self-abnegating person in her own way.
Since immigrating to the U.S. from the Philippines over years ago, Elsie Sy can recall the times when she endured racial discrimination, biases, and the overall attitude that she did not belong here. Elsie can remember being asked in grocery stores if she could speak English. She has also experienced harassment from bosses who thought they could intimidate her.
“We cannot remain quiet,” she says, referring to the racial stereotyping of Asians as “the quiet immigrants.” “Our experiences as immigrants and citizens of this country are important to talk about in the open.”
In her years working with city government, she helped to bring forward the cases of many immigrants. She understood how so many people and the issues that they face are so frequently forgotten because their stories are not heard, and they have no advocates speaking out for them. From young, immigrant children who struggle in public schools to young women (especially “air mail brides”) who met their American husbands through “pen pal” and internet dating) who find themselves alone after immigrating to the United States. She knows the situations of many to be so difficult and, yet, she is always amazed at the resilience and the courage of immigrants in America.
As a city employee, issues affecting the Asians are usually referred by the city of Chicago to her, usually serving as a resource speaker at conventions, and as motivational speaker in high school classrooms. For several years, Elsie was “Principal for a Day,” an annual program of the Chicago Board of Education.
“I worked so hard after I arrived in the U.S.,” she shares. “I knew that I wanted to succeed here, and to truly make America my home.” She can recall dreaming about coming to the U.S. even as a young child. She knows that this is the case for so many immigrants who come to the U.S. Elsie knows that there is great sacrifice, but also tremendous hope for all who choose to be immigrants and citizens in a new country.
Soon after coming to the U.S. in 1976, Elsie married Dennis John Niebar, a Caucasian. Together, they faced many challenges as an interracial couple in America, like “educating America by speaking to the American media that Filipino brides are mostly educated and hardworking professionals,” she pointed out. Elsie and her husband’s “Love Story” was featured several times in mainstream newspapers and a TV reality show – “to educate America that Filipino women are not ‘dumb airmail brides’ as stereotyped by the American press,” Elsie added.
Because of their real life experiences, Elsie co-founded Filipino International Couples’ Society, a network of social support for interracial marriages. When she was sworn in as an American citizen, she told her (White American) husband, Dennis: “I will retain my Asian identity by hyphenating your last name as in “Sy-Niebar.” When friends asked Dennis “How come your wife has a different last name than you as her husband?” His quick response with a big grin was: “That’s just one of my wife’s notorieties.” (Dennis passed away in 2002 after visiting the Silliman University campus, Elsie’s Alma Mater where she took up Journalism, the first Christian (Protestant) University founded by the first American missionaries who came to the Philippines in 1900.) Elsie knows that she will always be a hyphenated American. “I accept that,” she says. All she hopes for is that “America will continue to be a place where all can be accepted for who they are. However, we must stand up and speak up in order to be heard,” she underscored.)
Unknown to many, Elsie is a “faithful servant to the Lord”. For many years today, is an Ordained Ruling Elder of Faith Community Presbyterian Church, and chaired several church committees for Mission work. There were times when she was asked to preach at the service (mass), of non-Filipino congregations.
Elsie’s landmark contributions in Education, among others: She was the first Asian-American appointed by the late Mayor Harold Washington as a member of the City of Chicago Department of Education School Board in 1980; first Asian appointed as commissioner of the School Board; for several years, she was “Principal for a Day”, Chicago Public Schools; as Assistant to the Commissioner, Dept. of Human Services & City Liaison to the Asian American communities, she created the Asian American Seniors’ Day celebrated during Asian American Heritage Month (May); and the annual Asian American Youth annual three-day summer retreat; a recipient of more than 50 awards from several branches of government, professional, and charitable organizations, for “Outstanding Public Service”, etc. Elsie retired after working for over 20 years with the city of Chicago (last position as Assistant to the Commissioner). As a retiree, Elsie continues her advocacy and community service. Since 1986, she is the senior editor/columnist in Chicago’s Via Times. Elsie, a grateful immigrant in America, always feels that she is duty-bound to give back, help out and contribute to the community even in small ways. Being involved in the community is something she learned at home in her barrio, where it is part of the culture to “share the last morsel from our plate.”
She always surprises everyone when she tells them, “I am 80 years young.” When asked how she keeps herself young, her quick response is: “I keep myself busy in a positive way, help others if I can, a way to serve God by serving His Children. Topmost, speak up. Be honest and humble. If you are wrong, apologize. Healthwise, I am not really healthy. I leave that to Him. Doctors only treat. God heals. When in pain, cry your heart out silently without wiping your tears. Instead, let it drop freely from your eyes until it stops. You see God clearer when your eyes are in tears.” (Don Azarias, political commentator and former radio host in the Philippines.)
Thank you, Brother Don. Specially for looking up to me like your Older Sister. ***
The long months and weeks I spent preparing for 80th Birthday Bash last August 24, with the help of my sister VILMA MOLINA, was blessed when I received accolades from the guests telling me it was a very happy and successful party! In the words of Ms. Dalisay Villalon: “your birthday party was super-successful! It was fun. The food and the program were great!”
Firstly, the success largely depended upon the professionalism of our two beautiful Mistress of Ceremonies – CPRTV Host and VIA TIMES columnist Ms. MARIA GIRLIE PASCUAL and former CPRTV Host & VT columnist, JOVY CALMA. They were both Darlings! Specially Girlie’s candidness and spontaneity in handling her on-thespot interviews and ad libs. In spite of my fatigue and forgetfulness, she was able to inspire me to be myself. Thank you, Girlie and Jovie! Thank you to our fabulous DJ Ed Cabanayan. You Three Entertainers are ALL GREAT! You made my Guests shaking gracefully all night! You are all so professionals! I love you!
Like Girlie, Jovy and Ed, the success of my birthday party was through the selfless help from some of my “adopted daughters and sons” in our community, to name a few: Nestor and Elsa Castillo, for Gifting me the DJ service by Ed Cabanayan; Evelyn Tolledo for the Sweet Table, Carmen Estacio, artistic adviser, Lourdes Livas for her donation to the souvenir program, Mar Lapena for my “Gatsby gown”; Flor Castil for the stage décor; Maria and Joe Sciakitano for donating the delicious birthday cake; and the Ushers – Joy Ho, Gemma Cruz, Laila Villegas, Cora Hernandez, my cousin Rhodora Cava, and Edwin Pineda, and some I have missed out.
A THREE-GUN SALUTE to the Performers who made the evening more enjoyable: Super Dance Exhibitions by Rizza Antonov and Greg Rykowski, professional dance instructor; Charleston Zazz dance by Elsa Castillo, Neneth Miranda and Pressy Jaravata; Cha Cha dance by Nestor and Elsa Castillo; Dahil sa ‘yo “Zumba” dance by Froilan Cabrera, Lindy Tan and Chaz Patron, wearing made-to-order Tees with “Happy Birthday Tita Elsie” inscription, how sweet; vocal rendition by professional entertainers Amy Mayuga; Chaz Patron and Edizon Dayao who will be performing this coming Sept 29, don’t miss ‘em!
AND, of course, our FILAM COMMUNITY is honored with the presence of government officials like the Hon. IL Secretary Jesse White; the Hon. Justices Aurelia Pucinski and Mike Hyman; the Hon. Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas; and the Hon. Karen Yarbrough, Recorder of Deeds.
For the Most High in Heaven, my church Pastor, the Rev. John Chu, gave the invocation and prayer before dinner by George Villegas, one of our Ruling Elders. Everyone was happy! Thank you, my dear friends and families from Brisbane, Australia who came all the way to celebrate with us my 80th Birthday. Praise Him. Thank you Lord…
Jo Abaya Wee Sit, one of our outstanding community leaders and indefatigable chairperson of the annual Essay Writing Contest for the Youth, under the Philippine Independence Week Committee, last Sept. 9, sent the following “heart throbbing email” to everyone who knows her. She wrote: “
JO ABAYA – WEE SIT is MUCH ALIVE: BUHAY-NA- BUHAY!!! Kindly DISREGARD any FALSE NEWS GOING AROUND or ANY EMAIL BEING MISREAD/ MISINTERPRETED. HERE I AM , JO WEE SIT HERSELF SENDING THIS EMAIL. STILL KICKING !!! MAGSAYA TAYO.’
“Jo Wee Sit or BABY (her Philippine nickname )”
Mama Mia, I was a part of that “false news.” Early that morning, my good friend Thelma Bascos, in her sympathetic voice called to tell me that “Jo Wee Sit passed away, according to Clyde (Ramos).” Of course I was so shocked I said: “Oh, my God. She was at my birthday party and I am now preparing to send her a ‘Thank You Card.’
I could not believe it and I felt so sad losing a leader among us. First (and last) person I called is Veronica Leighton, knowing that she and Jo are good friends co-alumni at the University of the Philippines. Few hours later, Veronica called me back telling me, “Jo Wee Sit is not dead. She is very much alive!”
I was so relieved. So I called Thelma to share with her the good news. Later she told me that Clyde told her he knew about that “false news” from an email. It was then I called Jo Wee Sit to apologize and to tell her WE innocently shared that “false news because we love you. We feel so bad. Now we’re happy it was false. Am happy Jo understood what was in our hearts. I told her: “JO, God will gift you a longer life. Your work on earth is not done yet. Like the PIWC Youth Essay Writing Contest. You are needed. Thanks, for being understanding.”
The Celebrant getting ready to cut her 80th Birthday cake
Pastor Pascual Tayco singing a hymn for the birthday celebrant (Elsie) which she later joined (photo by Rosie Reed)
Celebrant’s Families who flew in from Brisbane, Australia to attend her grand birthday celebration: Chicagoans John Paul and his Mom, Vilma Molina; Eva Maunders, Australia; Elsie Sy-Niebar, the celebrant; Remy Cruickshank, Janine Dalton; Paul Cruckshank and Joshua Dalon, all from Australia. (Rosie Reed photo)
Birthday girl Manang Elsie with loving sisters Vilma Molina and Eva Maunders.
THE YOUNG ONCE and FOREVER going strong in spirit and brain, from left are: Notebook columnist Elsie Sy-Niebar, Dr. Remy Escalona, and Josie Wee Sit, an educator, who by mistake, was the subject of a “false report”. Read this column. (Photo by Dr. Manny Escalona)
Notebook columnist Elsie Sy-Niebar with haute couturier Mar Lapena leading her entrance to join her “Ladies of Honor” (Clyde Cavada photo)
Congratulations to Maritess Verin Wynkoop, MegaScene PRISM 2018 Awardee for Women of Style and Achievement. You very well deserved the honor. Thank you for inviting me. (Tita Elsie)