MOOERS — In 1975, Art and Norma Menard married three times.
Their love story is one riddled with tempestuous weather in her homeland, the Philippines Islands.
Art, a Mooers native, was the youngest of 13 children of Bernard and Adele Menard. He grew up in the house his father built and where he and Norma live today. He graduated from Mooers Central School in 1966 and majored in math education, grades seven through 12, at Manhattan College.
While there, he accompanied his roommate, Bob Murphy, to visit a Peace Corps recruiter.
“I had zero interest,” said Art, a retired educator. “After we listened to the recruiter, my roommate had zero interest, and I walked home with the application and sent it in the same night.”
He had his choice of three countries, and the Philippines Islands were seeking math teachers. He graduated from college in May 1970 and spent two weeks “staging,” a weeding-out process, in San Jose, Calif.
He flew to Honolulu and Guam before arriving in Manila, the capital of the Philippines and the second largest city.
Other than reading a couple of books on the archipelago comprised of 7,107 islands, Art only knew it was a tropical country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean.
After three months of training in Iloilo City, part of Norma’s home province, Art was assigned to Central Luzon State University.
“It was located in Muñoz, in the province of Nueva Ecija,” Art said. “I was actually trained to speak two Philippine languages, Ilocano and Tagalog.”
After a two-year stint, he returned to Mooers for a month’s home leave in October 1972. Upon his return to his assignment, he severely sprained his ankle in a pickup basketball game on Dec. 7 at Central Luzon State University.
He waited weeks to seek medical attention and scheduled a surgery in May 1973 after his classes were done.
“What happened, it didn’t heal well,” Art said. “I extended for three months. It was during those three months I was asked to go back to Iloilo to speak to the new recruits at the training site. Norma just happened to be one of the instructors.”
It was wow at first sight.
From Dueñas, Iloilo, Norma was the fourth of five children of Domenise and Loretta Vallejo. She was a recent graduate of Central Philippine University, where she majored in social work. Her next step was to take the board exams for social workers but she could not afford to go to Manila. So, she looked for a job in Iloilo City.
As a senior, she interned at a community center and met a Peace Corps volunteer that told her about the training program for language instructors. Norma’s languages were Ilongo and Kinaray-a.
“People talk about love at first sight, maybe for Art,” Norma said. “For me, I’m practical. I enjoyed the friendship very much.”
“I was there only for four days,” Art said. “I guess I got enough interest. She mentioned she was going to Manila to visit a friend.”
Art stopped at the Peace Corps office in Manila to locate the friend’s address and made a surprise visit on Tuesday. Norma and her friend, Tessie, another language instructor, were gone hours while Tessie’s mother fed and entertained the lanky American through several brown-outs.
“When Norma came back, it was too late to have any kind of discussion,” Art said. “I had to get back for my class.”
He made plans to return Thursday. Through a Dane, a United Nations worker at the college, Art arranged for Norma and Tessie’s two sisters to tour Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines in northern Luzon.
The tour of the mountain resort went well. Over the next two weeks, Art spent Tuesdays and weekends visiting Norma and her Manila friends.
“During that time, she found out she was going to get a new Peace Corps teaching assignment in that Baguio City,” he said. “This was already September. Sept. 30, I was suppose to terminate and go back home because my three extra months were up.”
Art went to his supervisor and requested an extension.
“He said it was fine with him. I had to clear it with the country Peace Corps director. He said he would give me six months, and then he never wanted to see me again after that.”
Norma began her Baguio assignment Oct. 1. On weekends, Art traveled nearly four hours by public transportation to visit her.
“Saturday night, a typhoon hit while we were there,” he said. “The main roads were washed out. Sunday, I was not able to return to university.”
Traveling an alternate route, he arrived back at the university on Monday.
“The typhoon had a direct hit on the university. All classes were canceled, so I didn’t miss anything.”
The next weekend, he returned to Baguio.
“Saturday night, another typhoon hit. It was the same scenario, the roads were washed out. I had to wait until Monday.”
Ditto, alternate route, university closure.
For the next three months, he traveled to Baguio. On Christmas, he and Norma went to Manila and attended an open-air midnight mass at the University of Santo Tomas and stayed with Tessie.
“The tradition is 1:30 in the morning, you go from house to house in the neighborhood on Christmas night and you eat,” Art said.
January’s end signaled Norma’s return to Iloilo. Art’s extension terminated in March 1974.
“I sort of meekly proposed,” he said. “She said she wasn’t ready at the time. She wanted to help her younger sister get through college, which she did. So, I went home and was a substitute teacher at Northeastern Clinton and worked part-time construction with my father.”
“We wrote letters all the time for one year when he came back to the U.S.,” Norma said.
They chose to wait two years to marry. Art didn’t last. In February 1975, he wrote a very strong proposal in a letter. Weeks went by without a response from Norma.
“My niece and her first cousin were high school students,” Art said. “They decided to write. They said, ‘Uncle Art is no fun anymore. You have to answer him.’ Lo and behold, she answered. She said if you show up I will marry you. So apparently my letters had been waylaid by weather. She didn’t get them until the same time my niece wrote.”
By that time, Art had a temporary reading job at Northeastern Clinton but there were two part-time openings for a driver-education instructor and a math instructor. Art received his certification in driver education in June after completing a two-week course at Ithaca College.
He flew to the Philippines on July 1, 1975.
WEDDINGS ONE AND TWO
The Rev. Thomas Gabio united them in holy matrimony on Anhawan Beach at 7 a.m. July 27. A reception followed.
A new bishop required them to get married in the Oton, Iloilo, parish church, also. In the afternoon, Art and Norma were married by Father Leyon, a former New York City resident and a huge Yankees fan.
“The first hour, they talked about the Yankees,” Norma said.
She waited patiently and listened about the exploits in the cathedral of baseball but she eventually got her groom and the priest to focus on the matter at hand: the wedding ceremony.
The newlyweds were in Mooers by Aug. 26, 1975. Since none of the groom’s family could attend the wedding abroad, they married for the third time Oct. 11, 1975.
In the Philippines, Art was best man at his Peace Corps buddy Jerry Hilliard’s wedding to Marie, a Filipina, in January 1972. Jerry was his best man in Mooers. Art’s letter-writing niece, Karen, was Norma’s maid of honor.
Norma and Art were married by his brother, the Rev. Gilbert Menard. But the parish priest was in attendance as well as Art’s brother, the Rev. Roland Menard, and sister, Sister Elizabeth Menard, a Dominican nun. A third brother, the Rev. Clarence Menard. didn’t make it.
When Art met Norma, she didn’t think much about it.
“I was young,” she said. “I was only 22. This was my first full-time paid job and everything was new. There was also big excitement with lots of new people. I remember I could tell he was interested. I remember that he danced with me. Somebody was teasing me, ‘I think that man is interested in you.’”
Norma and Art have three children, Leila (Joe) McVeigh, the Rev. Bernie Menard and Robert (Elise) Menard, and two grandchildren.
Art retired in June 2008 after 32 years at Northeastern Clinton. Norma is the executive director at Literacy Volunteers of Clinton County.
“It’s funny really how fate happens to work itself out,” she said. “It’s been a good marriage for us. We both value family, faith, education and community. We share a lot in common.”
If it wasn’t for his sprained ankle, and Norma missing a boat years before, they would never have met.
“Her aunt had asked her to go to college in Mindanao,” Art said. “The reason she missed the boat, her aunt and friend were supposed to go with her and got delayed in traffic. They had the tickets and the baggage.”
Norma was without either on the boat, so ran off before it departed.
“Norma’s father convinced her to take a competitive exam for a college scholarship,” Art said. “As it turned out, she got the scholarship and free tuition and board for four years. Otherwise, she would have been on a different island.”
Email Robin Caudell:firstname.lastname@example.org