PLATTSBURGH — Many people have heard that a member of Cuba's ruling family once attended Mount Assumption Institute in Plattsburgh.
Internet buzz developed that it was Raul Castro, current leader of the country with which the United States just normalized relations.
Close, but, as they might say in Cuba, no cigar.
MAI, which later merged with St. John's Central to create the current Seton Catholic Central School, was home to hundreds of foreign students over the years.
One of those was apparently Ramon Castro, the older brother of Fidel and Raul.
Lynn Gilbert, director of Institutional Advancement and Enrollment Management for the Seton Schools, found a yearbook that clarifies the mystery.
The MAI Class of 1939 yearbook shows "R. Castro" as a senior. It was thought by many to be Raul.
But "class statistics," a special page in the yearbook where seniors are cited as special for various reasons, identifies Ramon, stating he was the youngest senior in the class. He would have been 14 or 15 when the yearbook information was gathered.
According to the yearbook, his pet phrase was “Down in Cuba."
ONE OF SEVEN KIDS
Research by the Press-Republican shows that Ramon Castro Ruz (in Spanish naming customs, the first family name is Castro and the second Ruz), was born Oct. 14, 1924, and is the older brother of Fidel and Raul.
His father was Angel Castro y Argiz, a wealthy landowner of a 26,000-acre plantation.
When the oldest daughter, Angela Castro, died, her obituary identified her as one of seven children that Angel had with his second wife, Lina Ruz.
Ramon was born 18 months after Angela, followed by Fidel, Raul, Juanita, Emma and Agustina.
In March 2004, the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Fla., published a story by Michael Braga about a trip he took to Cuba, where he met and interviewed Ramon.
Braga described him as having a white beard, shaved at the chin, wearing an old cowboy hat and resembling an Amish farmer.
The journalist said Ramon's home was a modest one-story house, not far from the Miramar neighborhood of Havana, surrounded by fruit trees.
On the living room wall was a picture of Fidel, Ramon and Pope John Paul II, taken during the pope's visit to Cuba in 1998.
In a country run by the socialist party, atheist by nature, religion is not a topic often talked about. But Ramon's parents were strong Catholics, and it is known that he was close to the church when he was young.
When asked by the writer about the picture, Ramon said only: "Where there was fire, there are embers."
While it isn't known why the Castro family chose to send their son to MAI for his education, it is certain he would have learned the teachings and rituals of the Catholic Church while living under watch of the Brothers of Christian Instruction.
SUPPORT FOR REVOLUTION
Called "a national treasure," Ramon is appreciated for being supportive of the country's revolution without taking lives, by providing food, fuel and ammunition, and for staying at home to take care of his aging parents during the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959), research revealed.
It is well documented that he created a pipeline of ammunition, medications, supplies and men to support the effort.
When gasoline became scarce, he worked out a process to turn 95-proof alcohol into gasoline. He mixed it with castor oil, instructed the military vehicle drivers to reduce the flow of air into carburetors and close the choke tightly. Surprisingly, it worked.
After the conflict, Fidel ordered all land to become the property of the government, including the family farm, Biran.
This move didn't set well with Ramon, but he had supported the revolution and went along with the edict.
That home has been rescued from a derelict state and is now a museum celebrating Fidel's successes.
Ramon may have left the farm but he continued his devotion to agriculture and dairy production, helping to build 40 dairy farms.
Otherwise, there's not much information readily available about his life from the time he left the family farm until now.
It is known he married and has two children, Ramon and Oneida.
"Seton Schools cannot confirm definitively that the Ramon Castro who attended MAI in 1939 is in fact the same Ramon Castro who is the brother of Fidel Castro, but there has been much speculation throughout the years," Gilbert told the Press-Republican.
Today, at 90 years old, he isn't in the public eye very often.
One can only ponder what he took from his MAI experience that contributed to the history of Cuba.