A friendship is just a snapshot away.
In 1979, while I was a Kadiak Times reporter writing a feature on Main Elementary teacher Jim Heikes, I thought it would be a good idea to photograph him with students on the playground. In one of those shots Jim was on a swing, holding a somewhat shy-looking girl on his lap.
A few days after the story was printed, I picked up my mail in the post office where a friendly Filipino lady behind the counter identified herself as Sylvia Peregrino, the mother of the girl in the picture. Her name was Joan. Fast forward to the present. Joan lives with her family in Hawaii and her parents just retired from longtime Kodiak jobs — Sylvia from her position at the post office, and her husband, Alex, from his job as foreman at Western Alaska Seafoods.
Sylvia tells me her daughter still mentions the playground picture. A photograph can have a lasting impression.
Not long ago, I snapped a picture of the Peregrinos at a birthday party. They told me Alex would soon be retiring from Western Alaska and that they would send my wife and me an invitation for the event. Regretfully, I was unable to attend. I heard it was a wonderful gathering with lively music, games for adults and children and all sorts of culinary delights.
Sylvia and her husband’s friends put the party together, but Alex did much of the cooking. (A good chef wants to be in charge of the kitchen, even when he is the honored guest.)
Even though I missed out on Alex’s fine cuisine, I was treated to his menudo, morecon, egg rolls, rice cakes and roasted pig at the Pangasinan Province Association meeting several years ago. Sylvia was instrumental in organizing the Pangasinan association, which is named after her home province in the Philippines.
Expressing pride in her heritage, Sylvia told me that the “Pangasinan people are really helpful. We were told that you have to remember to help others (because) one of these days, we may need help too.
“My mom told us that, if somebody needs to borrow rice, give it to them” without expecting anything in return.
With urging from her parents, Sylvia chose a profession that would give her many opportunities to be helpful. She attended nursing school at Baguio University.
But once she worked with real patients, she was convinced the profession wasn’t for her.
“I couldn’t stand to see people hurting,” she said. Years later, while living in Kodiak, she would be able to draw on the skills she had acquired at the university.
Before being employed at the post office, Sylvia worked at Providence Care Center in the old Kodiak Island Hospital building. She fondly recalls residents, including Emil Christopherson, Frieda Reft, John Chya, Pelegaya Malutin and a man referred to as "Papa" Bill.
Sylvia got so attached to the people that, after she left the care center, she and her husband became volunteers. They cooked for the residents, gave them rides to the bingo hall and visited them on a regular basis.
"We just loved doing that," Sylvia said. "We'd like to do that again."
Alex, who grew up in the small Philippine town of Alcala, said he wanted to be an electrician. But his life took a different path once he graduated from high school. Since his older siblings were attending college, he decided to get a job so he could help his parents pay for their education.
Alex went to work at an American air force base making ice cream in the dairy.
He was content to remain in the Philippines, but his father, who was in the army, brought him to California.
Because of his father's position with the military, the Peregrinos were classified as naturalized American citizens.
In California, Alex worked as a driver and warehouseman for a company that owned a grape orchard.
"I was sad at first," he said. "I wanted to stay in the Philippines because I had a good job at the base making good money."
But Alex came into good fortune when he met his friend's sister, Sylvia Ritualo, who had recently moved to California from Washington where she had worked for a logging firm. In California she was employed as a nurse’s aide.
The Peregrinos married and settled down in Delano.
In February 1977, Alex decided to check out the job market in Kodiak, where his aunt, the late Norma Peregrino, lived. Within a few months, he was joined by Sylvia and their daughters.
Alex began a fisheries career on the processing line at B and B Fisheries (which later became Western Alaska.)
Through his work, Alex saw other parts of the island and other productive fishing grounds in Alaska.
In 1979, he went on a salmon processing ship to Bristol Bay.
"They put me on a big Japanese processor to teach (the Japanese) how to process salmon, how to identify and handle the fish."
During several salmon seasons he traveled on the cannery tender to Homer and Kodiak Island bays as a cash buyer.
In 1988, Alex was promoted to foreman, a position he held until his retirement late last year. The best evaluation for his job performance as a fellow worker and supervisor came on the last day of work, when his colleagues threw a surprise party for him.
That party was a sign to Sylvia that her husband had been doing a good job,
Alex said he tried to show respect to the men and women who worked under him. "I taught them how to handle the fish. I showed them the right way of doing it." And he did so in a gentle, respectful manner.
Alex said he misses his job, especially being with the people. "People will say, 'Come back, we miss you.'"
Sylvia hears similar comments from people on both sides of the counter at the post office. When asked why she didn't have a retirement party, she said that she and her husband are very busy right now, preparing for a trip to Hawaii and the Philippines. The retirement party can be blended with a farewell party, should the day ever come when the Peregrinos leave the island for good.
Mike Rostad is a freelance writer and longtime Kodiakan who writes a weekly column examining the in-depth stories of Kodiak residents. You can read more about other Kodiak islanders in Rostad’s book, “Close to My Heart-Writing and Living Stories on Kodiak Island, Alaska.”