Who doesn’t know MRS. REMEDIOS ASENCIO VELASCO? Or better known simply as Ma’am Velasco? Almost everybody knows her, especially the deaconesses, for she has spent almost her entire life in faithful service to God through the church and by teaching at Harris Memorial College. She turned 93 years old last Nov. 19, 2011. With long years of service, it’s not easy to capture all the significant events in her life that have made her what she truly is to us today: an icon to remember. In spite of her age, it’s so amazing how she could still vividly recall details of events in her life and, with great abandon, shares to us her story.
I enrolled as a deaconess student at Harris Memorial Training School in 1936, at age 18. After three years of training, I was awarded a diploma.
I served as a deaconess in the local churches in Ilocos Sur, first in Candon, and then in Narvacan up to the Japanese Occupation during World War II.
In 1946, when the American forces arrived, I was granted a pass to visit my family in Abra. The Japanese still held the main entrance to my province, so that with a ‘boloman’ (guerilla) guide, I climbed up steep and narrow trails over the Caraballo Mountains, eating and sleeping with simple folks in remote villages, and reaching home late in the afternoon of the third day.
Heavy fighting continued between the Liberation forces and the Japanese in the narrow Bessang Pass in Ilocos sur. The wounded were brought down to the base hospital put up by the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) in Tagudin Ilocos Sur. I worked in the Dispensary as a nurses’ aide. My one-semester training at Mary Johnston Hospital College of Nursing during our sophomore year at Harris came in handy as we treated and bandaged the wounded. Our Head Nurse, an Evangelical Christian, released me from Sunday duty so that I could assist in the UCCP church as organist during the worship services.
After my stint at the Hospital, I worked as assistant dormitory matron at Dudley-Lara Christian Center in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, a dormitory for young girls, under the Women’s Work Foundation of the United Methodist Church.
When schools reopened in 1946, I was called to teach at Harris. I took afternoon classes at Far Eastern University towards a BSE degree.
In 1954, I was granted a Crusade Scholarship to Scaritt College in Nashville, Tennessee for graduate studies in Christian Education major in Religious Drama. I returned to Harris at the reopening of the school year in 1956. The following year, my fiancé, Jose B. Totaan, arrived from Chicago, and we were married at Central UMC. I was the first Filipino deaconess who continued serving as a deaconess after marriage. My husband died of cancer after 11 years of marriage. Augusto P. Velasco, my husband by second marriage, died of cancer also in 1979.
My service at Harris covered over 50 years, even after retirement up to age 80. Over the years, I have worked as teacher, registrar, school treasurer, and Officer-in-Charge before Dr. Lumba returned from the USA to assume presidency of the college.
I also served as translator of the Ilocano edition of the Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide for over 40 years.
At age 93, I underwent surgery for malignant cancer on my right breast. In spite of stressful circumstances, I consider my cancer experience a blessing in many ways; I have been a recipient of so much caring and support from family, friends, former students at Harris, sisters and brothers in the faith – I cannot mention them all. Even the seemingly insignificant deeds of kindness tug at the heartstrings! Students from the Mary Johnston College of Nursing drop in after their hours of hospital duty to visit and pray for me.And to top it all, Catherine Chua Ngoh and Tang Ju Gek, Harris graduates of Class 1972, heard of my illness and came all the way from Singapore to visit me! Such a heart-warming gesture of love! My cup overflows with joy and gratitude.
I’m back to the ordinary daily routine of home life. I use a walker even inside the house. I manage a small sari-sari store which affords me some physical and mental exercise, and the opportunity to interact with people.
I spent the best years of my life as deaconess in the Lord’s service. I pray for Harris and the graduates scattered far and wide. The ‘endless line of splendor’ goes on. As I walk towards the sunset, I pray for those who follow after us. Carry on! Who does God’s work will get God’s pay.
Mrs. Velasco has only one brother and who has two daughters whom she treats like her own children. She helped them through in their schooling and one is now a Physical Therapist who works in Canada and the other one is a Nurse in Saudi Arabia. Both are married and have their own families, but they never fail to provide and attend to what Mrs. Velasco needs, especially with her health condition now.
Two young women who are siblings live with Mrs. Velasco in her house in Abra now. She also supported them until they finished their college education. The eldest one finished a degree in Bachelor in Home Technology, while the younger one finished Bachelor in Elementary Education degree.