Sons Ely

Heart of the City: Family first on 100th birthday

Four generations of the Abecia family came together on Friday to celebrate the 100th birthday of Prince Rupert's Leonila Abecia.

Four generations of the Abecia family came together on Friday to celebrate the 100th birthday of Prince Rupert’s Leonila Abecia.

Leonila, known as Lola, experienced a busy life as a dedicated mother, grandmother, teacher and volunteer.

“She was a hardworking woman and I never heard her complain,” said Emmanuel Abecia, one of Lola’s four sons.

“She’s a wonderful, loving mother,” he said, with his younger brother Ely Abecia adding, “When we were growing up, she was the mother that gave you everything you needed and was loving and caring.”

Lola has lived in Prince Rupert since 1977, when she and her husband Maximo Abecia immigrated to Canada to live with one of their sons.

Lola was born on March 14, 1914 in Camiling, Tarlac in the Philippines to parents Rufina and Peralta Garcia.

Twenty-three years later, Lola was a National University boarding student in Manila, located in the northern Filipino island of Luzon. There she met her future husband Maximo, who was a working student.

“When they were in school, the love affair started, and when they finished they decided to get married in a little chapel,” said Ely, adding the children never heard their parents argue in their lives.

Before moving from Manila, Lola gave birth to her first daughter Julita. Prior to the Japanese invasion in 1941, the new family relocated to Maximo’s birthplace of Camiguin Island in Mindanao to get away from a rebel insurgency in the area.

Maximo became a teacher and the couple gave birth to daughters  Luzminda, Rowena and sons Romeo and Emmanuel.

At the end of World War II, the Abecias moved back to Luzon where Lola began her teaching career.

“In the morning, the children were in school. In the night, the parents were. She taught both the kids and the parents how to read and write,” said Ely, who was born shortly after.

When rebel trouble started once again, the Abecias moved back to Mindanao where Maleo, the youngest child was born. Shortly after arriving, Maximo landed a teaching job, eventually becoming head teacher of a new government school. Lola also worked at the school as the home economics teacher.

After acquiring a piece of land in South Buldon in the province of Maguidanao, the Abecia family were left with little free time between school and their chores.

“Before 6 a.m. you could not find dad at home, he was already [working on] the farm … and mom was preparing breakfast,” said Ely, adding the family would then all head to school.

“During Monday to Friday, every one of us were working on a different assignment on the farm.”

But it wasn’t all hard work for the Abecias on the farm. Emmanuel said the farm reminds him of his fondest memories of his mother, including weekend picnic trips the family made to the river.

“Us boys went fishing there and our sisters and mom washed the clothes in the river,” he said, adding the boys would have fishing and swimming competitions while the girls helped their mother prepare food for the family.

Ely cherishes the memories of the nights Lola would sing under the moonlight while Maximo accompanied her with the ukulele, something the couple enjoyed doing together.

The family remained in South Buldon until the children grew up and went to various universities, and began to start their own families.

In 1973, Emmanuel became the first member of the family to arrive in Prince Rupert, emigrating to be with wife Angelita who was a nurse at the hospital. Then in 1977 Lola and Maximo came to live with Emmanuel’s family, with Ely arriving later that year followed by Romeo in the 90s.

Despite being retired when they arrived, Lola and Maximo decided to help Emmanuel with his business. The couple’s assistance extended beyond that, helping to take care of Emmanuel and Angelita’s children.

“The kids grew up in their presence. They say they’re lucky because they had two [sets of] parents,” said Emmanuel. “They’re really thankful for that.”

Outside of her family life, Lola kept busy with roles including president of the Filipino-Canadian Seniors Club which was formed by Maximo and other Filipino elders in the early 1980s. She also volunteered within the community as Brownie and Girl Scout Master over the years.

Whenever they had the chance Lola and Maximo would fish on the Skeena River together, Polymar being their favourite spot.

“She would fish until she couldn’t handle it anymore,” said Emmanuel, with Ely adding many times her grandchildren would have to take over for her when there was a fish on her line.

“She was the queen of trout. They would go fishing and she would always catch trout,” said Romeo.

Life changed drastically for Lola in October 2000 when Maximo passed away. Shortly after Maximo’s passing Lola decided to move from Emmanuel’s home, as his children had all grown up, into Ely’s to be around his kids. Lola remained there until she broke her hip, becoming a resident of Acropolis Manner in 2009.

On March 14, Lola’s family, friends and fellow residents attended a birthday bash for her at Acropolis Manner, which included birthday cake and socializing.

All Lola’s children who live in Prince Rupert attended the birthday celebration last Friday, as well as some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Rowena passed away of cancer during a visit to Prince Rupert in 2001, and Julita, Luzminda and Maleo are still in the Philippines.