FWCT: The Filipino Women's Club of Tidewater, Inc.

Isolated 7,000 miles from their beloved homeland and husbands who were out to sea, twenty-two Navy wives banded together to seek solace, comfort, and friendship. They called their group “Filipino Women’s Club” on April 12, 1964. They met at 2:00 p.m. every first Sunday of the month (a tradition carried on through this day). Their mission was to extend help to those Filipino families in crisis, such as illness or death. The club gained recognition when the former Philippine General Carlos P. Romulo and Mrs. Nancy Perkins, Navy YMCA Program Director, gave their blessings and thus history started. Mrs. Perkins was tapped as an advisor and remained in that capacity for nine years. Missions were led by the first president, Cavileyta Malilay, followed by Felicia Perlas (1965), Consolacion Arias (1966), and Yolanda Ilavore (1967). Conchita Diaz became the 5th president (1968-1969). Community involvement started to instill the Filipino culture. The club made cultural presentations though native folk dancing and displays of Filipino costumes and gained acclaim though media coverage, including the Mildred Alexander show on television. Volunteerism was added to the mission, such as support of the YWCA and St. Mary’s Infant Home.

As the new decade began, so did the new breed of leaders. Dr. Aleli Romero took the helm as the president from 1970 to 1971. Community, civic, and charitable endeavors gained momentum. Charities extended as far as our homeland catastrophes. With further media coverage, the Filipino Women’s Club of Tidewater (FWCT) started being recognized by local political leaders. Julie Mojica (1972) became the next president. Her personality led the club in a new direction.

Like any organization where membership depends on altruism, the club went through a roller coaster ride, but the 8th president, Ramona Labrador (1973), held the club together. She was noted to be the driving force that started the smooth sailing of FWCT. It was during this tenure that assistance to the Filipino wives expanded beyond the confines of the Naval Base. The club joined forces with the Navy Wives Club.

The “Bayanihan” spirit was renewed with vitality under the leadership of the 9th president, Araceli Marcial (1974). The Filipino Youth Club came into being. Meanwhile, Mrs. Perkins’ guidance came to an end, and she was succeeded by Janie Whitehurst, wife of Congressman Bill Whitehurst. She was both advisor and friend to the club. By this time, the FWCT had supported numerous charitable causes, such as Joy Fund, St. Mary’s Infant Home, Foster Care, Senior Citizens, Christian Children’s Fund, DePaul Clinic, and many more.

Coring Padilla served as the 10th president (1975-1977). The club accomplished major projects. The Miss Philippines Pageant, a popularity contest, became a reality. Lucy Abrigo was the first winner. The pageant would become a vital annual event for the continuous generation of funds to support the FWCT charities. The Council of United Filipino Organizations of Tidewater (CUFOT) was organized with a goal of building a Philippine Cultural Center (PCC). FWCT became one of the ten founding organizations. Participation in the International Azalea Festival and Neptune Festival also added to the list of annual community involvement. The club became incorporated in 1977.

Another milestone emerged in 1978 under the leadership of the 11th president, Lita Sison. The “Mother of the Year” recognition was initiated, an honor that would be celebrated during Mother’s Day. FWCT started celebrating the club anniversary coinciding with Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May. Josie Baltazar was the first recipient of the “Mother of the Year” award. FWCT also developed a symbiotic relationship with Fil-Am Veterans of Hampton Roads (FAVHR). Major activities, such as picnics, Christmas party, and Little Miss Philippines Pageant, were jointly planned and celebrated. As the club became older and the children of the members reached adolescence, youth participation became one of the club’s priorities. Rose Daria, the 12th president (1979-1980), started an ambitious youth auxiliary. Many cultural and ballet presentations were performed by the youth. With Mrs. Daria’s creativity, the Miss Philippines pageantry became one of a kind and an annual pet project. Cora Labial became the 13th president (1981). Support of the youth auxiliary continued with local and statewide performances.

Each administration came and went, each adding a little twist or new dimension. Each leader continued her support for the major annual projects and charities. Cohesion among members became evident as leaders accomplished the FWCT’s goals and missions to end a decade and start a new one. Ciony Gamboa became the 14th president (1981-1982). Members were recognized and praised for a job well done through a point system.

A businesswoman and an expert in taxation, Joan Mallen led FWCT from 1983-1984. As the 15th president, she became instrumental in achieving tax exemption status for FWCT. During this decade, fundraising was intensified by CUFOT through the Mrs. Philippines Pageant. The club endorsed several Mrs. Philippines candidates to raise funds for the PCC.

Economic uplift for FWCT was on the horizon as Pilar Flores became the 17th president (1985), and Sol Montilla, the 18th president (1986), later assumed administration. Additional fundraising supplemented the proceeds from the Miss Philippines Pageant. Bingo games helped FWCT generate a considerable nest-egg. The closing of the decade was devoted to more community and civic participation. Jessica Bello, the 18th president (1987-1989), continued the annual events with zest and increased participation. Members of the club and the “Manangs”, who were the bedrocks of the club, prepared and sold large quantities of lumpia and kabobs at various festivals. FWCT started partnerships with schools and colleges through cultural participation. As the eighties ended, the Miss Philippines Pageant was given a boost. Under Mila Balbin, the 19th president (1990), the largest number of pageant participants, eleven total, added fame and prestige to the event. Consequently, FWCT donated $10,000 to the PCC Building Fund. The club also was twenty-five years old and going strong. A silver jubilee was celebrated.

The nineties brought different challenges to FWCT. Foremost was the dream of the realization of the Cultural Center. Sally Iglesia, the 20th president (1990-1991), directed all fundraising efforts toward the PCC. During her administration, FWCT donated a total of $15,000 to the building fund, making the organization the biggest donor among the CUFOT members.

Cherie Estrada, the 21st president (1992), continued to follow tradition by making sure that all annual events were successful. $5,000 was donated to CUFOT. Amendments to the bylaws were implemented to keep up with change. A real estate broker, Lumen Barbero, became the 22nd president (1993). Due to her quest for the realization of the Cultural Center, she promoted frugality and added more fundraising activities. Consequently, FWCT generated $10,000 towards the PCC Building Fund. Furthermore, in an effort to gain national recognition, Josette Barbero, the 1993 Miss Philippines, participated in the Grand Parade in New York during the Independence Day celebration.

The year 1994 was significant to FWCT. The 30th Anniversary of the club was celebrated. A nurse by profession, Venus Tomaneng, became the 23rd president. Under her leadership, FWCT continued to be in the forefront accomplishing annual activities and adding new endeavors. In the club’s first annual Debutante Ball, twelve young ladies participated. The Miss Philippines Pageant generated another $10,000 to the PCC Building Fund. In addition, the Board of Directors approved a scholarship fund of $500 to a deserving high school graduate.

Continuing the club’s quest for success and prestige, the 24th president, Rosa A. Blanco, led the FWCT on its 31st year of journey. Standing as one, the zealous members propelled themselves with strength and determination to surpass boundaries and continue the trend of donating at least $10,000 to the PCC Building Fund. With an inherent flair for beginning traditions and broadening horizons, the club awarded its first $500 scholarship to Virginia Alas. The conclusion of this presidency was highlighted by the 20th Miss Philippines Pageant, a commemorative occasion marked by the return of nearly all of the majestic Filipinas formerly bestowed the honor of wearing the crown.

In 1996-1997, FWCT remained dynamic and productive under the charismatic leadership of the 25th president, Dolores Alcantara. Through her vitality and perseverance for the realization of the PCC, numerous fundraising activities of the membership and the whole community generated $20,000 donation to CUFOT. Proud of its long history and tradition, FWCT continued to be blessed with loyal and dedicated leaders and members. As 24 years before, FWCT’s primary mission and goals remained: Christian Fund, American Red Cross, St. Mary’s Infant Home, the American Cancer Society, and the Philippine Cultural Center.

As we approached the end of the century and the dawn of the millennium, FWCT, with its 26th president, Merla M. Marcelo (1998–1999), marked another milestone of success. Her energetic leadership and charisma brought wide support to the club for two years. Highly motivated effort and determination resulted in profitable fundraising and $20,000 donated to charitable organizations, with CUFOT-PCC as the biggest recipient. In1998, FWCT actively participated in the Philippine Centennial commemorating one hundred years of independence from Spain. Family Day was instituted as a special day for all FWCT members and their families to celebrate together once a year. Additionally, the formation of the Debutante Society marked the end of her presidency.

Under the leadership of Remy Madrigal, the year 2000 was another challenge for FWCT. The club had immense anticipation and remarkable involvement with the grand opening of the PCC on June 24 - 25, 2000. A donation of $2,000 was presented to PCC.

Nita Cacanindin, a registered nurse by profession and business woman by vocation, broke the record of leadership for a term of three years, 2001-2003. She exceeded her goals with a total of $79,000 donation to PCC, $2,048 to the other six FWCT charities, and $1,000 to the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCAPA). Nita left FWCT a legacy - her passion of giving, forgiving and friendship. The gift of the state-of-the-art sound and lighting system to the PCC was a combined undertaking of the FWCT and Nita Cacanindin, who personally donated $10,000 toward this effort.

Ofelia Barrera, the 29th president, had two successful terms in 2004-2005. Accepting the position with enthusiasm and no hesitancy, she kept FWCT functioning. Heeding the advice and guidance of past leaders, she accomplished her goals while being constantly mindful and appreciative of every member’s participation and support in the club’s endeavors. Gloria Rillera took over the FWCT helm from 2006 to 2010, surpassing the record number of years of presidency. Her unparalleled dedication to the club, CUFOT, and the PCC, and her fearless acceptance of daring challenges, novel ideas, and gainful ventures elevated the Filipino Women’s Club to a status that is second to none.

Araceli G. Diaz another retired Nurse came in as the 2011 President. As a former Mrs. Philippines of Virginia, her active participation and exposure to the community made it easier to come up with different ideas as far as fund raising, like Friday dancing, Atlantic City Trips, cash for gold and Miss Philippines of Virginia candidates. The proceeds of all this fundraising made the $15,000.00 donation presented during the New Years Eve Ball 2012. One of her goals is to have a project to help a deserving student in the Philippines to finish his/her schooling.

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