She arrived at Micronesian Seminar in 1977 while in her mid-thirties—a country girl from Mindanao who had spent the last several years as a classroom teacher. Elsa had never traveled abroad before. She was demure, even shy—a “church-mouse” is what some of us called her. By the end of her 30 years at MicSem, however, no one would have described her as that any longer.
At first she would sit in the office at Xavier High School perched at her manual typewriter all day long preparing the boss’s manuscripts for publication. By the late 1980s she had graduated to a large framed and small-screened computer, but she was still typing most of the day. Not that she was only a secretary. She had helped invent a catalogue system for the rapidly growing MicSem library, and she was taking care of the finances by that time.
After MicSem’s move to Pohnpei in 1992, she managed the transition into our temporary quarters and then into the newly constructed MicSem building. There she took on an ever larger role in MicSem. Besides overseeing the growing office staff, she welcomed visitors, cooked at the frequent MicSem parties, purchased office supplies, and seemed to become a friend of everyone she met. The woman was anything but the church-mouse she had been when she started working with us.
Elsa blossomed during the 30 years she worked at MicSem. Even as her role in MicSem expanded and diversified, her circle of friends grew to include just about everyone who met her. She directed the choir at our weekend mass for the international community. She was a godmother for just about everyone, we would all tell her. Instead of calling her simply ninang, the Tagalog word that could be used of a host of other godparents, one of her friends reversed the syllables and bestowed on her the special name of Nangni. Her Filipino buddies called her this ever afterward. But why not? She was special. Some of the Filipino friends she made during her 15 years in Chuuk were hoping to gather for the celebration of her 80th birthday two years ago, but the pandemic put a quick end to that. So we planned to hold the reunion this coming June. But Nangni left us before we had time to bid her goodbye. With heavy hearts we bear her loss with a prayer of thanks for all she has meant to so many of us over the years.