The late bloomer is making up for lost time–in supporting the arts

FORTUNE Ledesma, Maurice Arcache and Loi Ejercito

Araceli “Nene” Leonor believes that, like education, the arts can shape the future of an aspiring talent.

Her latest project raised funds for the scholarship of  a 24-year-old violin virtuoso, Joaquin Maria Fernando “Chino” Gutierrez, who is taking master classes at the State Academy of Music and Theater in Munich.

At her recent birthday party, Leonor requested donations for Gutierrez’s continuing education. The likes of society doyennes Imelda Cojuangco, Linda Lagdameo and Mila How gave their support.

AMELIA and Luis Ablaza

Leonor’s support of the arts began during her tenure as president of the Friends of the Cultural Concerns of the Philippines (FCCP) from 2011 to 2013.

Through sheer determination, Leonor raised more funds for FCCP scholars in the visual and performing arts compared to previous years. On her last term, she managed to convince singer Lea Salonga to perform at the FCCP Christmas Ball.

Even after her term, Leonor persuaded the FCCP under president Cristina Caedo to allot P260,000 for the tuition, board and lodging of Gutierrez in Germany. She reminded the group that the funding should go directly to the arts and not be diverted to other causes.

Last priority

Getting sponsorship for the arts is more difficult now when companies and individuals would rather put their money in antipoverty programs and education. “The arts is always the last priority,” she laments.

Leonor recalls that  her cousin, pianist Ernesto Lejano, left the Philippines for lack of opportunity and migrated to Canada to establish a musical career. His diligence paid off. The Ernesto B. Lejano Scholarship in Piano Performance, provided by the University of Alberta, is a tribute to the late musician and his contributions to society.

Hoping to nurture talents in the Philippines instead of losing them to migration abroad, Leonor has been connecting the arts to patrons.

Advocacy came late in the life of Leonor. She married Domingo Leonor Jr.,  comptroller of the Development Bank of the Philippines’ sequestered properties. She enjoyed the social scene while raising her children.

At the height of the pelota craze, the racquet sport of the 1970s, the Leonors would hold games in their residence compound, and Nene would cook sumptuous meals all day. Her flair for entertaining landed her in magazines and newspapers.

In the ’80s, her brother, Jacob “Bong” Santos, conceived the mobile burger business, which allowed consumers to get hot sandwiches 24/7.

The idea was picked up by her sisters, Linda and Fe, who started Burger Machine.
Leonor, with the help of her husband, had her own Burger Express. Her home was turned into a commissary, providing the tastiest burgers with no extenders.

NENE and Jun Leonor

The business thrived for over a decade until the operation became too unwieldy for her to handle.

Meanwhile, she was also active in Mother Butler, a civic group that sewed priestly vestments, and the Zonta Club.

A turning point came when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 and went to Stanford Medical Center in California for a mastectomy. Leonor folded up her business and stayed away from the social scene.

Upon recovery, Leonor became active in community groups such as the Catholic Women’s Club, FCCP and Sayaw Foundation.

She will be an hermana mayor  in the  Cofradia de la Inmaculada Concepcion (Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception), the 35th Marian Procession, on Dec. 8, in Intramuros.

“At this phase in my life, what else is there to do, except to introduce talented artists to others who care about the arts, who might support their endeavors and who could really open doors?” she says.

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