How do you rock while still holding on to good old family values?
Bienvenido “Rico” Tantoco Jr. and wife Nena (née Vargas) showed how as they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last Aug. 15.
The golden couple entered the lounge at Manila Polo Club as guests clapped their hands to the beat. Then they hugged some of their well-wishers as they took their seats before the stage that was decked according to the event theme, “Love Rocks at 50.”
Leading the well-wishers were the 94-year-old Tantoco patriarch, Ambassador Bienvenido, Tantoco Sr., whom Nena embraced tightly; the Tantoco siblings Nedy (chair of Rustan’s and SSI), Marilou, Menchu and their youngest Maritess. (The other sister, Marilen, was down with flu at home.)
Also there was the Vargas clan of Nena, including Cedie Lopez Vargas and Cedie’s parents, the patriarch Oscar Lopez of the Lopez clan and his wife Connie, and Nena’s cousins Vicvic Villavicencio and Mari Vargas.
As Rico and Nena’s children spoke, or in the case of their youngest Bea, sang, the few kin and friends who had gathered would tear up as they watched and listened to the depiction of a 50-year journey.
The journey has been marked by victories and fortune, trials and tragedies, as any marriage has been, but what made this occasion noteworthy was that it showed how, even amid their life of privilege, the family has not lost the gift of discernment and recognition of what truly matters in life.
This was evident in the remarks of Donnie Tantoco, the eldest of Rico and Nena.
Donnie, now the president of Rustan’s, mined the past five decades of their family life for lessons, for what each decade represented in their family’s life.
Listening to him, we realized how this celebration wasn’t typical of anniversary parties, in that it wasn’t so much about fun, but about philosophy, family ethic and spirituality. It wasn’t really a party, but a night of sharing.
That shouldn’t have surprised us, come to think of it, because Nena is very spiritual. Hers must be the only home I have seen where the garden is dotted with blackboards on which spiritual sayings to guide one’s daily life are scrawled in chalk.
She’s spent the past few years supporting and promoting the crafts of some religious groups, from a wood cross you can grasp to relieve yourself of stress, to rosaries.
Apart from religious items, she’s been giving away printed copies of prayers and inspirational sayings, as the notes on these cards say, “nourishing the heart and soul.” She calls these products “Inspirations of Hearts and Home.”
As the woman who grew Rustan’s Flower Shop into a game changer in the field of floral arrangements, she’s been known for her artistry and creativity and taste. Her attention to detail is now evident in her spiritual endeavors.
Rico, the head of the Tantoco clan’s property development firm Sta. Elena, is an arborist who, not known to many, has been involved in growing trees in the metropolis, including the reforestation efforts for La Mesa Dam. He’s spent the past decade developing Sta. Elena into a nature sanctuary.
With parents like them, the children understandably prepared a golden wedding celebration that would be rooted in philosophical insights—but with a rock ‘n’ roll or even disco vibe.
Disco sounds were played that night; table markers were cards bearing the names of the music bands of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, from the Beatles, the Bee Gees to Depeche Mode.
The children initially wanted the celebration to be a surprise for their parents until they realized how impossible that would be. For instance, they needed their mother to fit her wedding gown. Also, they had to prepare for the silent renewal of vows before the priest and attended only by family. The renewal of vows was done in private, before the reception.
These excerpts from Donnie’s remarks show what the past five decades represented to the family:
“Mom and Dad… For the past 50 years, you have weathered the storms of life together. Not many people are blessed with such a happy, fruitful and lifelong partnership. I believe that this is not a matter of pure luck, but an outcome of your love, commitment and, most especially, the enduring values you uphold.
“Being your eldest child, I was able to witness how these values shaped who you are today and, consequently, also who we are as your children.
“Let me attempt to paint a picture of how you have journeyed as a couple these past 50 years using the most important values that I saw you live by for each decade.
“For me the first 10 years of your marriage was about INTIMACY.
“You often talk about how your time in Troy, New York, was one of the simplest and most enjoyable parts of your marriage. Away from the dynamics of life in the Philippines, you were able to focus EXCLUSIVELY on each other and build the foundation of a very close relationship.
“Troy was an idyllic place; your house was in a pristine environment close to a lake that even had beavers. You did not waste any time bearing children one after another after another. Within the first 10 years, you had four sons and finally a daughter.
“We were a large family, but you managed to keep our family ties very, very intimate.
“The intimacy which you created when we were a young family is the reason we are still so emotionally connected with each other as adults up to this day.
“This was also the time you instilled in us the value of spiritual intimacy.
“Up to this day, I still remember the prayers we used to recite every night as a family.
“The second decade of your marriage was about SERVICE. This was the period when your individual careers started to pick up. Dad, you were given greater and greater responsibilities not only in our family business but also in government.
“Metro Manila was in danger of running out of water so they placed you in charge of reforestation. Dad, I don’t think many people know that you saved La Mesa Dam. We have water today because of you.
“You planted trees all over Luzon. I recall accompanying you to areas in Bataan infested with NPAs and communist rebels.
“Unlike other government officials who send soldiers to kick them out, you would make friends with the NPAs. You took a peaceful approach of explaining what you were doing…
“They ended up liking you so much they would hold parties in your honor deep inside their jungle hideouts.
“Meanwhile, Mom, your career also started to peak this period when you managed Rustan’s Flower Shop. You were the most sought-after person to decorate in the most beautiful, magnificent and meaningful way, five-star hotels, weddings and even key avenues like Ayala during Christmas.
“Mom and Dad, you are both very hard workers, and we watched you build viable businesses. But beyond making money, you were putting people above profit.
“Your main motivation was to improve the lives of the people who worked for you. You cared as much about a social profit as you did a financial profit. This stayed with me all of my life.
“Even your free time was used for service. I remember you taking into our home anyone who was in emotional, financial or some other kind of distress.
“The main value of the third decade of your marriage was PERSEVERANCE.
“Mom and Dad, you went through many trials from 1985 to 1995. This was one of the lowest periods of your life, not just personally and but also professionally.
“The external shock affected our whole Tantoco clan, but I think it affected especially you, Dad. Our family was the only one that kept getting uprooted, forced to constantly move from country to country to find a new home.
“Mom and Dad, needless to say, all these troubles strained your marriage. Many times, we thought that you were already at your breaking point and we braced ourselves for the worst. In the end, however, your commitment to each other was stronger than anything else. Mom, I saw you become even more spiritual. Dad, you became more daring, and you carried out your vision to build something completely new, which is now Sta. Elena Golf Course.
“Mom and Dad, throughout this trying period, you tried very hard to insulate us… Every time we moved to a new house, you would fix our rooms ahead of your own.
“This third decade was also when we lost some loved ones. Mom, you lost your father, and Dad, his mother. I remember the day in New York when I was alone with you, Dad, after you found out that Lola Glecy was terminally ill. I am used to you being the one to comfort me. It was the first and only time I held you to give you some measure of comfort.
“Mom and Dad, this was also the decade that you became grandparents. THANKS TO ME–HAHA! Even if it was kind of early, the joy of having grandchildren, I believed, helped ease the pain of these difficult times.
“The fourth decade of your marriage was about having BALANCE and being AUTHENTIC. Mom and Dad, I saw a marked change in you starting in 1995.
“The crisis from the last decade made you realize that you were too engrossed in business, in work and in worldly matters. You encouraged us to go inward; to get to know our real selves and be true to that. You encouraged us and you dared us to be authentic. It was all about living with soul.
“Led by you, Mom and Dad, our conversations and priorities as a family started to change. Mom, we would spend your birthdays in a spiritual and self-reflecting way. One time we went to a monastery high up in the mountains of La Union where there was no electricity.
“All of a sudden you wanted us to reconnect with and have a deep respect for mother earth.
“You encouraged us to make sure we were working hard not for purely worldly reasons, but for a higher and more meaningful purpose. You wanted us to discover our passion and unleash our creativity.
“The value that defined your marriage in the fifth and most recent decade is BENEVOLENCE. This decade did not start well for us. It was when we lost the gentlest person in our family: Joel.
“It was by far the most painful thing anyone of us had to go through… Yet, you let the pain run its course and somehow saw the plan of God, the meaning in it.
“Your example made us stronger.
“Rising from grief, you took on a mission to try to be a blessing to as many people as possible. You kept giving without expecting anything in return. The joy of the receiver was a reward in and of itself. ..
“You wanted to celebrate life. Mom and Dad, I have never seen you as positive, as bright, as optimistic and as joyful as you are now. You never fail to uplift me…
“Sometimes you even behave like kids without worrying about what other people think. In a society that judges, you stopped caring about how other people would judge you. It shocked us in the beginning, and now we get it. You are teaching us how to live a truly joyful and purposeful life…
“Like a rosary, I will always recite in my heart the values they taught me for every decade of their married life. The years of their togetherness are like beads strung together with God as the glue…
“Mom and Dad… You will always be my role models… I am eternally grateful to God that you are still here together, and I pray for many more years of togetherness and celebration of love.” Thelma S. San Juan