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Book launching highlights Founders Day celebration

The launching of the first book ever to be written about Silliman missionaries and fraternal workers, which was launched last Aug. 24 at the Udarbe Memory Chapel, was the most meaningful event in the 113th Founders Day celebration, according to Silliman University (SU) President Ben Malayang III.

Malayang said that the book launching of “Glimpses of Missionaries and Fraternal Workers in Silliman University, 1901-1998” by Ligaya Magbanua Simpkins was “one of the few events, out of the many held during Founders Day celebration, that are really about Founders [Day itself].”

“This is what Founders Day is about, when we recall with accuracy and correctness the works, the persons, and the many people who contributed to the founding of this university.”

Magbanua-Simpkins, an Outstanding Sillimanian in Chemistry in 1996, said that her idea of coming up with a book “was spurred by the realization that the pioneers and mission workers who helped build Silliman have become a fading memory in the minds of alumni, faculty, and students over the years.”

Magbanua-Simpkins grew up in the Silliman community. She graduated from the elementary and high school departments of SU as salutatorian and valedictorian, respectively.

She ranked 4th in the National Chemistry Board Examinations after graduating cum laude from SU with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry in 1961.

Magbanua-Simpkins obtained her master’s degree under a Fulbright Smith-Mundt scholarship and, in 1970, migrated to USA. She has authored and co-authored 50 scientific publications and presentations, and is a co-inventor of several US patents.

With chemistry as her field of expertise, Magbanua-Simpkins said, “When I started writing, many people asked me, ‘How could you write such a book? You’re a chemist.’”

She said that she has obtained skills in research and that she is “not deterred by any challenge.”

Myrna Peña-Reyes, a well-known poet and a close friend of Magbanua-Simpkins, said that the book “has nothing to do with [Magbanua-Simpkins’] field of expertise, but is just one more demonstration of her varied interest and talents, her discipline, determination, and ability.”

“God cannot give you problems that you cannot solve. That has been my mantra in life,” Magbanua-Simpkins said.

Missing records

The book, being “the first of its kind,” features the lives of 142 missionaries and fraternal workers who have served in Silliman.

Magbanua-Simpkins clarified that there were more than 142 missionaries and fraternal workers who have been to Silliman but “half of the records is missing.”

“I tried to be as accurate as I could, but accuracy is only dependent on the type of information that you are looking at,” she said.

“You cannot just produce information from thin air,” she added.

Malayang said that through Magbanua-Simpkins’ scrutiny of the school records, they “found out that our records were lacking, very lacking. The need is for the proper aknowledgement of work of missionaries and fraternal workers.”

“Without the missionaries and fraternal workers, what is Silliman?” Malayang emphasized.

Inspiration for the book

Her interest in writing about the missionaries comes from her close connections with some of them, having grown up with the missionaries as her teachers and their children as her playmates.

According to her, two events in 2011 spurred her to write the book.

The first event was the 100th birthday celebration of Mrs. Thelma Appleton, SU Acting Dean of Women in the 60’s. Magbanua-Simpkins came to realize that the SU centennial book she gave to Mrs. Appleton did not mention any missionaries.

The second event was the death of a missionary daughter and her friend, Mary McKinley. While in search for McKinley’s relatives, Magbanua-Simpkins found out that the United Board of Christian Education in Asia did not keep the records of the missionary families after they have returned to the US.

Data Gathering

The book is a product of many comprehensive researches since it is the first of its kind. Magbanua-Simpkins did researches both in the Philippines and in the US.

She said she found that the SU personnel records only had names.

“As soon as I went back to the States, I went to the internet and started calling and writing all the names of every single living missionary I knew,” she said.

She also added that some of the people she contacted did not reply because they thought she was a scammer.

“They think you’re out to get their information for some scam. There were times that I did not get any reply. But thankfully, those who replied, those who sent their bio-data were thankful that they are being remembered,” Magbanua-Simpkins said.

One of the missionaries who were thankful for her project was Mrs. Dorothy Wickler, an SU summa cum laude graduate and former librarian of the elementary school. Her husband, Howard, served as Assistant to the Dean of Instruction in Visual Aids, among many responsibilities in SU.

“Mrs. Wickler kept saying, ‘Thank you for remembering us.’ The Wicklers are in their 90s,” she said.

Magbanua-Simpkins said she is “just a conduit” of all the words and the stories of the missionaries and fraternal workers.

“This book essentially echoes their words. Whatever I found in the Sillimaniana and the records here in SU and whatever I got from the internet, from the families… these are all their words and their stories…hopefully, their stories would be inspirational to you all,” she added.

The author, together with her husband, Joel Charles Simpkins, resides in San Diego, California.

By Stephanie Ria Colinco

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