Celia Pineiro: a woman loved by many
Celia Pineiro has meant so much to the many readers of her articles and columns in La Estrella and in the Dodge City Daily Globe newspaper for the past 19 years.
The long-time editor of La Estrella (The Star), published by the Globe, Celia would have been 86-years-old Nov. 9, 2009, but she died of cancer Oct. 23. A memorial service was held for her Oct. 28 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dodge City, with Father Ted Skalsky, pastor, presiding.
Celia spent her last days at Trinity Manor Nursing Home in Dodge City, and a few weeks before her death, she reminisced about her long life that began in Havana, Cuba. Near her chair were three large scrapbooks crammed with photos of her years in Cuba, her weddings to two husbands, and her precious son, Jose Antonio Clark. In one photo, she sat regally by a fireplace in a floor-length formal gown – a striking Ingrid Bergman look-alike – in her grand columned Cuban home, her two-year-old son by her side.
“My father and uncle were owners of a newspaper, Prensa Libre (Free Press), in Havana,” she recalled. “I worked there as a young writer after I received my Masters degree in journalism from Carlos Marquez Sterling Journalism School in Havana.
“Castro came to power on Jan. 1, 1959 (after overthrowing) the dictator Fulgencio Batista), and Castro eventually stole everything from us. We lost the newspaper and all that we had in 1960. The government took over ownership of all kinds of businesses, including the newspapers, radio stations, transportation, property, and houses.”
By that time, Celia had divorced her first husband. She learned that her 14-year-old son, Jose, would be required to join the Pioneers, a Castro youth group similar in organization to the Hitler Youth, only indoctrinated with Communist ideals instead of Nazi propaganda.
“They were sending some kids to Russia to become ‘good Communists,’” she explained. “Castro’s government decided it would take all authority away from parents.”
Celia was frantic when her son told her, “The militia men will come to pick me up soon.” President John F. Kennedy (assisted by the Catholic Welfare Bureau in Miami) opened the doors to Cuban youth under the Peter Pan Program, and 14,048 children from a week-old to 18 years of age were evacuated from 1960 to 1962. Celia enrolled her son’s name in the program.
“Jose left Cuba for the United States in September of 1961, and I left three months later in December when I was 38-years-old,” Celia related. “It was a miracle, since many parents of Peter Pan children never made it to the states.”
Celia exited her native land without a dime in her purse. When she applied for assistance in Florida, she was told that she must have a U.S. address in order to receive financial aid.
“‘Next!’ said the lady who was waiting on me, when she learned I had no address,” Celia remembered. “I told her I had come from Cuba without any money to rent a place. I went outside, scared to death. I had no relatives or friends in Miami. I was standing on the sidewalk when a woman came up to me and asked, ‘You have a big problem, don’t you?’”
When the woman heard Celia’s story and learned she needed to retrieve her son from the Peter Pan refugee camp, she told Celia she was moving to New York and already had paid a full month’s rent. She gave Celia permission to move into her flat.
“I took her address back inside and gave it to the woman who said ‘next!’ and I was able to take my son from the Peter Pan Camp outside Miami. I never saw the woman who helped me again – or learned her name. She was my ‘angel.’”
Celia’s son Jose, 62, now a retired librarian in San Marcos, California, visited her at Trinity Manor twice during the past summer with his wife, Stella.
“Mother took me out of there [the Peter Pan camp] before they sent me to be adopted,” he explained.
Reunited, the mother and son moved in October, 1961 to Leavenworth, Kansas, where Celia worked as a translator for the Military Review, a monthly publication. She married her second husband, Sergio Pineiro, a Cuban lawyer and journalist, in Leavenworth.
“For my first wedding, I wore a beautiful white ‘Cinderella gown’ covered with ruffles, but for my second wedding, I wore a $10 dress from Penney’s,” she said with a laugh. “But I got the right man with my $10 dress.”
Celia and Sergio moved to Lawrence with her son, and the couple studied at Kansas University for six years. Sergio obtained his doctorate; Celia earned another Masters degree, working toward her doctorate. After settling in Dodge City in 1971, both taught Spanish and social studies: Sergio at St. Mary’s College for 24 years and Celia at Dodge City High School for 19 years. Sergio died in 1996.
“Celia was one of the people who shaped my life,” said a former student, Dr. Laurie White, a Dodge City optometrist who has visited Latin America eight times to give free eye care to needy people. “Celia taught me Spanish for three years, and was enthusiastic and inspirational. She helped me to be more open to the differences in cultures.”
Celia was editor of La Estrella for 19 years. Her dear friend, Candy Perez, helped her for 10 years as assistant editor of the newspaper published in Spanish. Celia turned the reins of La Estrella over to Candy three years ago.
“Candy has been like a daughter – or granddaughter -- to me,” Celia said. “She and her husband, Dr. [Armando] Perez, are wonderful; I’m proud of her and her work.”
Following Celia’s death, Candy responded with similar feelings:
“Celia was like a family member, like a mother to me,” she said. “She always surprised me with her strength. Education was so important to her. She believed women needed to be educated and prepared for anything in life.”
Celia had cancer surgery two and a half years ago, and elected not to receive radiation treatments or to tell many people of her condition. The cancer returned four months before she died. She was not afraid of the eventual outcome, however, she insisted.
“I’ve come to the end of my rope, but I’m not sad,” she said without self-pity. “I’ve done what I needed to do, and if the Lord is ready for me, I’m ready for Him!”