those four years they experienced a new kind of life. Memories of friends and Colfax have stayed with them through their adult
lives. "We've always wanted to come back here, and we decided this was the year," said Marcela Rodriguez Enriquez of Houston.
"We just have so many wonderful memories of Colfax," Tania Rodriguez Betancourt of Tamarac,
Fla., added. Tania and her mom, Mirtila Morciego, flew from Florida to Houston
to hook up with Marcella and Ofelia Gayo of Grand Prairie, Texas, for the trip to Colfax.
took a tour of the former St. John's Academy and St. Patrick's Catholic Church and visited with former Colfax friends, including
members of St. Patrick's who adopted the Cubans during their stay here. The Rodriguez sisters were 12 and 9 years old when
they came to Colfax. They came out of Cuba
as part of a Catholic Welfare program Operation Pedro Pan.
children went to several locations in the United States and many landed
in the Spokane Diocese. Raised in Havana, they found Colfax to be a very different place, but very accommodating. They recalled
flying into Spokane International
Airport and waiting for parishioners from Colfax to arrive and transport
them south to Colfax. Those rides in the family cars were an initial taste of the support they would receive.
Cuban kids were housed in the academy building where dormitory rooms had been used years earlier to house resident Catholic
students who came into Colfax from rural towns and ranches. Ofelia was one of the adult supervisors for the group. Cuban teachers
and parents arrived.
late Roy McDonald of Colfax served as the sponsor for the program. The Rev. Cornelius Stefani was a coordinator and many residents
helped out in many ways. The Rodriquez sisters recall how some of the women of the church would assist with ironing clothes
and help with preparation for Sunday mass.
remembers being allowed release from an evening study session to go out on the lawn and experience the first snowfall they
had ever seen. "I just opened up my arms and put my face up and tried to eat it," she
sister remembers the Cuban kids used makeshift cardboard sleds to coast down the hills behind the church during the winter
days.” And when the cardboard got too soggy, we just used our pants," Tania laughed.
the years they lived here the children kept in contact with their parents via the mail. Letters normally arrived each week
although sometimes they would have to wait out interruptions of mail service. The academy building at that time had one telephone
in the hallway. Students recalled how the phone would ring with a long-distance call for one of the Cuban children. Those
calls were from parents who had made it to the United States.
each of those calls the hallway would erupt with jubilation with smiles and tears of relief. The telephone calls were a signal
that the waiting was over and the youngsters would go on with their lives in the United States.
Rodriguez sisters were reunited with their parents in July of 1966. The family went to New Jersey,
Chicago and then to Houston.
Their half-brother, Emilio, departed Colfax earlier when his mother was able to get out of Cuba.
married and raised her family in Houston. She worked for the
Houston School District.
Tania went on to Florida where she married, raised a family and was employed with Continental Airlines. She remembers one
passenger who was catching a flight to Spokane on the way
to Colfax. She told him she once lived in Colfax. "He told me Colfax had changed a lot over the years. But I don't really
think it has changed very much. It looks pretty much the same."
other members of the Cuban contingent who have returned to visit Colfax, the Rodriquez sisters contacted Audi Reyes Guidi,
the lone member of the group who still resides in Colfax. "They all make a stop at Audi's house," she noted. Audi and her
brother and sister waited three years for their parents, Fidel and Josie Reyes, to arrive.
Reyes family remained in Colfax. Audi, a member of the 1966 class of Colfax High School, spent 10 years of her adult life
in California and then returned to Colfax. She is now food
services manager at Whitman Hospital
& Medical Center, and her parents reside at the Courtyard.
the Colfax Cuban kids shared a common experience in Colfax, they have not kept in contact over the years. The Rodriquez sisters
noted they did not come from a single school or neighborhood in Cuba
and were strangers to one another when they arrived. "At first the program started with wealthy families, but it soon expanded
to all kinds of families," Marcela explained. She noted their father was a taxi driver in Havana.
women spent their time in Colfax looking up locals they knew 40 years ago. They called on Dr. Gordon Ripple, who served as
their dentist, and Charles Hofer who provided a lot of support. They also made a stop at the former St. John's Academy building which now serves
as the parish hall.
arrival of the Cubans in 1962 actually led to an extension of service for the academy. It closed after the 1965-66 school
year and the Catholic classmates of the Cubans enrolled in the public schools in Colfax or in other districts.
notes and background:
The Colfax Cubans attended school the Colfax Catholic school, St. Johns Academy, up to the eighth grade.
The older kids attended Colfax High
School. They resided in quarters on the upper floor of the academy which originally housed Catholic
students who came from rural farms and towns beyond daily commuting distance from Colfax.
is in the middle of what is known as the Palouse County, a geological area made up of wind-blown soil deposits which provide
the most productive grain producing area in the United States. Whitman County's largest town is Pullman, home of the Washington State University.
here believe they were unique in all living and mostly attending school in the same building. As the youngsters departed over
the four years, some of them moved out of the academy quarters and resided in homes of church members. .
With its influx
of Cuban students gone, St. John's Academy
closed in 1966 and the building for many years was generally unused. It was put back on line for one year in 1993 when the
Colfax school district remodeled its elementary building and used St. John's
classrooms during the construction period. Opening up the classrooms at that time revived memories of the Colfax Cubans. The
third floor dormitory area looked much the same as it did when they last lived there 30 years earlier.
To get the
building back in use, the public school district had to install a new heating plant and that was exchanged for what might
have been rent. The heating plant made St. John's usable again
and it became the Parish Hall for the church which is located just across a parking lot. The area around the church on the
south end of Colfax includes play fields, a religious grotto, and sledding hills which became the province of the Cuban kids
at the time they lived here. . Footnote: the late Roy McDonald, the Colfax
entrepreneur who was the prime sponsor in bringing the children her, later sponsored Vietnamese refugees who came to Colfax
for a short time.