“Excelsior!” ends Lolo’s profile in his high school yearbook. “Ever upward,” it means in Latin, or, in everyday parlance, “onward and upward.”
The motto certainly befits a man who took his first job at the age of sixteen and didn’t retire until seventy years later, on his 86th birthday; who had multiple careers and conquered each; and who faced his challenges with skill, ingenuity, courage, and humor.
I’m guessing it was inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem (1841), which was taught as part of the American school curriculum for many years. Lolo learned English from Hattie A. Grove, after all, an American who came over to the Philippines with 539 other teachers in 1901 (the Thomasites) as part of a program by President William McKinley to educate the newly colonized Filipinos.
According to the Philippine Department of Education, Mrs. Grove was assigned to Camiling, Tarlac, from 1901, in charge of Central School. Leo J. Grove, her husband, is listed as a supervising teacher.
“Our teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Grove, were frequent guests in our home,” CPR recalls in I Walked with Heroes. “While Mr. Leo J. Grove seemed relaxed and amiable there, I could not lose my dread of him, because he represented the mathematics I could not master in school.
“But Mrs. Grove was my first English teacher in the Camiling grammar school, and to me she represented the magic world of books. It was due to her skill as a teacher that much of that magic rubbed off on me. I was a shining star in her class, and one of the dullest in her husband’s.
“She was quick to recognize my love of words and helped my interest along.
“She introduced fields of reading I might never have known but for her. Years after I had left school and much I had learned was forgotten I remembered the Groves, and I even remembered the American town from which they came—Ovid, Michigan.
“I thought a great deal about them after I escaped from Bataan and came to America. I wrote a letter to them addressed to Ovid but it was returned, address unknown.
“Then, in this same year 1942, the Pulitzer prize was given me at Columbia University, and in my speech of acceptance I said that the real winner of the prize was my first English teacher, Hattie Grove, who had taught a small Filipino pupil to value the beauty of the English language.
“The speech was publicized rather widely and I hoped it would flush the Groves out of hiding wherever they were, but still no answer came.
“Then, a few years ago, my speaking engagements included one at Miami. Just as I was about to leave for Florida a letter came from Delray Beach in that state. It was Hattie Grove. She wrote that and Mr. Grove had retired and he was in a wheelchair.
“I telephoned ahead to the Miami committee, and as soon as I arrived a car was waiting to take me to Delray. I brought the Groves back to Miami, where that night at the dinner at which I was to speak they were guests of honor.
“We sat at the head of the table and there was a great deal to be said before the speeches began. We had not met since, I believe, 1912, in the Camiling grammar school.
“‘Why did you not get in touch with me?’ I demanded, when I learned they had followed my career and saved every clipping concerning me.
“They explained they had not wanted to bother me. ‘But we are so proud of you and of all you have done,’ they kept saying.
“It was an emotional reunion. When I rose to speak I repeated what I had said the day I had accepted the Pulitzer prize, that Mrs. Grove, not I, was the true winner of the honor. The audience gave her a standing ovation and she was in tears. But she got up on her feet like a champion and made a wonderful little speech.
“She wound up saying, ‘I am eighty-two years old and this is the happiest moment of my life!’”1
1 I Walked with Heroes, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), pp. 49 – 50.