Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Goodbye, 2009

This week’s Under the Pala Pala will be the last of 2009. Next year I am moving to Florida and I have every intention of continuing this weekly commentary, but it may be a few weeks before I settle into writing again. I will continue to use this email address if you would like to contact me.

Under the Pala Pala VI

In 2009 I dove the center of an underwater volcano’s crater, hiked to a waterfall 1000 miles from the nearest McDonalds, rocked a mohawk for an interview on primetime network television, and made a bid to become the first Irish American mayor in Micronesian history. I also witnessed an outgoing president of the United States set aside a huge swath of ocean and an incoming president take the oath of office. It was a good year; perhaps the best I’ve ever had.

2009 was a watershed year for the Commonwealth. We witnessed the end of the garment era when the last sweatshop closed up in January and the beginning of the Homeland Security era when the federal government took control of immigration in November.

As the year rolled out the gates I knew that the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was only days away from being designated. I received an invitation to the White House and along with Ike Cabrera, Agnes McPhetres, and Ben and Josie Fitial, represented the people of the Commonwealth as President George W. Bush put his signature to the document creating a protected area for which many, myself included, had staked their reputations and put their lives on hold for.

The designation was covered in virtually every newspaper, news magazine, news website, and television channel on the planet, shining a level of media attention on our shores unseen since the waning days of World War II. Nothing the Marianas Visitors Authority has done in the last 10 years has matched the level of interest the monument generated and continues to generate.

NBC Nightly News visited Saipan to film a story that ran in primetime on Earth Day. Several Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument, including myself, were interviewed for the piece. They also produced a web-only featurette called “Voices of Saipan.” Outdoor Magazine will run a story in 2010 about the expedition we took to the monument back in July, which I am sure will be followed by more stories as the monument management plan is drafted and as protections are increased.

The 10-day expedition to the monument I helped organize in July fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit all of the islands in the Marianas archipelago, including the three islands within the monument. Dennis Chan, the 18-year old local boy who won a seat on the boat with an essay he wrote, and I are the only living people I know who have slept on Maug.

Highlights of that trip were diving the Maug crater, rounding Uracas, the most northern point of the Marianas, hiking for six hours across Pagan, and meeting the Saures boys on Agrigan.

In addition to that expedition, I did my fair share of traveling this year. I spent almost the entire month of January away from home, first in DC to witness the signing of the monument, then in Florida to visit family, and then back to DC to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. Along the way I met with friends I have not seen in years. Thank you, Facebook.

I stopped back on Saipan for a day before shipping off to Pohnpei for two weeks for an environmental retreat with Micronesians in Island Conservation and afterwards some R&R with my monument cohort, Laurie Peterka,.

I also accepted an EPA award in San Francisco (Cheesecake Factory!), with a day trip to see the cherry blossoms in Narita while in transit, went to Guam for a soccer game, and testified before federal officials in Honolulu (another Cheesecake Factory!).

2009 was also the year of the Covenant Party resurgence. After running the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation into the ground and subjecting us to untold hours of blackouts, raiding the CNMI Retirement Fund to cover day-to-day government operations, and having his Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Commerce thrown in federal lockup for fraud, conspiracy, and theft, Benigno Fitial was reelected as our governor by less than 400 votes in a runoff election against Republican Heinz Hofschneider.

I threw my support behind Heinz in the run-up to the runoff after a Fitial Administration official asked for my vote, their reasoning for why I should vote for Fitial being so that they could keep their job. I was disgusted.

Most people point to the hiring frenzy by Fitial in the weeks and months before the election as the reason behind the success of his campaign; The Marianas Variety reported that nearly 1000 people were added to the payroll.

With the exception of their support for Beautify CNMI (which would have been a no-brainer regardless of who was governor), I cannot point to a single policy decision made by the Fitial Administration that has improved life for our people. Not one. I was and continue to be very disappointed in their victory.

I am also disappointed in my failure to become the next Mayor of Saipan. I was reluctant to run, one of the reasons I was so late in announcing my bid. Now having the experience of being a candidate I can say that I have no intention of ever running for office again, but I probably wouldn’t be speaking honestly. I have not made a decision whether to run again in 2014, but I also haven’t made a decision to not run.

People tell me that I should run for House in three years or try again for Mayor in five, but that is never what I wanted for my life. I want to save coral reefs and rainforests; it was never my intention to become a politician. The current mayor absconded his responsibilities to the public and instead spent over $¼ million of taxpayer money, a very hefty percentage of his annual budget, traveling the globe. I ran for Mayor because I could have cleaned up the stray dogs and taken Beautify CNMI to a new level, but I lost so now I am moving on. It is time to get that Masters degree and Ph.D. even though the months I spent running for Mayor and the $22,000 it cost my donors (some guy named Angelo O’Connor Villagomez was my largest donor) earned me lessons and skills no college could offer, no course teach. I am forever grateful to the 1,612 people who voted for me and promise I am not retreating. I am reloading.


Under the Pala Pala is the weekly commentary of Angelo O’Connor Villagomez. To subscribe via email visit www.AngeloVillagomez.com.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New Ink

tribal turtle tattooI wanted to get something to mark my time on Saipan these last four years, so I got this tattoo on Tuesday night. It took about two hours to finish.

My father kicked Alex out of the house when he pierced his ear. I wonder what he'd say to this?

Euro Trench Trash

What is the deal with Europeans wanting to dump things in our ocean? Back in July we heard about the Deep Storage Project in which Danish conceptual "artist" Kristian von Hornsleth announced plans to dump a 5 meter tall "monument" containing hair and blood samples into the Mariana Trench.

Now Alfa Romeo's new marketing campaign has a billboard being dumped into the Trench, the "lowest point on Earth," to showcase how low their prices are. The stunt has been captured in a six minute video on Youtube, meant to draw attention to their cars in advance of January's 2010 European Motor Show in Brussels.

Here is the video:

Alright, first things first. This stunt is a farce. A fake. Made up. Never happened.

Challenger Deep, the point where the Mariana Trench plunges to 11,000 meters below sea level, is 200 miles from Guam, not 21 miles like they say in the video.

mariana trenchFurthermore, the boat used to dump the Alfa Romeo billboard into the ocean does not look like it was outfitted for the 400 mile round trip expedition to Challenger Deep.

I'm not sure if I'd feel comfortable losing site of land in that boat, never mind going to the edge of the United States Exclusive Economic Zone.

The underwater camera supposedly used to capture the billboard at the bottom of the trench is also woefully inadequate for such a stunt. I've seen Japanese tourists with more expensive camera housings than that.

Who are they trying to kid? Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution visited Challenger Deep earlier this year and I remember their boat being a little bigger than a 20-foot dive charter.

woods hole mariana trench submersibleThey had a better camera, too. Compare the camera setup Alfa Romeo used versus the camera Woods Hole used (the giant yellow thing in the photo).

And one more thing. This is what 7 miles of fishing line looks like. This is the longline fishing reel from the Lady Carolina, the boat I chartered to the Northern Islands. This reel wouldn't have even fit in the boat chartered by Alfa Romeo.

Like I said, this stunt is a farce. A fake. Made up. Never happened.

No harm done, right? Wrong. This marketing campaign reinforces the idea that there is nothing wrong with dumping in the ocean. Earlier this year when I visited the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument I found islands covered in marine debris.

maug marine debrisMaug was particularly bad. This is one of the most remote places on Earth, a 44-hour boat ride away from the nearest port. Yet, there it was covered in bottles and derelict fishing gear.

Marine debris kills wildlife and is an eyesore when it washes ashore. It has a huge impact on our way of life, especially our tourism industry. What tourist wants to play on a litter covered beach?

My sentiment doesn't come from being a liberal, tree hugging hippie trying to protect a few turtles from eating plastic bags. I've spent thousands of hours coordinating island cleanups and I am simply tired of cleaning up other people's messes. And it annoys me to no end when people from other places reinforce the idea that there is nothing wrong with throwing their crap in my ocean.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thank you, Rotary Club

This advertisement will appear in the local newspapers tomorrow. A big thank you to everyone who helped out with the Rotary Club of Saipan's many projects this year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2009 Godfather's Christmas Party

The owners and staff of Godfather's celebrated Christmas with a night of drinking and eating and more drinking. This annual party is the stuff of legend.

Scott and Ron opened up the bar for free drinks early in the night and treated us to a spread of delicacies including sushi, pancit, lasagna, and roast pig. Not your typical American Christmas dinner.

I was a big fan of the buffet. That's Scott's lasagna I'm putting a dent in. And no, I wasn't kidding about the roast pig.

Jerry and the band entertained us from 9 PM onwards, that is until the girls decided they wanted to sing. This was the only night of the year Scott let Edz sing. Not that she's a bad singer; she has about the same ability as Paula Hamilton.

You see, the typical Godfather's waitress weighs about 85 lbs. Three Jagerbombs and a margarita.....

And that's not Edz. That's Janice. The photos I took with Edz all came out blurry.

My photos of Santa Clause all came out blurry, too.

Stanley McGinnis TorresOh wait, that's not Santa Clause; that's my good friend Commonwealth Representative Stanley McGinnis Torres!

Friday, December 18, 2009

10 Years Revisited

Under the Pala Pala V

This week’s Under the Pala Pala is a personal reflection on my life over the last 10 years. If that sounds incredibly narcissistic and boring, stop reading now.

I know that people out there will say that the new decade doesn’t begin until 2011, but Under the Pala Pala and the Saipan Blog hereby declare the new decade to begin in 2010. There, wasn’t that simple?

It seems that every TV channel, magazine and website is doing a look back over the last ten years. This is mine. Like I said, this is going to be incredibly self-centered, so you should probably stop reading right now.

Who could have predicted in 1999 that in 2009 we’d have a black president of the United States of America? It is amusing to think of what life was like ten years ago. The economy was booming because of the dot com bubble. Too bad it burst. I didn’t have a cell phone in 1999; I didn’t get one until 2001. There was no wireless Internet back then, either. That meant you couldn’t take your laptop down to the local restaurant or coffee shop and use it to check your email. In fact, I didn’t get my first laptop until 2003. There were no such things as blogs or social networking websites; the main thing I used the Internet for was to send emails and download music off Napster.

The last 10 years coincided with my twenties and looking back there isn’t too much I would want to change about my life. Sure I’ve had my ups and downs financially and in my career. I’ve also had failures and successes in love and friendships, but life is about taking the good with the bad, right?

I started this decade at my stepmother’s mother’s house in Garapan. I was 21, five months away from graduating from the University of Richmond, and spending my first Christmas on Saipan since 1981. I was younger than the adults and older than all the kids at the party, so it was an awkward night. I remember not being too concerned about the Y2K bug although I remember there being a blackout during the night. The two were predictably unrelated.

I had no concrete plans for the future back then. I knew I wanted to go back to Florida after college and work at Disney, with medical school or graduate school a possibility down the line, but the last ten years turned out so different from what I expected, even if I never really expected anything.

I never thought about a career in the environment until I took a Tropical Ecology course during my last semester at Richmond during Spring 2000. We spent a week in the Peruvian Amazon as a part of that course and it, along with a summer I spent in Costa Rica in 2002, completely changed my life.

I’ve always loved the outdoors. I’ve got plenty of stories on my blog of fishing and hiking with my Dad and brothers on Saipan as a child (and with friends as an adult), but I also spent a lot of time outdoors when I lived with my mother in the mainland. When we were very little we used to pick blueberries on a hill behind Grandpa J’s house in Ashburnham (I can remember finding frog eggs almost every time we came to a swampy area along the trail) and when we moved to Florida we would canoe down the Wekiva River on weekends (always keeping a very accurate accounting of the number of alligators we saw).

It was that Tropical Ecology course that led me to go back to school. I wanted to do something in the environment field and at the time I didn’t think I’d be able to get into grad school, so I went for a second bachelor’s degree at the college where my mother worked.. I’m so glad I did what I did. The two and half years I spent at Rollins College were very productive and set me on course for my career in the environment.

I really love the work I’ve found and I don’t think I’d want to do anything else. Like a professional athlete who says he gets to wake up every morning and do what he loves, my work is something that I would do for free if I didn’t have to worry about paying bills. In fact, the most rewarding, successful “work” I’ve done on Saipan hasn’t been work; it was done as a volunteer.

My biggest success this decade was the role I played in the creation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, which may eventually end up being the greatest success of my lifetime. During the first meeting I had with Jay Nelson of Pew Environment Group in January 2007, I suggested that the islands to the far north protected in our constitution would be suitable for a monument and that since it was so near, it could be called the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. That area and that name were ultimately used and all we had to do in the intervening two years was hammer out the details and get the governor, both houses of the legislature, the Chamber of Commerce, environmental groups, and a majority of the people living here on board.

The success I’ve had with Beautify CNMI has been a different kind of success, one of personal growth more than accomplishment. For four years I’ve managed to keep that coalition together and I have learned a lot about dealing with diverse people from diverse backgrounds. We’ve survived arguments, criticism, jealousy, and certain persons trying to sink the organization and along the way picked up a few national and regional awards as well as plenty of local recognition.

To keep it going, I just kept it going, if that makes any sense. I sent out the weekly updates and made sure we did something almost every weekend. I may not have participated in every cleanup, but I made sure those that were volunteering had supplies of bags and gloves; I may not have planted every tree, but I knew where to obtain saplings and tools; and I may have not adopted a single boonie dog (Oreo and Snowhite don’t count), but I helped raise money and visited classrooms to talk about proper pet care.

Beautify CNMI literally moved mountains, mountains of trash. I don’t know how or why I became so hyper-involved in somebody else’s idea, but I did. I had a strong desire to help these islands when I came back after so many years and I guess that is just how that desire manifested itself.

Being a college student in the mainland and an environmentalist in Micronesia has allowed me to do a fair bit of traveling over the last 10 years. In Peru I learned first hand the natural wonders of the Amazon as I watched mixed species flocks of birds take flight from a tree top canopy walkway and searched out poison dart frogs in the middle of the night.

In Costa Rica I talked to farmers and local leaders about sustainable development and how to create jobs without destroying natural resources. I explored the tropical dry forest, got lost in a cloud forest, and got really wet and muddy in a tropical lowland forest.

I visited China and England on school trips, too. I drank beer in a pub and caught about a dozen shows in the West End. And about a year into my relationship with her, I fought with my girlfriend Emily all across China after buying and incessantly wearing a brown cowboy hat in a Beijing mall. Oh yeah, I went to Mexico and Grand Cayman, too.

Midway through the decade I made the decision to move to Japan with Emily, the story of which is so famously chronicled on my blog, jetapplicant.blogspot.com. Our time in Japan only lasted a few months after which we moved to Saipan.

From my home base of Saipan I traveled to Hawaii, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Marshall Islands, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Tinian, Rota and Guam for work and all of the Northern Islands, Florida, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos for pleasure.

There were some disappointments this last decade, too. I was fired from two jobs, both at restaurants. The first time hit me hard, the second time I had another job within two weeks. Some of my disappointments were opportunity costs. I wish I had spent more time in Japan, but if I had done that I would have spent less in Saipan.

The death of my father was the single event that had the greatest impact on my life this decade. There are still times, like when I hiked down to Old Man by the Sea last weekend, when I visit a place and think, “the last time I was here I was with Dad.” One of my uncles told me that my father was a real disappointment. Most people who knew my father probably have no idea what my uncle was talking about, but I do. I’ll leave it at that. All I can do now is to learn from his mistakes.

Saipan in the last ten years has seen a steady decline in quality of life and abundance of natural resources, which is probably the most disappointing thing of all. The government hasn’t paid into the retirement fund in four years, the life and health insurance policy for government workers was canceled this week, and the governor is threatening to cut everyone’s paycheck by 20%.

I don’t think things are going to get any better in the next decade either, which is one of the reasons I’ve chosen to leave. Had I been elected mayor I would have taken the low salary, dealt with the life and health insurance issues, non-payment of retirement, and the political back stabbing and done my best to provide community services and programs to the people here. Unfortunately, I did not win. I am not independently wealthy, don’t have any educational opportunities here and I don’t see much opportunity for meaningful environmental work while Fitial is governor, so I am moving to where the opportunities lie with a government more receptive to sustainable development.

Looking forward, in the next decade I plan to earn my Ph.D, buy a house and start a family. I also plan to visit Africa, Australia, and Antarctica, completing my goal to step foot on all seven continents.

Under the Pala Pala is the weekly commentary of Angelo O’Connor Villagomez. To subscribe via email visit www.AngeloVillagomez.com.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dear Zaldy

Hi Zaldy,

Just wanted to comment on the submerged lands article by Gemma in today's paper:
"If the bill is enacted into law, the commonwealth will have the option of exercising full control over the submerged lands surrounding the northernmost islands of Maug, Uracas and Asuncion, or decide to enter with a co-management system with the federal government as embodied in the presidential proclamation that created the marine monument or sanctuary in the area."
Nowhere in the Jan 6 proclamation does the word "co-management" appear. While the Friends of the Marianas Trench Monument asked for and lobbied for co-management, similar to how Hawaii and American Samoa co-manage with the federal government their national marine sanctuaries, co-management was removed from the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument proclamation during Governor Fitial's "negotiations" of a "reasonable" monument. Also removed during the "negotiations" was our proposal to have a monument managed by NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries Program, making the likelihood of a visitors center and a boat much less likely.

The Friends of the Marianas Trench Monument earlier this year asked Representative Sablan to include "co-management" in his submerged lands bill, but he chose not to entertain our request. We also asked him to add language transferring jurisdiction from US Fish & Wildlife to NMSP so that we could get a visitors center and a boat. That request was not entertained, either.

In his defense, however, Kilili at least met with us and had his staff meet with us several times before finally telling us no. I wish we could say the same for our sitting governor, who has denied us the opportunity to plead our case at every juncture, preferring to sick his attack dogs on us over listening to us.

The stance of the Friends remains the same as it was in October 2008 when we published our Vision letter. The three miles should remain a part of the monument, but under the jurisdiction of the CNMI and co-managed along with the entire monument with NMSP. Kilili's bill would not accomplish this and would most likely cut three gaping donut holes in the most biologically and geologically diverse area of the monument.


Island Formal

The Rotary Club of Saipan Christmas party was last night. Eden and I bought matching outfits from Sea Shell Pink in Puerto Rico (that's a village in Saipan).

Sure, we look like Korean newlyweds, but when in Florida will I have the opportunity to wear this shirt and still be considered wearing something "formal?"

Monday, December 14, 2009

Breakups are always tough

This story in today's Marianas Variety caught me off guard; I didn't know it was going to run.
Beautify CNMI head’s resignation disappoints DEQ manager

“DEVASTATING” was how Division of Environmental Quality manager Joe M. Kaipat described the resignation of Angelo Villagomez as executive director of Beautify CNMI.

He said Villagomez is a big part of Beautify CNMI and his absence will not be good to the coalition.

“There is nobody out there yet who could take his place,” he added.

Villagomez’s contributions as head of the coalition are incomparable, he said.

“He played a big part to ensure the success of the group,” Kaipat added.

He is challenging other members of the coalition to “step up to the plate.”

Coalition member Laurie Peterka said she is encouraging Villagomez “to stay involved with the organization even though he is far away.”

But she added that Villagomez’s goal to pursue his education in Florida is admirable.

She believes he was able to motivate the people and “bring them together to pursue a desired outcome.”
Joe and Laurie along with Kathy Yuknavage and Tyler Yoshimoto are the de facto heads of Beautify CNMI now. Laurie and Tyler run our graffiti campaign while Joe and Kathy focus on solid waste.

Over the years other people like Cinta Kaipat, Ken Kramer, Katie Busenkell, Marites Castillo, Tina Sablan, Reina Camacho, Kathleen Hermann, Bree Reynolds and Steve Hiney have done what I've done for Beautify CNMI, so there are plenty of people who can step in and take over.

Anyone who wants to Beautify CNMI has no more to do than grab a garbage bag and spend 15 minutes picking up litter on a street or a beach. If you want to do more, go to one of the meetings. If you want to do more than that, start planning events.

When it comes down to it, the success of Beautify CNMI lies in the belief that making these islands a safe, beautiful place to live is everyone's responsibility. Hundreds of people understand this, which is why we've been so successful.

Fitial Fridays

The headline of today's Marianas Variety blares, "Governor: Austerity holidays will be implemented."
GOVERNOR Benigno R. Fitial says his administration is now preparing the fiscal year 2011 budget which could cut to 64 hours the 80-hour biweekly payroll of government employees.

The governor said he’s confident that the incoming 17th Legislature, which will be dominated by his Covenant Party, will pass the budget with the austerity holidays.
Austerity holidays are an Orwellian alternative to saying that every government employee's paycheck --except for those "exempted"-- is about to be cut 20%.

Last month the Marianas Variety revealed that this administration had hired 1000 workers in the run up to the election. A member of the Legislature told me today that before November 7 they were swamped with hire requests, like replacing Governor Fitial's driver among others.

In these tough economic times anyone with any sense of economic reality would wonder where the money to pay all these new people would come from. Well, now we know. If you are reading this and you work for the local government, it is going to come out of your pocket. You will have less money to feed your family because the pie is being shared with unqualified, unneeded people who traded a vote for the promise of employment. And if you work for the private sector, it is going to come out of your pocket in the form of increased fees and taxes.

This will be something to ponder as we celebrate every single Fitial Friday in 2010.

2009 Recyclable Christmas Trees

Sunday, December 13, 2009

James Cameron to dive the Trench

In an interview in the English newspaper the Sun this weekend, Director James Cameron reveals that he plans to dive the Marianas Trench in 2010.
Next year he plans to break the world record for the deepest dive by going down 36,000ft to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.

He said: "We are building a vehicle to do the dive. It's about half completed in Australia."
What a great opportunity for the Marianas!

James Cameron is a self-proclaimed environmentalist and his new movie Avatar has a strong environmental message.
In an exclusive interview with The Sun, the 55-year-old film-maker said: "The point is that we are devastating habitat and biodiversity at a terrible rate.

"We are causing a global climate change that's going to be absolutely devastating to the coral reefs.

"Science is unable to keep up with our industrial society. We are destroying species faster than we can classify them.

"We are destroying the food chain faster than we can understand it.

"The politicians are over in Copenhagen talking about climate change now - but there are other issues as well."
Again, what a great opportunity for the Marianas. This dive will be covered by every single news media outlet on the planet. It is an opportunity to shine a light on the threats facing the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument: illegal fishing, marine debris, and the effects of climate change.

I Fish Therefore I Am

I have not tried to fish with a talaya since I was 16. Since I'm leaving soon I figured I'd better give it a try because who knows how long it will be before I return and will have the chance to do it again. When we went down to Old Man by the Sea yesterday I borrowed my cousin's net and fished where I used to fish with my Dad and my brothers.

The result?

I caught a fish on my second throw!

Mayor of Godfathers

A few days after I lost my bid to become the next mayor of Saipan I read this article on CNN about technology trends:
As 2009 draws to a close, with Twitter undoubtedly this year's media darling and Facebook continuing on its path to global domination, you may wonder which social-media service will become tech's poster boy in 2010.

Among the Web's early adopter set, the answer is nearly unanimous: Foursquare.

While the technology landscape is ever-changing, I'd argue that Foursquare already has aligned itself to become next year's mainstream hit.


Birthed by the team that brought us the mobile social network Dodgeball (acquired by Google in 2005 and later shuttered), the location-based mobile startup serves a simple purpose: It lets an individual share his or her location with a group of friends.

Foursquare ventures beyond utility, however: It's a virtual game in which participants earn badges for checking in at various locations; those that check in most become a venue's "mayor." By all accounts, this mechanism is as addictive as Twitter, Facebook or checking your e-mail on a BlackBerry.
Now this may be hard for my mainland readers to comprehend, but practically nobody on Saipan Tweets, so I'm not sure if this is going to take off on Saipan. Another reason it probably won't take off is that it is a city based application, meaning that if you don't live in the one of few dozen cities listed on their website, well, you just don't get to play.

I wanted to see what it was all about though so I join and listed my city as Tokyo. I could have listed my city as Honolulu, but Tokyo is closer to us even if Hawaii is part of the United States.

So basically what you do is whenever you are "out" you send a message to Foursquare telling them where you are. You get points every time you check in and you get more points for checking in to lots of places. The person with the most points at one particular place gets to be the "mayor."

I am currently the Mayor of Godfather's Bar. Not a lot of people are using this website yet, but CNN predicts it will be as popular as Facebook and Twitter. I looked for contacts on my email and only two other people had joined, meaning I'm most likely the only person in Micronesia who has joined.

Anyway, thought I'd share. Check it out.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Under the Pala Pala IV

I've been suffering from technological impairment all week. On Tuesday the CD drive on my MacBook Pro decided that it no longer wanted to work and has been unsuccessfully trying to eject an invisible CD every time I turn it on. The Internet has been out at the house for three days now, too, adding considerably to the amount of gray hair on my head.

I had planned on this Under the Pala Pala discussion being a reflection on my four years leading Beautify CNMI, but now I think I'll save it for next week.

The big news this week is that Benigno Fitial has officially been declared our next governor for the next five years. I congratulate him and Lt. Governor Eloy Inos on their win and urge everyone in the Commonwealth to help them bring prosperity to our shores.

The last four years of Proven Leadership and Proven Experience brought us four years of unparalleled decline. I really want this governor to turn things around, but he's going to have to change. His old way of doing things doesn't work. He needs to be able to listen to criticism and others' ideas without getting so defensive and he needs to stop retaliating against smart, qualified, competent people if they hurt his feelings.

For the sake of the thousands of people living here, I hope he is successful. I do not want him to fail because if he does, we all fail. If he succeeds, we all succeed. And I need him to succeed if I am ever going to move back to these islands.

Old Man by the Sea

A group of us went down to Old Man by the Sea today. The last time I went to this beach was on my last day on Saipan in 1995. I've got pictures of that hike somewhere; I'll see if I can find them when I get back to Florida.

We took the dogs down the trail with us. They really love swimming, which I think is funny.

The weather couldn't have been better. It was a really nice hike and the water was great.

If you've never been to Old Man by the Sea, send me a message and I'll tell you how to find it. It can be difficult to find on your own. Visit David Khorram's blog for more on Old Man by the Sea.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What did he just say?

Attorney General Ed Buckingham on recently resigned Deputy Attorney General Joe Taijeron:
"We are substantially stronger today than when Joe rejoined the office."
If you don't catch it on first reading, let me explain. Since this statement was made after Joe had left, the Attorney General is making the statement that they are substantially stronger today now that Joe is no longer with the office.

I don't think that's what he really meant. Perhaps he should have simply stated, "We are saddened to see him go."


Willie Brundidge on Willie Brundidge:
"(N)o one can not tell me that I don’t know what I am talking about"
When I was in the 10th grade I remember learning the phrase, "Don't use no double negatives." What I don't remember learning was the phrase, "No one can not use no triple negatives."  Never mind that can not is one word, cannot.

In math, two negatives make a positive. However, three negatives still make a negative. What Willie really says here is, "I don't know what I am talking about." I don't think that's what he really meant.  Perhaps he should have just used the affirmative in the first place and said, "I know what I am talking about."


Now Everyone Knows

I resigned from Beautify CNMI last week in anticipation of my return to Florida. The Variety wanted to run a story right away, but I asked if they could hold off for a bit. The story ran today.
Villagomez steps down as Beautify CNMI head
By Richelle Ann P. Agpoon - Variety News Intern

AFTER volunteering almost a thousand hours to Beautify CNMI and after accomplishing all of his goals for the coalition, its executive director Angelo O’Connor Villagomez is stepping down.

“Beautify CNMI gave me the best four years of my life and it was the people that I have worked with and met in the coalition that is the best part of being involved in it,” he said yesterday.

The coalition’s mission, he added, is to bring the whole community together to make the island clean and preserve its natural beauty.

Beautify CNMI was the first organization to organize an islandwide cleanup that drew the participation of thousands of people.

Villagomez promoted the coalition through the Internet by creating an interactive Web site for it and reaching it to schools.


Villagomez said his family is supportive and understanding of his decision to pursue a doctorate in marine life but some of his Beautify CNMI colleagues are “disappointed.”

He said “as long as the group works together, Beautify CNMI will be successful” with or without him.

He wants to see more people get involved in community service.


Villagomez said he does not have any regret despite losing the Saipan mayoral race.

He said he is happy to be a candidate.

Villagomez placed third in a nine-way race.

As mayor, he believed he could have done a “pretty good job” in addressing the stray dog issue and beautifying the island.

He said Mayor Juan B. Tudela failed to address these issues but he is hoping that newly elected mayor, Donald Flores, will tackle them.

The people and not the government must be the vehicle for change, Villagomez said.

Someday he would like to see island residents separate family and government when casting their votes*.

That type of freedom and the “Do it Yourself” American attitude were practiced by Beautify CNMI, he said.
The amount of time I've dedicated to Beautify CNMI over the last four years is probably closer to 10,000 hours than 1,000 hours. In 2006 and 2007 it was a full-time unpaid job; it kept me busy.

I know that some will say that Beautify CNMI was not the first organization to do an island wide cleanup. To clarify, Beautify CNMI was the first organization to coordinate cleanups on the scale where thousands of people participated. The first cleanup in 2006 was top of the fold, front page, headline news. By 2009 it was just another story, probably because we'd been doing it for so long and it wasn't surprising that we'd be able to coordinate such a large event.

I don't understand why my candidacy for Mayor colors everything I have done these last four years. Perhaps because it is so fresh in people's minds? I ran a clean, issue-driven campaign, but when it comes down to it, I lost. The other things I'd done before that three month campaign were much more successful. I won national and regional awards for my work. Beautify CNMI was the Saipan Tribune 2006 Person of the Year and was recognized on the floor of the US Congress. I also helped create one of the world's largest marine protected areas, met the President, and appeared on NBC talking about the designation.

Office terms expire, but I will be the Godfather of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument until the day I die. That is my legacy.

*During the interview Richelle and I got to talking about what this island needs to do to turn itself around. I mentioned that the United States has a clause seperating church and state and what the Commonwealth needed was a separation of family and state. Family relations are important to our culture and respect must be given, obligations fulfilled, but these obligations have no place in how we govern ourselves. When I am at church or with the family and Ben Fitial is around, he is Uncle Ben. As the uncle, he outranks me. In a government setting or in a professional setting, he is Governor Fitial. As a voter, I am his boss, although all proper respect must be given. Most of our lawmakers and elected officials do not adhere to this separation.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Heads are Rolling

Sam McPhetres got canned over the weekend. It makes no sense to me why the local college's most well known and popular professor who teaches a class that is a requirement for graduation (!) would be so unceremoniously let go. From the Marianas Variety:
"a few weeks before he received his notice of non-renewal, and shortly after the Variety published the results of Jay Solly’s election poll, McPhetres was “interrogated” by college administration officials regarding surveys and polls that were being conducted by his students regarding the November elections."
Well, I guess it makes sense. If the Covenant Party would go after the girlfriend of a guy that published a poll they didn't like, why not go after that pesky teacher who forces the students to ask all those awkward questions?

Makes you wonder if Joe Taijeron really resigned or was he let go for supporting Heinz?  So who's next? And when will the next head roll? Today?

I was also disturbed by Boni Sagana's letter in defense of Deanne Siemer. The letter is a response to a letter to the editor written by Wendy Doramal, in which she accuses Deanne of trying to cut a deal with local contract workers to keep them "quiet." Boni writes:
It is absolutely untrue that workers were told to be “quiet.” Ms. Siemer stated her views on what works and what does not-as she always does in many consultations she has had with us. It is entirely up to us what we do. Ms. Siemer believes that attacking the governor or holding big demonstrations creates a political backlash that can result in the governor actively opposing worker goals.
I can see now that she wasn't asking them to be quiet. She was actually threatening them! In other words, "Shut up or else..."

Disagreeing with your governor is not "attacking" him. Practicing the right to petition your government is a fundamental American value, a freedom protected in the First Amendment. Exercising those freedoms is not "attacking" the governor.

"Attacking" the governor looks more like what Dengre writes on his blog:
Benigno R. (Ben) Fitial is a Pirate. He is an old-school thieving, lying bastard. He is an architect of the system of human trafficking and abuse that has flourished on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) for over 25 years. The sweatshops, forced prostitution, money laundering, gambling, graft, corruption and incompetence that have become synonymous with the rogue US Territory in the Western Pacific are all by-products of his criminal career.
That is what an attack looks like. Pointing to the governor's record and quoting the governor's own words is not an "attack," it is simply pointing to the governor's record and quoting the governor's own words. Holding a peaceful rally asking your government to let people who have been here for 20 years stay is not an "attack." Signing a petition so that your children can have a better life is not an "attack," either.

Telling a group of people to keep quiet because it might hurt the governor's feelings is ridiculous, shameful, and un-American. And this is probably only the beginning.

Looks like I was dead on when I called shenanigans on Siemer. Malou Berueco, who was at the meeting of contract workers and Siemer, had this to say in today's (December, 9,2009) Saipan Tribune:
To make things clear, at the meeting, no agreement was done with Deanne Siemer. Yes, we were not told to be quiet but were told to refrain from doing such acts. What is the difference?
It wasn't very difficult to read between the lines of Boni Sagana's letter. Free Speech doesn't just apply to speech.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Tie a ribbon on the tree

Every night between now and January 7, visitors to the Paseo de Marianas are invited to tie a ribbon on the giant Christmas tree made from aluminum cans. The ribbons come in five colors, pink, to show support for the Marianas March Against Cancer, yellow, to show support for Operation Homefront Support, green, for Beautify CNMI, blue, for the Autism Society, and red, for general holiday wishes.

I think most Americans (I'm including Chamorro-Carolinian Americans when I say that) have experience tying yellow ribbons to trees, but pink, red, blue, and green? Where'd that come from?

I garnered a guess the other night and got a grunt of agreement from Godfather's most distinguished Japanese regular.

When you visit a shinto shrine in Japan there are small pieces of paper with fortunes written on them for sale called omikuji . They usually cost about 100 yen. You can pull an omikuji out of a box or go through some elaborate method of choosing a number, which then corresponds with a particular omikuji, or something like that. To make the wish come true, or the fortune, or just for good luck, you then fold up the omikuji and tie it to something inside the shrine, either a tree or rows of string put out for the sole purpose of having omikuji tied to it, or something like that.

Anyway, you can head down to Paseo de Marianas any night this month, pick up a ribbon of your choosing, and write a name, a wish, or whatever you want, and tie it to the giant tree made out of empty aluminum cans.

The first day to tie a ribbon around a tree was this past Thursday, during the Christmas tree decorating contest lighting.

I chose a green ribbon.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Next Chapter

Four years ago today I returned to Saipan to bury my father. I was living in Japan on the day that he died and I came to Saipan on the earliest flight possible.

If you scroll through the archives of my blog, you can read my first impressions upon returning to the island I first called home:
"My favorite thing about first arriving in Saipan is the smell. I can’t describe it. I don’t know if it is from all of the vegetation or if it comes about from being so close to the ocean, but there is a very distinct smell that you only sense when you first arrive. By the second day you can’t smell it anymore, but when you first arrive, it really reminds you that you are home."
There is no doubt in my mind that Saipan will forever and for always be my home, but like thousands before me there comes a time when I must put my own economic well-being ahead of my love of the islands where I was born.

I have decided to move to Florida where I can be closer to my mother, stepfather, two brothers, sister, and niece. My decision was not an easy one and I spent a long time making it.

I will spend the holidays on Saipan and will be flying out the first week of January. I want to give you plenty of advance notice so that we have the opportunity to say goodbye.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Warping Young Minds

It has been over a year (I think) since I've spent any considerable time spreading tree hugger propaganda in our local institutions of elementary learning. I spoke to well over 1000 students last year about the proposed Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Today I talked to over 150 about the basics of sustainable development and government decision making. And I inadvertently invented a really fun class activity in the first class, which Mr. Joe and I repeated with great success for five more periods.

I started the lesson off by asking the students, "Who runs our island?" The Mayor! Governor! The Legislature!

And how do they get that job? They get elected!

By who? Us!

You guys vote? Our parents!

And who is the governor's boss? The bishop! The president!

No. No?

No, YOU are the governor's boss. Whoa...

Then I asked them, "How does a governor make a decision?" When there is an issue facing the islands and the governor has to decide how he is going to approach a solution, what are his thinking processes for doing so?

I eventually explain that a governor has to consider people, planet, and profit when making decisions and tried to generate a discussion on how that's not always so easy.

I start with People. I explain that the governor makes decisions by asking the people what they want, using the examples of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (how Governor Fitial initially opposed it), marine protected areas (how they can be good for the environment, but opposed for certain reasons), fishing (and the importance of culture), and Managaha (a tangible protected area that the kids have visited). The students seemed to be agreeable to the statement that the governor should take into account the people when making decisions.

Then I point out that sometimes the governor also takes into account the Environment when making environmental decisions. This was not hard for the students to accept.

I also asked "why should we protect the environment?" These students have been getting the message for years that they need to protect it, but why? At first the students said because it's pretty, the animals are nice, and so that we can enjoy it, but eventually we got to the fact that every single thing that we eat was at one time living, that all of our food comes from the environment, and that we ourselves are in fact a part of the environment.

The first two periods had a hard time accepting that everything we eat comes from nature, which I found really funny. I think word must have spread by third period because the later classes accepted that statement with no questions.

There's also something else that is very important that a governor must consider when making decisions: the Economy. This one was also pretty easy to understand for the kids.

I then went on to explain how all these things are related, that they don't exist in a vacuum and that they can overlap.

As I did so I drew this chart explaining that each circle represents a possible decision that a governor can make. A decision can be purely environmental, purely economical, purely people, a mix of two, or all three.

And I then asked a student to volunteer as our next governor. Hands shot up, I picked a new governor, and I told him to put an X where on the chart he would make his decisions as governor. Would he be strong on the environment, the people, or the economy, or a mix?

Right before he made their X, I stopped he and said that Mr. Joe represented the Chamber of Commerce. He would pay the student $10 if they chose only economy. Then I picked a second student and said she represented the people and that she's got a lot of supporters. If the new governor promised to be a people only governor, the second student will make sure the governor gets re-elected. Then I say that I'm the smartest, best looking guy on the island and that my advice is to be an environment only governor. Come on, I'm the smartest, best looking guy on the island. I went to school, I'm a scientist, experienced and know what I'm talking about. You should really listen to me.

With that said, I ask the new governor to put his X on the chart. Oh wait, why not have the rest of the class pressure him for their preferred option, too?

It turned out great. The student would put his X somewhere on the chart as the rest of the kids pressured him to put the X where they wanted it. After the first governor I brought up three or four more governors and asked them what type of governor they'd be. The students put X's all over the chart, some getting the $10 by being economy only (I didn't really give them the money), some getting re-elected by being people only, and some listening to me, the smartest, best looking guy on the island. Some of the students also decided they'd combine two types of governor; a few said they'd be all three types at once.

Once there was an example in every part of the chart, I explained the ridiculousness of being a one issue governor.

Environment only? Let's end all fishing on Saipan. But we'll starve! What about the people!

Economy only? Let's kill every single fish and sell it to China, we'll make millions. But what about the people? And that will destroy our environment!

And so on and so on for each example, finally ending up by explaining that a good governor needs to balance all three.

The kids were really into it and got really excited. After the activity we had some great discussions about how all these things related with another and we discussed habitat loss, extinction, and what that means for local cultures.

Finally, I ended each class by asking the students what they could do as students to change the things they wanted to change. They unanimously screamed impeachment, with one kid recommending assassination. Those options are unlikely and illegal, respectively, so I recommended that they could also write letters, letters to the editor, letters to the governor, letters to the president or their principal. They could also pass around a petition, talk to their parents, or if it is something like getting toilet paper for their school, just hold a fundraiser and go buy it themselves.

Not that I'm campaigning, but I couldn't help but think that all these kids will be old enough to vote in the next election. The truth is that this will be my last class presentation to students on Saipan as I have made the decision to move to Florida after the holidays.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Stop Attacking Tourists

Both newspapers carry a story today about a 35 year old Chinese tourist hit by a car outside Grand Hotel on Saturday night. Can we please stop attacking our tourists?

Remember the Korean plane crash in Guam in 1997?
Korean Air Guam Night Flights to be Halted

Korean Air was operating 13 flights per week to Guam that originated in Seoul and Pusan; 10 of those were night flights. After the crash, {Associated Press reported that} the Korean Air President spoke at a parliamentary hearing in Seoul and said that Guam night flights would be suspended until the cause of the crash near Nimitz Hill would be determined. This announcement was only a prelude to the final announcement in October 1st 1997 of a complete pullout of Korean Air from Guam up until March 28 1998. Another Korean Airline, Asiana Air has halted flights into Guam until Sept 12th when FAA will press back into service the Glide Slope device {the Glide Slope was actually fixed on Aug 31st}.
It sure would suck if another airline decided to just stop flying here, wouldn't it?

This latest accident, coupled with the recent shootings and the last decade of robbings and muggings at dive sites and tourist sites is what is destroying tourism and our economy, federalization be damned.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Two Worlds

Around the time I was in high school my mother kept a newspaper clipping from the New York Times in the glove compartment of her Subaru station wagon.

“I saved this for you. It was in the paper while you were in Saipan,” she told me.

“Tell your mother that there are no slaves on Saipan,” my father on Saipan would write. “Slaves don’t get salaries.”

“Your father has a very short memory,” Mom would respond. “It wasn’t too long ago that he was a poor man in a foreign land trying to make a better life. He’s forgotten what it feels like to be at the bottom of the totem pole.”

Depending on who you ask, today marked the end of a failed system rife with human rights abuses or the beginning of a new chapter in American imperialism.

A quick reminder why this happened: Governor Fitial chose federalization over sovereignty.

Friday, November 27, 2009

2009 Rotary Club of Saipan Manamko' Luncheon

The Rotary Club of Saipan has hosted a Manamko' Luncheon every holiday season for over 20 consecutive years. As the Director of Community Service, this year was my turn to organize the event.

Rotarians were asked to donate something to eat and something to raffle. All told me brought three turkeys, three hams, mashed potatoes, rice, taro, stuffing, cranberry sauce, a huge cake, a dozen pies, pumpkin bread, bean salad, bottled water, sodas, and of course, lots of helping hand to help dish out the food.

After we served the Manamko' we had the chance to eat. I honestly don't think I've had turkey since last Thanksgiving (not a lot of turkey served at Asian restaurants). Man, it was good.

After everyone ate we had our door prize raffle. Rotarian Perry donated the best prize: cold, hard cash. We also had gift certificates for buffets, lunches, breakfasts, several umbrellas, and even a Magic Sing.

Operation CNMI Homefront Support Packing Day

We are not here to curse the darkness; we are here to light a candle.

-John F. Kennedy, 1960

Today was the day the organizers of Operation Homefront Support gathered all the donations we received and packed them into boxes to send to our active duty hometown heroes who are off-island this holiday season.

This is the second year Homefront Support has put together and mailed out care packages to troops. This year it was organized by Rotary Club of Saipan, American Red Cross, and Marianas Cable Vision.

The packages included things like SPAM, canned tuna, rice crackers, coconut chips, monument t-shirts, copies of the Saipan Tribune, Beach Road magazine, Hafadai magazine, letters from school kids, a little satchel (Indiana Jones had one) from the Red Cross, and other local foods and novelties.

I don't have a list of everyone who donated, but the list is long. Rotary Club donated $500+ for shipping and a few members helped out with the organizing and packaging. I donated the last of the Indigenous t-shirts from last year's campaign and a few booklets on the monument.

Thanks to everyone who donated and to everyone who helped us package up the boxes.

180 of the Commonwealth's finest will get a taste of home thanks to your generosity.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

In 2006 I wrote to the Beautify CNMI E-mail list:
“As for me, I'm thankful for all of you. Without you, Beautify CNMI would never have made it out of the starting gates. Look at what we've accomplish in 6 short months: We planted over 1700 trees; we recycled over 260,000 lbs of recylable material; we've had almost weekly cleanups of beaches and roads, our biggest cleanup on 10/20 attracting over 3,380 volunteers; we've signed an MOA with Bali Steel to remove junk cars and goods at no cost to the government; we've cleaned up and restored tourist areas, both historical and natural; on top of that, we've done this by including segments of our community that don't always get to "hang out" together. I'm hopeful that we can continue to draw in more partners and as Cinta says, "continue to infect people with the Beauty Virus." Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!”
While I’m not ebullient as I was when I was 28, I have plenty to be thankful for this year.

I’ve got a great girl in my life. We don’t have kids, but we have two goofy looking dogs. Oreo and Snow White are kind of like kids though; they cost a lot of money, eat, poop, wake us up at night, and we occasionally have to take them to see Lola Emie (Eden’s Mom).

For most of my life the only relatives within 1500 miles of my front door were Alex and Mom. Thelma, Anna, Liz, and Ike, getting to know you and your families has been the best part of returning to Saipan.

I attained what might be the accomplishment of my lifetime when the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was created earlier this year. The monument is far from perfect, but like everything, is a work in progress. I like to think that my great grandkids will point to me as the environmentalist that led to its creation, and if you are reading this, yours probably will do the same for you.

I was also able to visit all the northern islands of the Marianas this year, fulfilling a lifelong dream to not only visit Pagan, but also sail around Uracas and dive the Maug lagoon.

And right before I went on that trip I made the decision, at the tender age of 30, to run for Mayor of Saipan. I did not win, but garnered the support of 1612 voters and came in a respectable third out of nine. I am thankful for all those who voted for me, all those who volunteered for me, and to all those who helped me raise nearly $20,000 for my campaign.

And to get back to the topic of family, how lucky am I to have a Mom who would travel 6000 miles to help me in my bid to become the first Irish mayor in Micronesia?

And after four years, Beautify CNMI continues to chug along. We organized another island wide cleanup this year. With over 4000 volunteers, it was by far the biggest, most successful event we ever held. We also put on a Boonie Dog show for the third year in a row, planted more trees in our villages, reactivated the anti-graffiti brigade, planted more trees at Laulau, marched in the 4th of July parade, participated in International Coastal Cleanup Day for the first time, and next week we’ll announce a new slogan: 15 minutes can Beautify CNMI! And we did all this while maintaining nearly weekly cleanups of our streets and beaches.

And after four years back on Saipan, after winning national and regional awards for the work we’ve done together, after joint resolutions from the Legislature telling us to go to hell, after internal and external squabbles, after building coalitions for and against, after the re-election of the worst governor in Commonwealth history, after a shooting that has shattered the lives of many and that is sure to ruin any remnants of the tourism economy we once had, after countless beers, countless barbeques, and not nearly enough exercise, not much has changed. The thing I am most thankful for is you.

May the Force be with you and your family and may the distance to the light at the tunnel be counted in months rather than years.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

15 minutes can Beautify CNMI!

Here's a sneak peek at the winning bumper sticker and slogan from the recent Beautify CNMI contest. I will announce the name of the winning student artist as soon as the stickers are printed. The winner gets $150 and 50 stickers.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fitial Leads Heinz

I fell asleep last night before all the precinct votes were counted. Fitial currently leads Heinz 6313 to 5812, which is a 4.2% difference. In order to win, Heinz would have to win the remaining absentee ballots by more than 501 votes. So let's say Fitial gets 200 absentee votes, Heinz would have to get 701 just to tie. In other words, we're going to be subjected to five more years of Fitial.

This election reminded me in so many ways of the Presidential Election in 2004. We're going to invade Fallujah any day now; and our leaders were kind enough not to let the issue "bother" us before we headed to the polls.

However, whereas Bush only had four years to wreck havoc on our economy, environment, and security, Fitial now has five.

Fitial's off to a good start. His million dollar plus lawsuit against the federal government was tossed out last night. I'm sure the next step will be not renewing the contracts of all the people he hired right before the election.

Heinz leads Fitial

With 3049 votes counted from on-island absentee ballots and precincts 1A, 2 and 6, Heinz Hofschneider leads Benigno Fitial 1534 - 1515, a 0.6% lead. There are still several thousand votes to count and we should know the winner in the next few hours.

Heinz Takes Tinian!

The results are in for the island of Tinian and Heinz Hofschneider won the island 453-373 (54.8% to 45.2%). That is a 9.6% win.

Go Tinian!

Photos of the Vigil

I didn't take any photos of the vigil, but was able to find these on Facebook. Thanks to everyone who came out last night and thanks to everyone who helped organize the event.

A big thanks to American Memorial Park who let us use their facilities at no cost. It is the best venue for this type of event.

Our speakers were very gracious to volunteer to speak. Thanks goes out to our singers and musicians, too.

There are more photos on Ed Propst's Facebook profile.