This November marks a bittersweet 50th anniversary for Felipe and Ernestina Nunez of Decatur.
With heavy hearts, they reflect on the 50-year milestone of the assassination of John F. Kennedy – a national tragedy that was felt worldwide.
But the couple, who will celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary in December, also celebrates the number of years they’ve known each other.
The two were living in Nuevo Le n, Mexico – she was a student in high school; he was working for local government – when they heard of the president’s death.
“The whole city was paralyzed,” Felipe said. “There were no buses running, factories closed, workers were sent home for the day. Because there were no means of public transportation, everyone was forced to walk home. Many were crying.”
“Everyone was in shock,” Ernestina added. “He was Catholic, and he was a good president. “He treated everybody – regardless of their race – well, and many Mexicans believed that with John F. Kennedy as president, Mexico and the United States could cultivate a good relationship.”
For several days, Mexicans joined their neighbors in mourning. Many events were canceled or postponed, including a fundraiser at a local school that both planned to attend.
The festival was held a week later, and it was there that the two met.
“In remembering John F. Kennedy’s death, we also reflect on the time we’ve known each other,” Felipe said.
Ernestina and two of her friends performed a “bailable,” a choreographed dance routine. This particular routine was Brazilian-themed, and the three girls wore baskets filled with fruits.
A teacher enlisted the help of Felipe to be in charge of the music.
After the girls danced their routine, they went around selling distintivos. Those in attendance paid five pesos, and the girls would affix on them these bows that allowed them to dance the rest of the evening.
Felipe told Ernestina he would buy one, but only if she danced with him.
By custom, girls in Mexico are not allowed to dance with guys until they turn 15 and dance their first song with their dad at their quinceanera.
Ernestina had just turned 15, but her parents hadn’t thrown her quinceanera yet, so she wasn’t sure if they would allow her to dance with Felipe.
Her friend, Lucha, jumped in offering to dance with him.
“But I told her, ‘No, I want to dance with her,’” Felipe said, pointing at Ernestina.
Ernestina’s parents granted her their permission, and the two spent the rest of the evening dancing together.
“I asked her to be my girlfriend the same day I met her,” Felipe said. “We continued seeing each other thereafter. I would go see her after school.”
Ernestina’s quinceanera was held Dec. 10, and it was there that Felipe met all of her family.
“We had a really good time,” he said. “We continued seeing each other, but then her parents found out that we were dating. Because she was still in high school, they asked that we stop seeing each other, that we wait until she was a little older.”
They obeyed her parents’ request, and for three years, they resorted to writing each other letters and seeing each other only from afar. But they never talked.
Then, after she graduated high school and began college, Felipe asked Ernestina’s parents for permission to date their daughter. They agreed, and the couple began dating again in early 1967.
In August of that year, Felipe came to the United States to work. He ended up in Decatur where he worked for a glass factory and in construction. (Felipe had a hand in the construction of the Catholic church in Bridgeport.)
Then he and three friends decided to move to Chicago to pursue opportunities there.
Felipe began working at a company that made wooden lamps. The owners of the company were gracious people who helped him obtain his residency. One even traveled with him to Monterrey to talk to the consulate.
“I had my residency in less than a year,” Felipe said.
He obtained all of the legal paperwork on Feb. 10, 1969, and returned to the United States four days later.
“Oh, it was a sobfest,” Felipe said.
“I didn’t want him to leave,” Ernestina said. “It was Valentine’s Day.”
But that May, Felipe returned to ask Ernestina’s parents for her hand in marriage. They agreed, and on Dec. 13 of that year, they married.
After a five-day honeymoon to Saltillo, Mexico, the newlyweds migrated to the United States. They made a quick two-day stop in Decatur before continuing on to Chicago.
“Since the first time I came to Decatur, I always knew that if I ever got married, this was the place I wanted to raise my family,” Felipe said. “But since the owners of the company I was working for in Chicago were the ones who helped me with my residency, I felt obligated to work for them however long they asked.”
When he asked the owners, they told him he didn’t owe them anything; he could leave immediately if he wanted.
Felipe and his bride weathered a four-month winter in Chicago. In April 1970 they returned to Decatur, where they’ve made their home ever since. Shortly after they arrived, Ernestina learned she was expecting their first child.
Cristina was born Dec. 2, 1970. Three years later, Ernestina gave birth to their second daughter, Monica – Wise County’s first baby in 1973.
Upon their return to Texas, Felipe worked at the glass factory for six years, before moving the family to Mexico, where they opened an aluminum foundry in Monterrey in 1975.
“At about the same time that we opened, the then-president of Mexico slashed the value of the peso in half,” Felipe said. “There was no way the company would prosper, so we closed it up and returned to the United States. Fortunately, we didn’t sell our house or anything. We didn’t even cut off telephone service. The house was ready for our return; we just had to clean it.”
Felipe went to work in Denton, but the drive was too much. So he landed a job as a supervisor at Acme Brick. He worked there for two weeks before he ran into a friend, who was also in management at what was then Mitchell Energy, now Devon.
On May 16, 1976, he began a 37-year career with the company – interrupted by a temporary 2-year retirement before his official retirement in December 2011.
Meanwhile, Ernestina worked at the nursing home, the school, the hospital and also ran a restaurant the family owned for four years beginning in 1982. Their youngest, Alexandria, was born Oct. 27, 1982.
For the last 13 years, Ernestina has worked at Wal-Mart – first in the deli and later in the Connection Center (cell phones). Although she turned 65 earlier this year, she does not plan to retire anytime soon.
While she’s at work, Felipe keeps busy on the family farm and taxiing the granchildren – Guirnalda, Juliana, Carlos and Christian – to various activities.
But Ernestina’s work schedule still allows plenty of time for the things the two like to do together – being involved in church, hunting, reading, cooking out and attending their grandchildren’s functions (soccer games games, swimming meets, ballet recitals, basketball games, hockey games, Destination Imagination competitions, awards ceremonies at school).
“They have us like a chile in a basket,” Felipe said. “Back and forth, back and forth. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Regarding us, it’s been 50 great years,” she said.
Much of this interview was conducted in Spanish.