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From left: Eduardo Gonzalez and his wife Amalia, next to Rosa and Greg Wickham.

The return of Eduardo & Rosa

1968 exchange students revisit Odessa-Montour

ODESSA, June 5 -- Eduardo Jorge Gonzalez of Argentina and Rosa Maria Antoniazzi of Brazil were exchange students in the 1967-68 school year at Odessa-Montour Central School.

Thursday, they were back in the hallways they long ago walked, and they were delighted by the experience.

"It's nicer," said Eduardo about the school after he and his wife Amalia, along with Rosa and her husband Greg Wickham, had been given a tour by O-M Superintendent Chris Wood. "It was nice back then, but's it's nicer now; bigger."

In particular, Eduardo said, the size difference comes in the large gymnasium that succeeded its claustrophobic predecessor, the Jack Davis Gym still used for various activities, such as varsity wrestling.

He and Rosa were seated with their spouses in Wood's office, resting after the tour and reminiscing. Gonzalez, from Buenos Aires, has in the intervening years -- since he spent six months here, from December 1967 to June 1968 -- had a career as a doctor, specifically as an allergist. He had both public (in a hospital) and private practices, he said, and now pursues only the private one. He and his wife have been to the United States several times, and he said he returned to Odessa twice before this trip -- in 1981 and again in 1993, for the Class of 1968's 25th reunion.

But on neither occasion did he get back inside the school building; he saw it from outside. This time he received the tour, and he was fairly beaming about it, and remembering back to those six months long ago, to the friends he made and the activities in which he participated, which included competing on the O-M track team.

Rosa started at O-M in December 1967, as well, but left just three months into her stay. Her parents had established the time limit, thinking she might not enjoy herself and would want to return home to Brazil. As it turned out, she regretted leaving Odessa ... in particular because of her relationship with an American student at the school. But more on that later.

After going home, she remained friends with Eduardo across the years. He told how one time, after returning to Argentina, he visited neighboring Brazil and stopped at Rosa's Sao Paulo home, announcing himself as her friend -- much to the consternation of her protective parents, who had never met him before.

While he was here as an exchange student, Eduardo stayed with the Darling and Craver families, and was looking forward to visiting Shirley Craver later Thursday. Shirley's husband Roy died in March of 2014. The Darlings, Helen ("Deanie") and Stanley, have both passed, Deanie at the age of 93 earlier this year.

Eduardo and his wife, after their school tour, the reminiscences -- Amalia, who speaks little English, mostly listened -- and their visit with Shirley Craver, were heading Friday to Philadelphia and New York City, and then home.

Meanwhile, Rosa talked at length during the gathering in Wood's office about how she ended up living in this area -- in Horseheads, specifically -- after going back home following her three-month stint as an exchange student. She had fallen in love at first sight with Greg Wickham, an O-M student whose father, Richard, taught at the school. When the three months were up, she said, she really didn't want to go back home; wanted, in fact, to be near Greg and the other friends she had met here.

After Greg attended Corning Community College, he transferred to Bowling Green State University in Ohio -- a school that had an exchange program with the college Rosa was attending near her home. She got her parents to agree to let her spend another three months in the United States, at Bowling Green, and there she became engaged to Greg.

They both finished college in their respective homelands, and then Greg went to Brazil to visit Rosa and meet her family. (He acknowledged there was more than a little pressure on him during that trip.) They were married the following year, and subsequently lived in Elmira, in Rhode Island, and for the many years since in the Horseheads area as he pursued a business career. He is now retired.

The Wickhams and Gonzalezes have been friends across the years, with Eduardo and Amalia -- whom Eduardo married in Argentina nearly four decades ago -- visiting Rosa and Greg up here, and the Wickhams visiting Eduardo and Amalia in Argentina.

And now came this visit. Rosa and Greg said it was also their first time in the school since those days of yore, back when Greg caught Rosa's eye and she caught his; back when Greg's father was teaching. "I wasn't in any of his classes," Rosa noted -- but she got to know him well. "He was a great father-in-law, but he died too soon."

"It happened quite a few years ago," said Greg of his father's passing.

Yes, it was the first time back in the building for the three former O-M students since Eduardo, at the age of 15, was taking Spanish, American History, English, Economics, and Ecology at Odessa, back when he wrote in the school yearbook that he really liked it here. "I've never seen snow before," he wrote. "I like it but not the cold ... I will miss all people I met here. Found friendship and sympathy in everybody here."

He spent six months as an exchange student here, and has now made three return trips. His friend Rosa spent three months as an exchange student, and then many years (and still counting) as an area resident. Similar origins, and very different paths.

They were there in Chris Wood's office Thursday, relaxed in the chairs at a conference table. They were laughing, and reminiscing, and thinking back. And, as people of optimism and experience, and as friends clearly comfortable with one another, they were enjoying the present.

And in Eduardo's case, he was looking ahead, too, for he hopes to come here again.

"I wish for that," he said, a small smile on his face. And he pursed his lips and nodded.

Photos in text: Eduardo Gonzalez then and now; Rosa Wickham then and now; and Greg Wickham then.

Greg Wickham and Amalia Gonzalez during their visit to the Odessa-Montour school.





© The Odessa File 2015
Charles Haeffner
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