By Dina Delfino and Norminda Forteza
In my heart I treasure your promise.
– Psalm 119:11
Leonarda “Nene” Mallari was born in Camp Caboan, Butuan City on 5 November 1936 to Julian Salindatu and Tecla Fernandez. Her father Julian was a seaman, who worked for years in shipping lines, both domestic and international. Her mother was a home-maker. Their surname “Salindatu” sometimes caused anxiety as they were mistaken for being Muslim.
Nene has eight siblings – Maria, Falaviana, Rosario, Crisensio, Margarito, Leoncia, (herself), and Pascual (she tried to remember one more). Brother Crisensio was special as he helped Nene in her schooling and education.
Nene remembered a happy childhood, her mom always busy with home life and the children. Nene was educated in Butuan City from elementary to college in Catholic schools for girls. She lived in dormitories, but was not restricted too much compared to those of other schools.
Nene was a good athlete and joined tournaments and competitions in volleyball. Often she also became a “muse” in events as she was quite pretty.
She finished midwifery and was stationed at the United Maternity Hospital in Butuan City, helping deliver babies in town. She was a favourite. One of her most unforgettable experiences involved a Muslim couple who was relying heavily on her skills. She was afraid as she was surrounded by a “tribe” who was ready to pounce on her in case she was not successful. She indeed feared for her life when the woman started bleeding profusely and had to convince the husband to rush her to hospital.
One day a ship-load of young sailors docked in their town. Unbeknown to them, the sailors were using their telescopes to check out the women in town. They spotted Nene and started to call her “bulaklak” (flower). One of the sailors was a very good-looking young man, who was deeply attracted to Nene and laid “claim” on her among his peers. Little did she know, that Augustine “Isting” would someday become her husband. There was a lot of intrigues as many women wanted Isting and after a lot of jealous episodes, Isting and Nene tied the knot on 6 February 1964 at St Joseph’s Church in Butuan City.
Two children, Melinda and Edmond are fruits of this marriage. The call to new life in another country became strong to Nene when she saw that many of her colleagues were going abroad, so she tried her luck as well. Soon the family migrated, arriving in Australia for new life and they settled in Springvale, Melbourne where they lived for almost 30 years.
Life was busy—working, raising kids and gaining friends. Unfortunately, Isting died of a heart attack leaving behind Nene and their two children. Nene kept herself busy with work as a nurse/midwife in hospitals. She also started participating in community affairs and became a strong leader and organiser, including establishing the United Filipino Elderly Group, the Filipino music group at St Francis in Melbourne and many others. These allowed her to become a respected and popular community leader, not only among her peers but also government bodies that recognise and honour cultural diversity. The awards on her wall were her proud testimonies that showed how much she had contributed to the community in time, talent and treasure.
When her daughter Melinda died suddenly, it became a trial of faith, needing to help raise five grandchildren- Tiffany, Raphael, James (from first marriage) and Caitlyn and Nathan (from second marriage). She felt compelled to become mother and grandmother at the same time for them. In their home in Keysborough where they all moved together after Isting died, the house was full of loving memories and hard work.
Her son Edmond is married and has two children. His very busy work in the Philippines brings him to frequent travelling, which left him unable to settle down in Melbourne with Nene.
Due to health issues, Nene at 80 years old, had to relinquish her role as carer to her family and had moved to TLC Manor a few months ago. She shared that the home is comfortable and sufficient for her needs; the staff are kind and caring. Plenty of activities entertain them, but she admitted nothing beats being with family. She missed her independence and the daily presence of her family, especially her grandchildren.
Relying only on her strong faith in God, the visit of family, friends and community, she took things one day at a time. Often she reminisced on her very active life and hoped she could make good use of her remaining years somehow, especially to those who are in need.
This desire was born out of her big-heartedness, commitment to serve, joy in friendships and love for God. Age did not wear out the greatness in Nene and today we honour her, for what she had given to the community, but also what she inspired in each and everyone one of us- the undying spirit of generosity.