'This is a family' Christ the King International School hosts reunion party
On Oct. 28, the ballroom at Kariyushi Urban Resort Naha was packed with 350 people and many different backgrounds. The room was filled with Okinawan, Filipino, and American heritages, and although they came from different parts of the world, their thoughts rested happily on one thing: the days they spent as students of, or friends of the Christ the King International School (CKIS).
“Christ the King International School was established in 1953 by Father Valentine,” said Francis Toma, Class of 1978, who is one of the organizers of the reunion. “By 1961, the school had grown to 700 people already. It just kept growing. I think the maximum was over 1,000. In 1975, after the reversion from U.S. to Japan, a lot of people left and the school grew smaller. The school closed around 1989 to be taken over by a Japanese school called Okinawa Catholic Gakuen.”
“I went to visit (the location of) the school yesterday, but I could not recognize it,” said Mario Barroga, class of ’72. Barroga, who used to work for the American Information Service under the Department of Defense and traveled from Maryland to attend this reunion party.
“The parents of most of CKIS kids were from other countries. Like my father, who is from the Philippines. The school was built at the right time for those kids,” said the graduate.
“Most of the graduates we have today have some Okinawan blood in them. 50% of them are Filipino Okinawan combinations. The rest are Chinese, Americans, and local Japanese (from mainland). It is really a mixture of different cultures that makes us very unique. Half of them stayed in Okinawa but the other half left. So this is a time that they can come back,” said Toma.
“For me it’s a calling just to see my classmates again, and I also missed the Okinawan food like Champroo, Tebichi,” added Barroga.
Although it has been almost three decades since the school closed, the great time they had at CKIS was almost palpable through the excitement and smiles on the attendees’ faces.
Mariko Ogino, class of ’73 who visited Okinawa for the first time in 50 years, was very excited about seeing her classmates after so many years.
“We were so close to each other - like brothers and sisters. We helped each other. This school is special. This is great even after 50 years.”
Ogino is now a principal of an international preschool in Hyogo prefecture, passing down what she learned at the CKIS to the next generation.
Jason Rutherford, class of ’89, is a good representation of the diversity the school had. Being a “half kid,” he had a father from Ohio and mother from Daitojima Island in Okinawa.
“It was like a family,” said Rutherford, who currently works as an engineer on Okinawa.
Kumiko Nagamine, who was a teacher for Rutherford at CKIS and is currently a teacher for his daughter and son at Okinawa Catholic Gakuen, a successor to CKIS, was happy to see the network of graduates still growing.
“This is a family. They are coming from all over the world just get to the reunion every five years. It’s important that they are close to each other. The CKIS graduates are very international and they’ve got a wide network and strong ties.”
I came to find out a proof of the still growing “network” and “ties” of CKIS when I interviewed Larry Laurion Jr. and Tom Riggins.
Laurion, who was here as a graduate of Kubasaki High School (KHS), explained how big a coincidence it was for him to meet Riggins, who attended the party coming from Washington D.C. with his wife, who was a CKIS graduate.
“Until three hours ago. We didn’t know each other. He asked me what service I was in, and I said ‘Air Force.’ He said he spent four years in the Air Force. I asked, ‘what did you do in the Air Force?’ and he said ‘I was a Chinese linguist. I said, ‘So was I.’”
They were also surprised to find out that both of them went to Yale University.
“He was four years behind me. We had to come all the way here to Okinawa just to find out we did the same thing,” said Laurion, who travelled from Las Vegas to come to the party.
Reggins agreed by saying, “Until 6:30 p.m., we never met. All of the coincidence one night in Okinawa.”
Just like Laurion, there were other KHS graduates at the party, indicating a friendship between the two schools. Norma Kalvelage from San Antonio, Texas was one of them.
“There’s so much diversity here. It’s fascinating. I graduated from Kubasaki High School in 1968, long time ago. The island was very different. I see the change in population.”
When asked if she had enjoyed her days at KHS in Okinawa, Kalvelage said, “The best years of my life. We had freedoms - a lot of freedoms. Very difficult academics, but we had a lot of fun. The combination was perfect. And we loved the diversity; it was so natural. Here we have people from California, Honolulu, Colorado - all parts of the United States. ”
Speaking with some KHS graduates at the CKIS reunion party, I recalled what Mario Barroga said early in the evening about the ties between these schools.
“There were scholarships and funds put together for the two schools. There were also a lot of extracurricular activities between the two, one of which was a “College Bowl,” where they asked questions to see who was the smarter of the schools.
“I am the perfect example, because my wife is from Kubasaki. And I am from Christ the King,” Barroga added.
The party was full of excitement and not many left the ballroom after official part of the party ended at 9 p.m. It seemed that most of the attendees could not get enough of the happy vibe, which made it hard to leave.