Uncle Sol Flores, son of Cabugao
Sol Flores was not my uncle until he met my aunt Cecilia Tolentino, from the town of Magsingal in northern Ilocos Sur, and that event would take place in the United States after the end of World War II. She was a young Philippine General Hospital nurse whose arms were badly burnt during the battle for the liberation of Manila. He was an aspiring dentist in his third year of training at the Centro Escolar University (CEU) in Manila when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Flores was born in 1922 in Cabugao, Ilocos Sur; one of six siblings. His father was a Protestant minister in a predominantly Roman Catholic environment. That influence was evident in Sol’s Christian faith, upright character, and formal speaking style. When the war broke out, as a reservist in the Philippine Commonwealth Army, he was called to active duty, serving with the United States Armed Forces of the Far East until the fall of Bataan in April 1942. He survived the Death March, and after release from a POW camp, resumed his dental studies at CEU, graduating with the last batch before liberation came about.
After his army discharge, he proceeded to the University of Illinois Medical Center for advanced training in prosthodontics. In 1948, he was invited to join the faculty of the College of Dentistry, becoming the first Filipino ever appointed to the faculty of an American dental college. Though he could train American students, he himself could not practice the profession due to restrictions on foreign dental graduates. Keep in mind he finished at CEU Manila. However, the dean of the college, impressed with his work, allowed him to join a senior dental class for course work leading to an American degree while simultaneously fulfilling his faculty duties. He would acquire US citizenship under the Eisenhower administration, becoming a lifelong Republican.
Now, let me pause for awhile. Around this time, he met my aunt, a younger sister of my stepmother, who was in a nursing program close by. They were married in 1951, one of the very first Asian American couples to settle down in Evanston, Illinois. With the arrival of daughter Nona and son Sam Jr., the Flores family was complete. From what I was told, it was not always an easy life in a mostly white community not used to foreigners.
Uncle Sol never forgot his roots and an annual pilgrimage to Cabugao was always on his calendar. He would contribute modern facilities for his old high school including a dental clinic dedicated to indigent patients of the town, supporting its operations with contributions to keep things running.
When my son Dr. Miguel Farolan, left for the United States to join his wife Leslie, a neonatologist, it was Uncle Sol who helped jump-start his career as a pathologist, opening doors of opportunity. My daughter Bon who finished at Northwestern, was also a recipient of his generosity. The kids remember Uncle Sol and Auntie Cecing as their surrogate parents, a role that will remain forever in their hearts. He was the beloved patriarch to a large, extended family of nephews and nieces, and their children and grandchildren. Christmas rituals always included his lecture on the importance of education prior to handing out envelopes of money to every child below college age. I remember him as a generous soul, generous with his wisdom and his resources accumulated through the traditional Ilocano virtues of hard work and thrift. The highlight of my visits to Evanston were the juicy steaks marinated a day before by Auntie Cecing, the best-tasting in the world. And they were usually served after a round of golf with Uncle at the nearby Evanston community golf course.
Uncle Sol’s many distinctions and honors include president of the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) Dental Alumni Association, membership in the Omicron Kappa Upsilon Dental Honor Society, and the Midwest Academy of Prosthodontics. As chairman of the Continuing Education Committee of the Academy of General Dentistry, he formulated the requirements for Fellowship and Mastership of the Academy. He was honored by the American College of Dentists on his 50th year of membership, and was awarded the 2016 Distinguished Dental Alumnus Award from the UIC Dental Alumni Association. As my son put it, he was a beacon of dedication, humility, generosity, and leadership by example.
Sol Flores passed away last week from COVID-19 complications.
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