Lawrenceville resident, Farrar Atkinson, a former Peace Corps volunteer and biology teacher at Manila High School in the Philippines, celebrated her eightieth birthday with former students from the classes of 1962-1964 on Thursday, 6/15/2017 in the Fellowship Hall at Rock Springs United Methodist Church.
Also, celebrating a milestone birthday was former student, Felicidad, “Felly” Lasala, who turned seventy years old.
How did they meet?
In 1962, Atkinson, a graduate of Mercer University, departed from Lawrenceville on her twenty-fifth birthday and flew to San Francisco for Peace Corp (Group 5) training at San Francisco State College. “I was assigned to Manila High School and was the only American amongst the 5,000 students and 300-400 faculty members.” Atkinson recalled. “While I was teaching, I met and mentored many students to include, Felly and her friend, Milagros. Milagros “Mila” Lasala (who would later become Felly’s sister-in law), was the valedictorian for the Class of ’64. She received a four-year scholarship to my alma mater, but lacked the necessary funds for her transportation to Georgia. I asked my daddy for the six hundred dollars required for her journey.” Atkinson said her father gladly gave her the money.
When Mila arrived to the Peach State, Atkinson arranged for Mayor Rhodes Jordan to meet her; he welcomed her to Lawrenceville on August 18, 1964. Mila graduated from Mercer in June, 1968 and enrolled in the pre-med program at the University of Hawaii. She met her husband, David Binstock while she was in graduate school.
Mila is appreciative of Atkinson’s mentoring and generosity. “I didn’t know what my life was going to be like. I was sixteen years old and it was up to me to make the most of it. Farrar did more than was required of her as a Peace Corp volunteer and on her small salary. She positively affected all of our lives. She opened our eyes up to appreciating the fine arts and exposed us to different cultures. After school, I wanted to come here to Georgia.” The Binstock’s eventually did. They have resided in Lawrenceville for the past twenty-five years.
Felly immigrated to the United States in 1985, became an American citizen, and eventually relocated to Georgia to become an ESL teacher for the Gwinnett County School System from 1999 - 2010. “Thursday evening’s birthday and re-union celebration was very special.” Felly remarked. “Last night was very memorable. Classmates and their spouses traveled from all across the country and Canada. We serenaded Farrar with her favorite song, ‘Greenfields’.” The festivities also included music, ballroom dancing, and authentic Filipino and Southern cuisine, to include fried chicken. “Farrar is such a beautiful and compassionate spirit. When we’re all together, you forget time has passed.”
Fifty-three years later, Mayor Jordan’s daughter, Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson, joined in the birthday and reunion functions, welcoming the group to the City of Lawrenceville. They visited the sites around the Historic Gwinnett Courthouse Square and even dined at Dominick’s Italian Restaurant on Wednesday afternoon.
While the group has traveled throughout the United States and Canada to see each other for the past five decades, Atkinson has ventured back to the Philippines, her home away from home, seven more times.
Atkinson shared her sincere appreciation for the outpouring of love expressed by her family, friends, and former students. “I can say this has probably been my best birthday ever. Sharing this special occasion with my family and former students was so heartwarming and rewarding