Because they’re so deeply ingrained in the Starkville community, it is easy to forget that Armando and Ruth de la Cruz came to this country long ago from the Philippines. For their golden wedding anniversary, they decided to go back to where it all began for both of them.
“We originally wanted to celebrate in the same place we got married, which is Oroquieta City,” Armando said. “We thought it would be a great idea to bring back to the same place our family, relatives, and friends – many of whom participated or attended our wedding.
“Unfortunately, the college auditorium where our wedding ceremony and reception were held was lost during a huge fire in the city in 2005 that burned the entire campus of Southern Capital Colleges. During a 2014 visit to Mindanao, we looked at a hotel and a river resort in Oroquieta as a possible venue, and we, more or less, decided to hold it at the hotel.”
A professor emeritus of biological sciences at Mississippi State University (MSU) who spent 30 years in the classroom, Armando holds a doctorate in ecology from the University of Georgia, a master’s degree in biology from American University in Washington, D.C., and an undergraduate degree in zoology from the University of the Philippines. Ruth earned degrees in education and home economics from Southern Capital Colleges and a master’s from MSU in school administration. She worked for nearly two decades at Regions Bank.
“We came to Starkville essentially for the job at Mississippi State,” Armando said. “I knew I could develop my career here because of opportunities that would arise as a consequence of its aggressive ambition (over) 40 years ago to grow as a leading research and educational institution.”
“Starkville is a small college town where we thought it would be a great idea to start a brand new life and grow a young family,” Ruth said. “Our quest for a simple, quiet and productive life was met by Starkville’s rural but progressive (and) laidback but busy character.”
After arriving in 1970, the de la Cruzes immediately put roots down. Both have been active for decades in the Starkville Lions Club, the World Neighbors Association, and the First United Methodist Church Missions Committee. Armando is a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow and a member of the Starkville Education Hall of Fame; Ruth won the 2015 AARP Andrus Award for Outstanding Community Service and had won the Modern Woodmen Hometown Hero Award.
Not surprisingly, the inspiration for where to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary struck while they were helping others.
“We have been doing personal mission work every year for almost 20 years at the small, rural barrio of Potungan in Dapitan City, which is about two hours north of Oroquieta City,” Armando said. “Our church in Starkville – First United Methodist – has been supporting churches in Mindanao, including the Potungan Evangelical Methodist Church.
“During our visit to the Potungan Mission Village last October, we started construction of a toilet and installation of a water tank. Over the years we have constructed a sanctuary building, a pastoral house, a preschool building, a playground and other ancillary facilities.
“We were suddenly struck by the impressive beauty of the church sanctuary and how beautiful the Mission Village site is,” Ruth said. “Almost together, we mumbled loud enough for each of us to hear, ‘Let’s hold our 50th wedding anniversary ceremony here.’ With a picturesque beach resort nearby (and) only a thirty-minute drive from the church, (we knew) there would be adequate accommodation for our out-of-town guests.”
The de la Cruzes aren’t going anywhere. Their three, grown daughters and four grandchildren all live within comfortable driving distance of Starkville and MSU. And they might not know what to do with themselves if they weren’t so busy serving others in the area.
“We retired here because this town is very special to us,” Armando said. “There are a lot of smart students and young people (and) intelligent teachers and innovative researchers, and generally happy people satisfied with the level of sophistication in the social life and entertainment that exists in Starkville.”