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First Ellinwood exchange student returns for Class of 67 reunion
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Photos from the Ellinwood High School yearbook show Class of 1967 exchange student Hector Vincente Vince Espinoza Lastra. Latra works with EHS English teacher Nancy Johnson. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO


ELLINWOOD — Hector Vincente Espinoza Lastra had the honor of becoming Ellinwood High School’s first foreign exchange student when he came from Chile more than 50 years ago to join the EHS Class of 1967. His classmates gave him the nickname Vince almost immediately upon his arrival and it stuck.
Class members will welcome Vince back to Ellinwood for the first time since graduation for their 50-year reunion on Friday, July 14, during the After Harvest Festival.
Classmate Jack Joiner, at their 45-year reunion, came up with the idea to bring Vince back for the 50th. The trip was made possible through the donations of class members.
“I think it’s fantastic that the Class of 1967 members had enough pride that we could all come together and make this happen,” Joiner said, adding that Vince described it to him as the greatest gift of his life.
Joiner and Susie Manning Smith, a classmate and member of Vince’s host family, got together to plan Vince’s return. After flying into Milwaukee on Sunday, Vince has been a guest of Smith and her husband, Dave, at their home in Sussex, Wis., and is traveling with them to Ellinwood for the reunion.
Smith remembers vividly the day she and her parents, Carroll “Katy” and Annabel Manning and sister, Jane, picked Vince up in Kansas City just before the start of her senior year. They had exchanged photos so Smith recognized him immediately as he got off the bus.
“I said, ‘Vince?’ – and without a word, he gave me the biggest bear hug ever. That’s how it began. None of us really knew what to expect,” she recalled.
All the way home, she and Jane talked nonstop. “I’m pretty sure he didn’t understand a word we were saying. We knew he had studied English, but that many words with a Kansas accent? No way. He just smiled and nodded,” she said.
“He blended into our family pretty seamlessly. Vince was so kind to our entire family. It didn’t take but a few days to make him our brother,” Smith added. The other siblings in the Manning family included an older brother, John, and sister, Carol Ann, who were older and not living at home anymore, a sister, Mary, and brother, Mike.
“Our class and our entire community welcomed Vince with open arms. I’m very proud of that,” Smith said.
It wasn’t long before Vince was able to communicate in English well enough to converse with his classmates. He thanks his English advisor, EHS instructor Nancy Johnson, who later became Nancy Converse, for her help with learning the language.
An honor student and member of the Student Council, Vince also participated in football and track while in Ellinwood. Vince and Smith agree the busy year went by quickly, and Vince returned home with a year’s worth of fond memories of his time here. “Now, 50 years later, our brother and classmate from Chile is coming back,” Smith said.
Vince, who now lives in Macul, Chile, has written through email in fluent English about his experiences as an exchange student here. “Three quarters of my life so far have been intimately connected to my year in Ellinwood,” he said. “For one thing, what I’ve been doing for a living has pretty much been enabled by skills I could develop, thanks to that invaluable life experience made possible by so many good people over there.”
For the past several years, Vince has been a research analyst for INECON S.A., an engineering and economics consulting firm. “I source specific knowledge and data around the world, which is necessary to do our (consulting) work,” he said.
He said he also provides support services as a liaison with English-speaking specialists and clients. He added that many of his work experiences have hinged on his bilingualism and engineering background. “It is only fair to say that an essential part of my working knowledge stems from my wonderful year in Ellinwood.”
After a long time of not being in touch, Vince and his Ellinwood host sister started communicating again about eight years ago. Since then they have had some lengthy conversations and exchanged lots of emails.
They have caught up on many events that have happened in their lives since Vince’s time in Ellinwood. “It was hard for me to tell Vince about the losses we had incurred since the last time we had contact. It was also hard for him to hear,” Smith said. The class of 64 members has lost 18 of them, and she lost her brother, John, in 2003. It was important to her that Vince had been able to meet her brother and his wife while in Ellinwood.
“Vince is a very special person – someone who cares about everyone he meets. We were very lucky to have him as our first ever foreign exchange student – now a brother and classmate,” she said.
The reunion of EHS Class of 1967 will be held Friday evening at the Wolf Hotel, and class members will have a float in the AHF parade on Saturday morning featuring the first ever EHS foreign exchange student, Vincente Espinoza, surrounded by many of his classmates.