By Scott Frano ’13
Alumni Association Writing Intern
Memories made at Notre Dame may last a lifetime but souvenirs of the days as a student — ticket stubs, pictures, a tassel — can easily be lost. One Notre Dame alum, however, was recently given back a token of his Fighting Irish past from decades ago.
Juan Pacheco ’56 came to Notre Dame in the fall of 1952 as a 15 year old from Ciudad Trujillo, now Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. At the time, he sent a postcard to his family back home describing the beauty and size of the University, calling it “a complete city.”
Now, 60 years later, that postcard has been returned to sender.
New Yorker Beth Gerbe recently visited Santo Domingo for a short weekend. While there, she visited a flea market as she normally does on trips and found the postcard Pacheco had sent to his family decades prior. She decided to try and find Pacheco, somehow.
Basing her search on the postcard’s Notre Dame label, she was able to find two posts by Pacheco on a nostalgia website for the Class of 1956. Pacheco’s contact information was on the site, and Gerbe sent him an email with a picture of the postcard and the story of how she found it.
Pacheco was overjoyed.
“It’s like a ghost,” he said. “It was amazing, that someone had come to Santo Domingo, bought the postcard at a flea market, and gone back to New York looking for me on the Internet. Not just going through the trouble of looking for the person who wrote the card, but finding him, 60 years later.”
Adding even more coincidence to the story, Gerbe’s trip to Santo Domingo with her boyfriend came about because of limitations on time and the use of airline vouchers. Though it was not the first choice, Gerbe was pleasantly surprised by the city.
“I was completely entranced by Santo Domingo,” she said. “No, it was not a polished city designed with a tourist in mind. But it was real and thumping with character.”
Pacheco’s message to his family in Ciudad Trujillo is written in his native Spanish and relays his initial reaction to Notre Dame. It is clear that he already loves his new home, though he does not like the temperature change from toasty Ciudad Trujillo. The front of the card has an image of a couple enjoying a romantic meal in Buenos Aires.
Pacheco originally wanted to study law and become a lawyer. He planned to go to McGill University in Montreal, where he could study law and learn not only English but French, important for a lawyer in the Dominican, where the legal system was based on the Napoleonic code. But he didn’t end up at McGill.
“I was accepted into McGill,” Pacheco said. “I was going to McGill. But the principal of the school that my sister went to, a Dominican nun, when she heard in April of 1952 that I was going to go to McGill, she said, ‘No, no, no, Johnny must go to Notre Dame.’ That was the first time I had heard of Notre Dame in my life. And she went right ahead and made all the arrangements with Notre Dame, and before I knew it I was accepted there.”
Pacheco adjusted well to school in the states, for the most part. He struggled with his American History class freshman year because he did not know the basic facts of the country’s history.
“I didn’t know anything at all about the history of the U.S.,” Pacheco said. “I wasn’t being taught the history but the philosophy behind the history, the why’s and the how’s of it. It wasn’t possible for a foreign student to come to the States for the first time and take something he had no basis in. That was the one class I struggled in.”
After graduation, he moved back to Ciudad Trujillo, which became Santo Domingo once again when dictator Rafael Trujillo was assassinated in 1961. Pacheco started a real estate company, Central de Creditos, in his native city. He is now involved with Casa de Luz, an orphanage for handicapped children, in Santo Domingo.
Gerbe did not send the postcard back right away. She wanted to take the time to make a card of her own for Pacheco, to strengthen the “beautiful bond” that he described in his response to her initial email. For Gerbe and Pacheco, this amazing occurrence proves that “snail mail” still has value.
“The postcard existed in the world for 60 years; that’s the beauty of physical mail,” Gerbe said. “An email will disappear on hard drives, when an account closes .... A card or letter could float around for half a century and find itself in someone else’s hands one day. ”