Olongapo Heritage Fair: Revealing Nellie E. Brown

Olongapo City, Zambales – On April 11, Ellie De Castro concluded the Finding Nellie Project at Nellie E. Brown Elementary School (NEBES) by revealing the true identity of her father’s elementary school namesake, Nellie E. Brown. Her audience consisted of NEBES’ current students and faculty, former and retired teachers and principals, alumni, Olongapo Historical Society members, local government representatives and Department of Education representatives.The reveal comes after 646 days of research alongside 5 National Geographic Explorers and De Castro’s own family and friends. The day was called the Olongapo Heritage Fair, where a program filled with messages from the community and an interactive exhibit for both students and alumni were organized by the Finding Nellie Team with support from Olongapo City Vice Mayor Jong Cortez and West Bajac-Bajac Barangay Captain Billy Capistrano.

“Sa hinaba-haba ng adventure, ay nahanap na din si Nellie”Nellie E. Brown turned out to be a kindergarten teacher from Bangor, Maine. She did not establish NEBES nor was she a former teacher there – as many NEBES alumni and Olongapo citizens first thought her to be. Instead, one of her students, Roger Brown Nickerson, grew up to be a Captain on the US Navy and was eventually stationed in Subic Bay as a Commander from 1952 to 1953. He established NEBES in 1953 and named it after his favorite teacher, Nellie E. Brown. She passed away on February 26, 1954, a year after the school was built.

De Castro was able to find the answer after corresponding with the US National Archives and Records Administration, which led her to go on and look up everything she has since found out about Nellie E. Brown from different stakeholders and sources. It seemed like a simple resolution after almost 2 years of research, but in her speech revealing Brown, De Castro shared that “the story of Finding Nellie isn’t just about Nellie E. Brown and Commander Nickerson. In Finding Nellie, we also got to find the people who have built and made this community in Olongapo what it is.”

To celebrate Finding Nellie with the local community, the day’s festivities awarded groups of students who took part in their own mini research projects after drawing inspiration from De Castro’s project with her fellow researchers and explorers. Winning research projects included topics on local food culture and solid waste management.

De Castro dedicates Finding Nellie to her father, NEBES alumnus Dr. Leo De Castro of the University of the Philippines. Although Nellie has been found, her team will continue to release material about their adventure and encourage students from different schools to keep being curious about their own heritage and identities. A public version of the exhibit and a screening of a documentary on Finding Nellie  will be held later in the year at a community center in Olongapo and in Manila.

Sharing the press release for your consideration. For more photos, you may access here: Finding Nellie Project – Photos by Pau Villanueva – National Geographic Society. Let me know if you have any questions.

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