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Through years and oceans apart, romance endured

By Debra McKinney
Anchorage, Alaska (AP) 10-07

With this one, there was so much opportunity for time and distance to get in the way. If you count clear back to the day Margaret and EJ first caught each other’s eye as eighth-graders in Barrow, it’s been more than a decade of being together but mostly apart, and at times as much as a half-world away.

For Margaret Olin Hoffman, 26, and Eric John “EJ” Ramos David, 27, their respective paths finally merged this summer with a ceremony at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

“The long-distance thing was really long,” EJ said. “And far. In college, at least we were in the same country. After college, she went into the Peace Corps. She was away for almost three years including training.”

Even the decision to get married involved a 5,500-mile commute.

So here’s what led up to it.

Margaret admits she doesn’t remember the very first time they met.

“I do,” EJ said. “I remember.

“I had just moved from the Philippines to Barrow around that time. I didn’t know anybody in school so I was really very observant, looking around. And then I saw her. I remember what she was wearing too. She was wearing this oversized Tweety Bird T-shirt. Right then I was like, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to like Alaska.’ “

Margaret spent only one year of high school in Barrow, then moved on to Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka and finished up in Anchorage. EJ stayed put but got around the state playing basketball. STAYING CONNECTED:

They kept in touch.

“We were boyfriend and girlfriend in eighth grade,” EJ said, “but I guess you can’t consider that because we were too young. We got back together seriously our senior year of high school. And we’ve been together since.”

EJ went to the University of Alaska Anchorage, then the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he got his Ph.D. in clinical and community psychology.

Margaret went to the University of Portland in Oregon and graduated from Willamette University in Salem with a degree in biology. Then came the Peace Corps. After Spanish lessons and other training, she ended up in a coffee-picking village in Nicaragua with no electricity or running water, where she worked as a community health educator.

About the time she returned, EJ was headed for the Philippines to visit family. Usually, she’d go with him on these trips home. But she needed some down time at her mom’s cabin in Ruby.

“He was in the Philippines, and I was in Ruby,” she said. “I don’t know – all of the sudden I got on a plane to go to the Philippines to surprise EJ, to say I wanted to get married. Just being home and contemplating things I felt ready. And so then I couldn’t wait. So I went to the Philippines to tell him.” MIDNIGHT SURPRISE:

EJ’s sister and mother were in on the surprise, which had her arriving around midnight after EJ had gone to bed. “They were both standing by me all excited watching as I woke him up,” she said. “ He was kind of delirious. ... He was so confused.”

That morning she told him why she was there. He bought a ring soon thereafter. Later, Margaret was led by family into a room with flowers, candles and music, and EJ properly proposed – with everybody watching.

“That way they were all a part of it too,” he said.

Their wedding, as well as their honeymoon, was a celebration of culture and family.

“My Athabaskan heritage and his Filipino culture, they are both really important to us,” Margaret said.

He wore a traditional white wedding barong. She wore a lacy white gown, a veil and beaded, moose-hide slippers her grandma made for her grandfather’s memorial potlatch in 1996.

It was a wonderful gathering, with kids running around and everybody dancing. And EJ’s relatives, including many who flew in from the Philippines, cooked up a feast of pancit, caldereta, lumpia and other favorites.

Traditionally, every Filipino party has singing involved, Margaret said. “Karaoke is big.”

So EJ surprised her by singing “I Swear,” with lyrics on a screen behind him, a song so syrupy no one needed cake. But it was a favorite of theirs as eighth-graders in Barrow. And he pulled it off so well he had everybody singing along.

Then came the honeymoon. For that, they kayaked some 250 miles down the Yukon River, from the haul road bridge to Margaret’s grandmother’s fish camp upriver from Ruby.

“We took our time because we stopped in villages to visit, and we stopped at fish camp to see people,” Margaret said. “And everywhere we stopped, they knew either my mom or my grandma, or I knew of their family because I went to Mt. Edgecumbe, so I met a lot of people from different places.

“Word travels fast on the river. Everybody in Ruby already knew we were on the river before we even got there. Even in Tanana, they were like, ‘Oh, we were wondering when you’d get here.’

Margaret and EJ are all settled now in their new home in the Turnagain area. She’s working a few hours a week at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center in Fairview doing diabetes education with the Hispanic community. Her main job is with the Alaska Native Tribal Public Health Consortium. And EJ became a psychology professor at UAA this fall.

So it looks like their time and distance problem has been solved once and for all.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com

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