Through hardships and tragedy, matriarch Anita Reyes has guided her 9 children on an amazing journey
For Anita Reyes, top priority has always been family. And with eight sons and one daughter, hers is a large one. Next comes education, and Reyes, who graduated from UTA in 1991, proudly notes that all of her children have college degrees.
The family and her children’s future were uppermost in her mind when, in 1979, she and husband Edward left friends, relatives and a thriving business in the Philippines for life in the United States.
“I left my house, my business, everything. It was hard, hard. But I was determined that I wasn’t going back.”
– alumna Anita Reyes on leaving the Philippines
“The Marcos government had declared martial law, and things became worse and worse,” she said. “People who were outspoken against the government were put in jail, and we knew that some of them were killed, including one of our friends.
“We began to wonder what would happen to us and what kind of future our children could have in that country.”
Edward’s parents were already in the United States and willing to sponsor the family, so the couple packed up their children, a few possessions and made the big move.
“I left my house, my business, everything. It was hard, hard,” Anita said. “But I was determined that I wasn’t going back.”
Financially, life wasn’t much easier in their new land, at least in the beginning. Anita’s first job paid only $2.85 an hour. Soon, however, she found better employment, and Edward began working for a paint company in San Jose, Calif. Despite the hardships, she was sure the family had made the right choice.
“My mom is probably the epitome of selfless service—she would do anything for her kids. Sometimes I have to tell her it’s too much.”
– Kurt Reyes
Five years later, Anita made her first visit to Texas and fell in love with Arlington.
“Everywhere I went, men would tip their hats to me, and kids would say ma’am,” she remembers. “I thought my kids would do better here, and I kept noticing how friendly everyone is.”
Edward didn’t want to leave California, but after Anita found him a job in Texas, he agreed to move. Still, economic ups and downs kept bringing challenges.
In 1988, Anita lost her job. Scouring the classified ads, she found pages and pages of jobs for nurses. She had been a nursing student when she married Edward, so she decided, at age 46, to return to school and finish her degree.
“I promised him that I would only need money for one semester,” she said. “After that I was sure I could get scholarships to continue. And I did.”
She was five weeks from graduation when tragedy struck. In April 1991, Edward died suddenly of a heart attack.
“I really don’t know how I did it,” she said. “I had to take finals, I had three major papers to write, and then a month later I had to take the state boards.
“I just prayed and gave it to the Lord. He did what was best for us.”
Anita passed the nursing boards on her first try and began full-time work as a nurse. She also picked up part-time work to help support the five children still living at home.
Those children watched and learned from their diligent mom. Youngest son Kim Thomas, 24, remembers her coming in from work at 2 a.m. and heading for the den to study. “Because of her,” he said, “I grew up knowing I had to make an A in everything.”
Tom and his twin brother, Kurt, scored many A’s. In 1996, Kurt graduated second and Tom third in their class at Arlington’s James Bowie High School. Last year, the duo graduated again, this time from the United States Military Academy at West Point. They took off two years between their sophomore and junior years to serve full-time missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Tom and Kurt watched how I worked to help all the others,” Anita said, “and those two wanted to do it all themselves.”
“I always had the idea that you work first,” Kurt said. “Then if there’s time left over, you play. All through high school, we knew that we didn’t want Mom to pay for our education. You have to work to get what you want in life.”
The twins were accepted to all three military academies, but everyone with a say preferred West Point. “You walk in and it’s like you’re living 200 years ago,” Anita said. “You walk into history.”
Both Tom and Kurt said another motivating factor in choosing the academy was a desire to serve. “The idea of service to the country was always attractive to me,” Kurt said. “The service academy is a unique experience; service and leadership are a big part of the curriculum.
“My mom is probably the epitome of selfless service—she would do anything for her kids,” he added. “Sometimes I have to tell her it’s too much.”
Last fall, Kurt entered medical school at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where he will train as an Army doctor. Tom is at Fort Knox, Ky., in armory training.
Anita’s other seven children have experienced similar educational and professional success. Sons Art and Sandy followed her into nursing. Nursing Associate Clinical Professor Wendy Barr taught Anita during the difficult final semester and several years later had Art in her clinical class.
“She is an absolutely marvelous person,” Dr. Barr said. “She carried on. She just kept going after her husband died. She did a great job and always had a positive attitude.
“A couple of years later, I had Art in clinical, and I didn’t even know that he was her son until graduation. I was standing there when they came up, and I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, Art, this is your mother!’ She was always just amazing.”
And she has an amazing track record. Nine children, nine college graduates. Four of her children—Ron, a network analyst; Emmanuel, an executive with FedEx; Art, a nurse; and Paul, a doctor—followed their mother’s example and earned degrees at UTA. Sandy, a nurse; Carina, an information technology manager with Cisco Systems; Jonathan, a financial investments representative; and twins Kurt and Tom graduated from other universities.
Paul, 30, now a pediatrics resident in Jackson, Miss., gives all the credit to his parents.
“From the day we came to the U.S. it was just assumed, by both of them, that we would go to college,” he said. “It really hit me when the twins graduated last June: Mom’s done a good job.”