Gilbert and Emelie Diaz were officially inducted into the St. Anthony School Educational Foundation’s hall of fame at the organization’s 18th annual awards dinner Thursday held at Chez Shari restaurant at the Manteca Golf Course.
The recognition celebration, in honor of the couple’s years of dedicated volunteer service as music ministers at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church and St. Anthony’s School, was attended by members of the couple’s extended family as well as friends and fellow parishioners. In attendance as well were Father Patrick Walker, St. Anthony’s pastor, and assistant parochial vicar, Father Dante Dammay. Sister Anne Venita Britto, last year’s award recipient and the coordinator of the parish’s ministry of caring, was also there to share the evening with the “dynamic duo,” the phrase used by Carol Diaz to describe her parents in the tribute she delivered before the presentation of the award.
In addition to the prestigious foundation honor, Gilbert and Emelie also received a surprise Certificate of Recognition from San Joaquin County Board of Supervisor Leroy Ornellas. The certificate was presented to the Diazes by Manteca City Councilman Vince Hernandez who did the honors on behalf of the supervisor.
Hernandez said Gilbert and Emelie “exemplify the spirit of volunteerism.”
The couple, who have been serving as cantor as well as pianists and organists during the Sunday masses at St. Anthony’s for many years, were both visibly moved by the recognition.
“It’s such an honor to be standing here before you. I’ll never forget this,” said Emelie, her eyes glistening with tears.
She added that she felt “humbled” by the recognition and that it was God who paved the way for them to be able to “give back to the Lord” through their ministry.
“As Gilbert also told me, it’s our way of praying,” Emelie said about their music.
“I hope God will allow us to be of service for many, many years,” she said.
Gilbert’s speech, which was just as emotional, detailed the genesis of his own music training and then segued into the history of their ministry together before and after their marriage. Gilbert was trained as a singer from the age of nine when he became a member of one of the oldest boys choir in Asia, if not the oldest – the Tiples De Santo Domingo. The choir had opportunities to perform with the world-renowned Vienna Boys Choir when the latter performed in the Philippines. After “graduating” from the Boys Choir, Gilbert went on to found the Santo Domingo Male Chorale made up of Boys Choir alumni which, in later years, became instrumental in bringing him and Emelie together as husband and wife.
Before coming to Manteca, the couple served as music ministers at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Oakland for 14 years. Their volunteer work in Manteca was not limited to serving at Sunday masses, however. While their three children – Claris, Albert and Carol – were attending St. Anthony’s School, they were also involved in many school activities including several fund-raisers.
All the time they were volunteering, the couple were working full time – Gilbert as an engineer at the now-defunct N.U.M.M.I. in Fremont and now with Tesla Motors which took over the former’s shuttered facility, and Emelie as a music teacher first in Tracy Unified followed by stints at Sierra High School and St. Anthony’s School.
Of the Diazes’ three children, the only one able to attend the awards program was Carol, the youngest, who is graduating in June with a degree in psychology from the University of California at Davis. Oldest child Claris is finishing her doctorate in neuro science at Cardiff University in Wales. Son Albert, the only one who is married and who just recently had a son, is in the Navy and just finished training in Nuclear Power School. All three are graduates of Sierra High School.
Sharing the awards evening with the Diazes were previous recipients of the Education Foundation award including Jerry DeGroot, members of the Van Ryan family headed by matriarch Ada Van Ryn whose daughter Belinda Cardoza also happened to be celebrating her birthday in the Godfather Room at Chez Shari that same evening, Paul and Anna Bourbeau, and Sister Ann Venita who was last year’s recipient.
Summing up the reason behind their continuing music ministry in church, Gilbert Diaz said, “God is constantly knocking on our door, asking to be his disciple.”