The extended family gathered this past April in Ann Arbor. Heather and Nano are next to each other on the right. Photo provided
BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
For the Coats family of Clarkston, a student exchange to Chile in 1976 sparked a friendship with the Sepulveda family spanning more than 40 years and three generations.
“We have kept in touch with that family over the years in various ways and they now feel like extended family,” said April (Coats) Haase. “Student exchanges and Study Abroad programs can be wonderful experiences that last a lifetime.”
Heather Coats, April’s sister, went to Chile with a student exchange program for six months in 1976 and lived with the Sepulveda family, which included three sisters and a brother, Reinaldo, “Nano.”
In 2008, Nano’s son Martin came to Clarkston and lived with April’s family for three months attending Clarkston High School. His younger brother Sebastian followed four years later.
“Now some of the Sepulvedas are living here in the states and a few weeks back, we all gathered in Ann Arbor,” April said. “It was the first time seeing Nano and Cristina in a long time, 40 years for me and a wonderful time together welcoming Nano’s first grandchild.”
Nano came to the United States on a student exchange during his high school years and stayed with a family in New Baltimore, Mich. He then returned for his Masters at the University of Michigan, marrying Cristina, also from Chile. They then moved to California where they had four boys, Reinaldo Jr., Pablo, Martin, and Sebastian, and moved back to Chile in 1997. They encouraged their boys to do Student Exchanges and Study Abroad and, at this time, three of the four boys are living in the U.S.
The Coats family grew up on Parview Drive and both April and Heather worked at the Clarkston Dairy Queen, from 14 years old until college.
They and their sister Heidi Frobel have encouraged their children to study abroad, April said.
“Between our kids, they have had extended stays in Equador, Japan, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and Heidi’s daughter has been in London, England for the last month,” she said. “My husband and I have now lived in Clarkston since 1999 and our three children graduated from Clarkston High School.”
Most of the Sepulveda family still reside in Chile, but three of Nano’s sons now live in the U.S. – Michigan, New York, and Chicago.
Stories and memories retold whenever they get together include one from 1976.
“Heather said on that New Years Eve 1976, it was the first time ‘El Toque,’ city wide curfew, had been lifted since Allende was overthrown in the 1973 coup bringing Pinochet into power. The city came alive for the entire night,” April said.
Heather also experienced an earthquake while there when they visited El Garrobo, a tiny fishing village north of Vina Del Mar and Valparaiso.
“El Garrobo is now the sight of a mammoth resort with the largest in-ground pool in the world,” April said.
The Sepulvedas were a family of six plus a housekeeper and Heather.
“Heather was impressed that all of their garbage for a week could fit into a five gallon bucket, and even that was primarily bones and fruit peels,” April said. “There were military guards armed with machine guns on the street corners of their neighborhood.”
Phone calls were expensive at the time and “air mail” took some time, but they had a friend in Chile with a Ham radio who provided the address of a Ham operator in Michigan.
“It just happened to be at our previous home, 1960-1967, on David K. Drive in Waterford,” April said.
A few years ago, the families planned a skyping dinner and they shared recipes.
“Then we had dinner, together, yet miles apart,” April said.
“We had fun showing each other how our recipes turned out and seeing if they looked the same. I had also previously made duplicate photo books from 1976, the current year of all of the times members of our family had met up with theirs. We had sent them a copy which they received in time for our skyping dinner. We looked through the books together, laughing and sharing even more stories. We had our parents and other sister and our families all together and the Sepulvedas had their families together, so Heather got to talk with Nano and her Chilean sisters, and we all felt like we met each other’s families.”
When Nano and Cristina moved back to Chile in 1997, Nano continued to speak English in their home, so the boys would grow up bi-lingual. Reinaldo Jr. came to Michigan on some training for Ford and now he and his wife live in Ann Arbor with their new son, Julian.
“We’ve been able to get together with them for numerous events the last few years,” April said. “Pablo went to work in California and now lives in New York. We met him on a sister/mother trip to California back in 2014.”
Martin came to Clarkston for three months and then came back to the U.S. a couple years ago with his wife, Giani, and is working on his doctorate in Chicago.
“We felt like we already knew her from all the skyping over the recent years, but we finally met her in person last year,” April said. “Sebastian came to Clarkston for about seven weeks and is now finishing his schooling back in Chile. Nano and Cristina still reside in Santiago, Chile.”
All of the 1976 Sepulveda kids also went on student exchanges during their High school years, Neldi to California, Nano to New Baltimore, Mich., Julietta to upstate New York, and Ximena to Oklahoma.
“Ximena actually finished her exchange in Oklahoma shortly after Heather returned from Chile in 1977 and she came and stayed with us for two weeks,” April said. “A few years back, we met up with Heather’s Chilean sister Julietta and her husband in Florida! There are a few of the Sepulvedas Heather hasn’t seen in many years and my sister and I have not met Neldi, yet. Next sister trip, Santiago, Chile, and we’ll stay with our Chilean family!”