Grea

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By Susan Palmes-Dennis

Straight from Carolinas

Friday, March 14, 2014


FOR whatever reason, I'm still looking for Kagay-anons (natives of Cagayan de Oro in Misamis Oriental, northern Mindanao in the Philippines) living here in North Carolina. It's a passion that is sometimes overwhelming but rewarding.

I've conveyed my passion through word of mouth and through my blogs. Now I have found another one in the person of GreaTulio-Penilla.

I've known her since last year but time's an elusive luxury for both of us to just sit down and talk about our time in Divisoria, Camaman-an, the VIP Hotel, the Capitol grounds and other Cagayan de Oro City landmarks that we've known since we have lived there.

And I know deep inside that she is a landmine of writing inspiration, a deep well of writing ideas.

Grea Tulio-Penilla was born and raised in Cagayan de Oro, dubbed the City of Golden Friendship. Here in North Carolina, she made a name for herself as emcee of gatherings, gala nights and events of the Fil-Am Community of the Carolinas (FACC).

One recent activity she hosted is a fundraiser sponsored by Concord International Church.

All $12,000 proceeds went into a project called Blessings in a Backpack, which distributed more than 1,000 backpacks to elementary public school students in Cagayan de Oro who were devastated by typhoon Sendong.

Aside from her numerous community and church activities here at the Carolinas she is a happy mother and wife. Grea met her future husband Paul Penilla in the Philippines in 2005.

The couple now has three boys named Ethan, 6, Tristan 4, and Jonathan 4 months. Paul Penilla is restaurant owner of 18 Asian Sushi and Bar.

Grea is an artisan baker and I had to Google it to know what it means. My search showed that an artisan baker is a crafts person trained to the highest ability to mix flour—in other words, someone who raises baking to an artistic level.

“I have found my love for bread baking when I buried my hands in the flour.... I fell in love with it,” Grea said. She credits her cousin Dustin Delantar for sparking her interest in baking since Dustin was traind in New York City's Le Bernardin (a restaurant specializing in French seafood cuisine) in January 2005 and Sfoglia (a restaurant that offers rustic Italian dishes) in April 2006.

You'd be surprised that she was no baker in the Philippines. In fact she knew how to use the spatula only when she came to the US in 2006. Her bakery The Grey Oven was featured in Fort Mill magazine and Ballantyne Magazine in 2013 as a participant in an exclusive growers only farmers market.

“As an artisan bakery, we make everything by hand and from scratch,” Grea said. She also said customers love the GO cheesy bread and her pan de coco earned second place in a competition.

For now, I'll reminisce first about her student days and leave her current activities in the next write-up.

Grea grew up in Macajalar, barangay Camaman-an besides Rectan Wood Products and went to school in Montessori de Oro, becoming the first Miss Montessori de Oro in 1994.

She headed to Cebu City and enrolled at the University of San Jose-Recoletos where she graduated with a Liberal Arts degree in Mass Communication.

Grea was the first National Quarthetlon Speech Champion for Toastmasters Philippines in 2001. That victory of hers remains fresh in her mind, she said, as she would recall taking center-stage in that event and dreaming that she would take her talents to the world Toastmasters's stage, winning the gold.

A blend of brains and beauty, Grea was a dean's lister and enrolled in law. She was a second runner up to Miss Cebu Tourism many years ago. Grea's father is Ike Caballero Tulio and her mom is Gregoria Togonon.

Grea is the eldest and the only girl of four children. She excelled in academics since elementary to college.

One of her wedding sponsors was lawyer Armi Jane Roa-Borje, formerly a National Telecommunications Commissioner (NTC). Atty. Mic was a classmate in the College of Law in Ateneo de Cagayan and a kumare (female friend) since she was also a wedding sponsor of my daughter Janice's wedding.

Grea was employed with the Bureau of Immigration under then BI chief Rufus Rodriquez.

I happened to handle the media-public relations Rodriguez when he first ran for public office.

That was the time when the TV/radio station I worked in was sold to the Phinma Group of Companies.

As a Carolina girl, Grea loves to dream and she recalled that at 12 years of age, she dreamed of visiting Hong Kong.

She didn't elaborate and I dare not ask why because I may get a long answer.

She prayed for it and it was realized six years after when she became Miss Friendship and 2nd runner up of Miss Cebu many summers ago.

Grea flew first class via Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong. She also fulfilled other dreams by becoming a member of the Kasarinlan ensemble of the University of the Philippines under Commissioner Felipe de Leon of the National Arts Commission as musical director.

“It just escalated without proper musical training,” Grea said. She auditioned after graduation from college. Grea was the only ensemble member who couldn't read notes but it did not deter her from becoming part of the group.

As part of the Kasarinlan ensemble, she traveled to Venice and other places in Europe. “It was just a dream- I map out my plans in my dreams,” Grea said.

She is still dreaming of getting that gold in the International Toastmasters competition in 2017 and she's training for it. I wish Grea the very best and hope she realizes her dream.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 15, 2014.

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