Thursday, January 14, 2010

Happy 75th birthday, Norma Antillon

"Premier go-to person" at Vanderbilt's Center for Latin American Studies

Advisor and teacher at Primera Iglesia Bautista

Daughter of the Guatemalan ambassador to Washington, D.C.

Norma Antillon will celebrate her 75th birthday among friends and colleagues this Friday at 5pm in the Buttrick Atrium at Vanderbilt University. Antillon is Program Manager for Vanderbilt's Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS).

I first met Norma at the Primera Iglesia Bautista, the Southern Baptist congregation that my wife and I joined in 2003, a few months after it moved to its own building off of Murfreesboro Road after being part of the First Baptist Church downtown for a number of years.

Norma is kind, strong, enthusiastic, and outgoing. Her leadership at La Primera has made her a pillar of the church, where she still attends and serves.

Norma is also a pillar of her Vanderbilt community. Mardy Fones of Vanderbilt's Arts and Science magazine profiled Norma in the Spring 2008 issue (photo credit: John Russell), noting Norma's importance to CLAS, then known as CLAIS:
“Norma Antillon is the glue that holds us together,” says Ted Fischer, professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies (CLAIS). “She is our public face, the person who shepherds students through the program. She knows where our alums are and what they’re doing, and through her, gives them a tight connection to the center. When alums call, they always ask about Norma.”
Her official title is administrative assistant, but it should be premier go-to person for the center.
The interview also explored Norma's broader story:
My father was the Guatemalan ambassador to Washington, D.C., so I went to the American School in Guatemala.
Every day when I walk from the parking lot, I rejoice in the beauty of the [Vanderbilt] campus. And I talk to the campus groundskeepers. They’re very nice people.
I’m always busy with my church. It’s very international—we have members from 12 Latin American countries. I’m a consejero (part counselor/part teacher). I help people who want to be baptized. I also teach a Sunday school class for older members and visit new members.
Everyone keeps asking me when I’m going to retire. I keep asking God the same question. In the end, I think it’ll be technology that gets me out of here. Even my grandsons do things on the computer I don’t understand. At Christmas, my son gave me a combination telephone/answering machine. It had 60 pages of instructions. I told him to take it back. When I’m home, I just want a phone I can use by picking it up and saying “Hello?”
Read the full interview with Norma here.

Norma's bio on the CLAS Faculty and Staff web page reveals her love of the Center, of Vanderbilt, and her family:
Originally from Guatemala, she worked at the Instituto de Nutrición de Centro América y Panamá (INCAP) for five years; she married Oscar Pineda who worked at INCAP and together came to Vanderbilt where he pursued a Ph.D. in biochemistry. During this time Norma worked at the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Medical School. Went back to Guatemala, and 22 years later she decided to return to Nashville. She applied for a job at Vanderbilt and was hired to work for International Programs, mainly for the Center for Latin American Studies. In that position, she has been able to apply her native Spanish language and her knowledge of Latin American culture. Norma loves working with students, staff and faculty. She enjoys the university environment, its challenges, and the opportunity to participate of many interesting projects, visiting speakers, etc. Norma has been fortunate to work for several directors; they are outstanding scholars but also wonderful human beings that care for people. Norma is very thankful for her three grown children and ten grandchildren who keep her in young spirit.
Photo by John Russell for Arts and Science

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this feature! Norma worked with my father in CLAIS for many years and was the most loving and devoted person - she is adored by my family. She deserves this great celebration! Felicidades Norma!
    -Gini Pupo-Walker


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