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Finding Nellie: A Research Adventure of a Lifetime

Finding Nellie: A Research Adventure of a Lifetime

Finding Nellie, a heritage project spanned 646 days from the moment the question “Who is Nellie E. Brown?” arose. What began as a simple question blossomed into an awe-inspiring discovery. And after hopping across oceans and continents, the research journey has come to a satisfying close.

On April 11, Ellie De Castro, an archeologist, unveiled their heritage project on Olongapo’s mystery about Nellie E. Brown Elementary School. Flocking NEBES’ current students and faculty, former and retired teachers and principals, alumni, Olongapo Historical Society members, local government representatives, and Department of Education representatives to witness the solved mystery.

It All Started With Birthday Cakes

A picture of Ellie De Castro and her Dada, Dr. Leo De Castro. The time were the heritage project journey started.
Photo: Ellie De Castro

2 years ago, on his 69th birthday, Dr. Leo De Castro, a philosophy professor at the University of the Philippines, was surprised with four birthday cakes from an old grade school friend. When his daughter, Ellie De Castro, an archaeologist and researcher, asked about their connection, he mentioned they both went to Nellie E. Brown Elementary School (NEBES) in Olongapo City. The daughter asked, Who is Nellie E. Brown? The father said he did not know. From then on, Ellie began to wonder about who Nellie E. Brown really was. 

And thus, a father-daughter team was born. Fueled by curiosity and a glimmer of hope, they set out on a mission to find answers, with the shared goal of bringing this heritage project to fruition for the community of Olongapo.

The Finding Nellie Journey

Ellie De Castro with the Finding Nellie Exhibit on her background.
Photo: Darren Waminal/Village Pipol

For over 2 years, this heritage project evolved from a single question about a school name in Olongapo. The Finding Nellie Team embarked on an extensive journey, navigating thousands of kilometers across the Philippines and even venturing a few miles into the United States, all in pursuit of finding answers.

The team went all out. Combing through archives locally and internationally, hitting up libraries, universities and reconnecting with family and friends, and even sitting down with the US Embassy and a senator. 

The team also explored the historical background of Olongapo. They connected with various parts of Olongapo’s heritage. They found recipes from their grandmothers, and revisited places in their community. Truly, the team went above and beyond, pooling their efforts to shed light on their one simple question.

Ellie De Castro narrating the story of Nellie E. Brown and how their heritage project come to life.
Photo: Darren Waminal/Village Pipol

Somehow, Ellie De Castro, the project head of Finding Nellie, said that the team came to the point where they would choose to stop as they had fewer possibilities. And if there were truly no more avenues to explore.

Noong Agosto 2023, paunti na nang paunti ang naiisip naming paraan para mahanap ang sagot”, she said. “Sabi namin, kung wala pa rin at naubos na ang mga posibilidad ay magpapahinga na lang kami sa pagahahanap”, Ellie added.

But with an unparalleled vision to discover the name behind Nellie E. Brown Elementary School, they push to continue.

Finally, Nellie was found!

The picture of Nellie E. Brown.
Photo: Darren Waminal/Village Pipol

Ellie was able to find the answer after corresponding with the US National Archives and Records Administration, which led her to go on Ancestry.com.

“Maaga pa, siguro mga alas-siyete ng umaga, pagka-type ko ng Nellie E. Brown Elementary School ay lumabas ang isang artikulo mula sa Bangor Daily News, isang peryodiko.”, she said.

As De Castro came across her discovery, she could not contain her emotions. She explained that the article revolved around Roger Brown Nickerson, a naval commander with roots in Bangor, Maine.

In the article, Nickerson’s life as a naval officer was highlighted. It showcased his strong ties to his beloved hometown of Bangor. As the article wraps up, it reveals that during his time at the Subic Naval Base in the Philippines from 1952 to 1953, he started a school and named it after his beloved kindergarten teacher.

And that teacher is Nellie E. Brown. 

Finally, she was found on August 20, 2023.

Who is Nellie E. Brown?

More information about Nellie E. Brown.
Photo: Darren Waminal/Village Pipol

People have different ideas about who Nellie might have been: a teacher, a volunteer, or even a business owner. But who is Nellie E. Brown?

Nellie Eliza Brown is a teacher. She was born on June 9, 1864 in Enfield, Massachusetts. and she graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1888 and from Chicago Kindergarten College in 1896. 

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In Bangor, Maine, she pioneered the education of kindergarten teachers.  She became the supervisor of kindergartens and served as principal of the Bangor Kindergarten Training School. It was during this time that Robert Brown Nickerson became her student.

For 26 years, she devotedly taught kindergarten, and her exceptional dedication inspired Nickerson to establish a school in her honor.

Giving Back to the Community

Current students and alumni of Nellie E. Brown Elementary School were surprised about the solved heritage project.
Photo: Darren Waminal/Village Pipol

To Ellie, their research journey is not just about Nellie and Commander Nickerson’s story, but also about the teachers, proud alumni, beloved elders of Olongapo, the Olongapo Historical Society (OHS) storytellers, local leaders, librarians, and all who understand the power of history in revealing the truth.

“Importante yung history natin,”  Ellie said. “I am happy to give a piece of history back to a community that loves their school so much,” she added.

Furthermore, the current students of the school were surprised when they discovered the true story behind their school.

“I was shocked, because grabe ‘yung story. Hindi ko ine-expect na teacher pala s’ya ng kinder,” said Aleah A. Caballes, a Grade 5  student from NEBES. I was relieved that this story has been solved. I would like to say thank you to the team of Finding Nellie,”  Aleah added.

Apart from the teachers, officials, and team of finding Nellie, former students also expressed joy and celebrated the success of the research journey.

“Of course, tuwang tuwa dahil matagal na naming inaalam kung sino si Nellie E. Brown, kaya talagang excited kami,”  an alumni from batch 1965, Eduardo Panes, said in an interview.

With assistance from West Bajac-Bajac Barangay Captain Billy Capistrano and Olongapo City Vice Mayor Jong Cortez, the Finding Nellie Team arranged an interactive exhibit for students and alumni as well as messages from the community.

The teachers, alumni and officials of Olongapo with the Finding Nellie team to witness the unveiling of heritage project.
Photo: Darren Waminal/Village Pipol

After all, the Finding Nellie Heritage Project is like embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. It is not just about Nellie, Commander Nickerson, Ellie, and her dad, but also about the dedicated folks who pour their hearts into preserving Olongapo’s history.

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