FREED’s Friendly Visitor program matches elderly, stay-at-home locals with volunteers. Earlier this year, Friendly Visitor Coordinator Maureen Gerecke made such a match between Alfredo Nespral of Penn Valley and me, Jeff Russell.
In just a few short months we became good friends. As I am relearning Spanish at Sierra College, we visit in both English and in Spanish.
Alfredo Nespral was born on April 21, 1916 at San Antonio de Los Baños — 15 miles southwest of Havana, Cuba. He grew up with two sisters, Josephine and Olga. During the tumultuous 1930s of Cuba, Alfredo finished high school and was admitted to Havana University to study medicine, anatomy, and physiology. Only nine months later, when student unrest shuttered the university, Alfredo applied to the Havana Naval Academy. He was one of 1,200 applicants who took the entrance exam at La Punta, Cuba. Even in this stiff competition, Alfredo excelled and was accepted. After three more years of Naval Academy, Cuba recruited Alfredo to join the then fledging Cuba Naval Air Force. He quickly “earned his wings.” Because he was coming out of the Naval Academy, they nicknamed him “el Marino.” In those early days Alfredo flew a single propeller 500 HP Stearman airplane.
Later Alfredo trained in long distance navigation with the then world leader in such, Pan American Airlines. For many years he flew the Havana to Madrid route. With a stop-over in Bermuda to refuel, it took 17 hours to go one way. Because Havana/Madrid was such a long flight they stayed four days before the return flight.
Alfredo’s life changed for the better in the closing days of World War II. One afternoon while at the seawall of the Commodore Club on Havana harbor, he sat down next to a very pretty lady. He was 29 years old and she was just 24. Her name was Thais (try to imagine the romance of the tropical breeze blowing there — think Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall). After just a short time talking, Thais turned to Alfredo and stated, “Quiero casarme” (“I want to get married”). Not to be undone, Alfredo quickly replied he wanted that too! And so, after a year or so of courtship and, his winning over her protective parents, they did marry.
In those same years, Thais attained an impressive post doctorate education in the USA majoring in both dentistry and orthodontics. She became the head of orthodontics at Havana University. Eventually she encouraged Alfredo to become a doctor of dentistry also. They created a very comfortable life in Cuba.
After Fidel Castro overthrew Cuban dictator Batista in 1959, Cuban life became more oppressive. In 1962, Alfredo and Thais secretly fled by boat to Caracas, Venezuela. They left everything they had behind.
In Venezuela life was not very inviting and shortly, after many applications, they landed jobs in orthodontics and dentistry in the USA. Eventually they moved to Southern California.
Alfredo and his much beloved Thais enjoyed more than 50 years of marriage together. After many world travels and two very productive lives, they settled in Penn Valley in the early 2000s to raise horses. Sadly, less than three years later, Thais died. Alfredo’s son Cesar Nespral still lives near their old hometown of Palmdale, California. Everyone who meets Alfredo today remarks that he moves and acts more like an 80-year-old than 100!
Realizing that Alfredo was doing “nothing special” for his 100th birthday, I began to plan a grand birthday party for him.
Spanish teacher Sara Casler helped in these efforts by securing a venue on Sierra College campus. She also encouraged other Spanish students to attend. To prepare, they practiced singing the Cuban birthday song “Felicidades.” On April 21, with Maureen Gerecke and several other of Alfredo’s friends in attendance, Professor Casler’s students serenaded Alfredo with this song. He was most pleased by the festivities and certainly by the birthday cake decorated with the Cuban flag.
After such a long and interesting life, Alfredo Nespral certainly deserves the attention.
Jeff Russell lives in Big Oak Valley.