Those who know Phyllis Bordona, know she does not sit idle … long.
Wife of 52 years to Bob Bordona, mother to Ron and his wife Carrie and grandmother to Robert — retirement around the Bordona household is not what many might imagine.
Ever the one for planning and details, Phyllis is a community member always looking for a project in need of assistance. And while she is (biologically) mother to Ron and grandmother to Robert, it is the planning of vacations for their extended family, which perhaps brings her the most joy.
Earlier this summer the Bordonas: Bob, Phyllis, Ron, Carrie and Robert (with the help of several other Oakdale families) began putting final plans in place as they prepared for the arrival of 17 additional family members.
This would serve as the Third Annual Bordona Family Reunion. This year’s reunion consisted of the Bordona family of Oakdale and four past AFS (American Field Service) foreign exchange students and their families.
Bob and Phyllis both recognize that their initial decision to become a host family in the late 1980s was for the experience to serve as surrogate siblings, of sorts, for their son Ron, since he was an only child.
What began as a family opening their home to teenagers from around the globe, has evolved into a multi-cultural family sure to rival any one might watch on a cable TV reality show.
Past reunions were hosted in Panama in 2006 and aboard a cruise ship in 2009 when Bob and Phyllis celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Perhaps most interesting, or even fascinating, is that each of the past students occupied the Bordona home at separate times. Now, in 2011 as adults, spouses, parents, they are raising their families to know not only the Bordonas but the other past AFS students as family, as well.
The Third Reunion for students: Reto Schreppers (Switzerland), Roberto Anguizola (Panama), Hanne (Koskela) von Knorring (Finland), Tomas Gallego (Spain) and Ron Bordona (United States) was hosted in the luxurious town of Oakdale, California.
“We picked Oakdale this time, because we thought it would make less work for mom,” Hanne admitted.
With a shuttle bus sitting in the driveway and an itinerary built to give any travel agent a run for their money, it would be fair to say that was not the case.
As any grandmother would do, Phyllis packed the itinerary with sights to delight the entire family. Panning for gold in Jamestown, rock climbing in Yosemite, sight seeing in San Francisco, taking in the ag sights at the local Stueve Organic Dairy and then, of course, Disneyland and the varying sights of Southern California.
“One of the best feelings for me now is to see them as wonderful parents to their children,” Phyllis shared of having the former students come visit as adults. “It’s just a really happy feeling for me.”
The Bordona’s four AFS children are quick to recall it was not always easy, when they were teens in the Bordona home.
“There were so many experiences,” Reto said of his 1987 to 1988 stay with the family. “It’s like two years crammed into one. It was the most important year of my youth, for sure.”
“Being able to do things with Ron and his friends,” he added. “They took us into their peer group. They really took care of us.”
“Mom and Dad acted like parents,” Hanne shared of her time with the Bordona’s (1989-1990). “I was not always happy and easy to get along with. I was a teenager.”
“I was grounded at least two times,” Roberto Anguizola, 1988-1989 said, “because I skipped school to go to the beach.”
Roberto also shared that he himself was an only child, who lost his father at a young age. Bob and Ron filled the roles of dad and brother for him.
“Bob was that figure,” he said of his role as father.
“To come to another country for me was huge,” he said. “I wanted to go home, but by the end of the stay I did not want to leave.”
The Bordona’s ‘children’ shared that while they were excited to take in the sights and create memories with their children, it was their time together they most enjoy.
“To share,” Roberto said of their ‘quality’ time.
“For us to know more and be together and just catch up,” Tomas (Summer of 1990) stated.
“It really feels like being adopted into a family,” Hanne agreed.
“They are special,” Tomas said of Bob and Phyllis. “One of the reasons we have contact is because of them. The Bordonas are the ones that make it so special.”
“The Bordonas are the glue that keep the family together,” Hanne added. “Now we are old enough to continue.”
“It’s so much easier being the father,” Bob said of the couple’s role with their children and now grandchildren. “I just enjoy it. The thing that’s rewarding is seeing them grown up and how they are with their own families and children.”
Collectively the family recognizes that their bond and its extensiveness may be a bit unique. They do, however, offer advice to students or families considering an Exchange Program.
“What makes a good exchange student is one that is ready to go out and try things,” Bob said.
“Treating the child like your own, I think is important,” Hanne said. “It took me two weeks to start calling them mom and dad.
“And Ron … he can give me a hard time,” she added. “He is a real brother.”