In Loving Memory
A Tribute to Faith, Freedom, and Family
Lilliam (Lila) Penin de Gutierrez was born in Holguin, Cuba in 1925 to Santos (Abu Santos) Penin and Flora (Abu Foya) Dominicis. She had a younger brother named Carlos (Tito). She grew up spending summers at her family’s farm (la finca) and at the beach of Guarda la Vaca. This love of the ocean was one she carried throughout her whole life. She attended boarding school in Havana, Cuba and from a very early age she became very independent and acquired a love for learning. Her studies led her to become the first in her family to receive a doctorate degree (in philosophy). This was a feat very few women of that time achieved.
Once she graduated, she soon married the love of her life, Teodoredo (Nene) Gutierrez, over the objection of her father who refused to walk her down the aisle. This obstinate and stubborn attitude of her father was very short lived, as he soon grew to love and admire this young charismatic, warm natured son-in-law who was beloved by everyone. Lila and Nene had three children: Ana Maria, Lilliam and Guillermo Enrique. Contrary to the norms of the time Lila felt the need and desire to continue to teach and balance her role as a wife and mother with her professional career which she so loved. Even at the young age of 23, she had the confidence to command the respect and attention of a classroom filled with unruly adolescent boys, just a few years younger than herself. Family ties were of great importance for both Nene and Lila. Commitment to and support of family members was always a top priority for them. Nene and Lila’s brother Tito incorporated the merging of the two families by establishing a medical distribution company called Drogeria Gutierrez Penin. Her husband Nene, came from a long line of pharmacists including both of his parents and all four siblings. The two families lived in close proximity with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles living next door to each other.
The strong family union and carefree lifestyle they lived soon came to an end as the political turmoil of the Castro revolution began to plague the country in 1959. Lila suffered greatly during that time with the grave illness of both her parents and with the arrest of her husband after the Bay of Pigs invasion. During this time Lila clung to prayer and her Catholic faith while she awaited the trial of her husband. As she watched her country quickly lose its liberties to Fidel Castro’s communist ideology, she realized the urgency to leave Cuba and seek political asylum. She never gave up the hope of seeking freedom despite the reality of her situation with both her parents gravely ill and her husband’s imprisonment. She entrusted her dream of freedom to God, placing her trust in Him. Her prayers were answered and Nene was released from prison but she still had her sick parents to care for. She knew she could not leave her parents behind. Shortly after she suffered the death of her parents within one month of each other, she cried out to God in despair. She heard the words, “Now you are free to leave.”
In 1964 they fled Cuba via Mexico and eventually moved to Indianapolis away from all their family. There, Lila resumed her teaching career at Speedway High School. Her lifestyle completely changed and she was quickly required to learn how to speak English, drive, cook and cope with a completely new culture. Despite the hardships, struggles and sacrifices they were able to provide for their family and put all three children through college. They lived in Indianapolis until 1982 when they moved to join their daughter Ana Maria in Winter Haven, Florida. Again Lila returned to teaching, this time English (ESOL) to the Mexican and Haitian migrant students. She officially retired from teaching at the age of 72, but continued working in numerous ministries at her parish, St. Matthew’s Catholic Church. She visited the sick bringing those home-bound the Eucharist, she prayed with the imprisoned, bringing them hope and reassurance of God’s love and mercy, and she volunteered her free time to teach both young and old how to read, and unlock the key to knowledge.
Lila was a woman of great courage and conviction who believed nothing was impossible with faith in God. She lived her entire life promoting education, hard work, freedom and her Catholic faith which she loved and valued dearly. She met every challenge she faced with a strong will and total dedication. She will be greatly missed but remembered by hundreds of students, her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and many dear friends.
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