Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - November 4, 2011

Coincidental meeting brings back exchange student from the '70s

Brazilian was part of Amador Valley High class of '75

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

When Pleasanton residents Greg and Nancy Thome visited Brazil last month and attended a wedding in Sao Paulo, they didn't expect to make a hometown connection. The bride was the sister of their son Alex's girlfriend, Gabrielle, whom he met while they were earning their master's degrees at Columbia University in New York; daughter Elyssa also traveled to Brazil for the occasion.

"Seating at the reception was random, and I ended up sitting next to Andre (Pinho)," Greg Thome recalled. "He asked where we lived, and I said in the San Francisco Bay Area. He said he had lived in the Bay Area a long time ago in a very small city.

"I asked which one and he seemed to think I would not have heard of it because it was so small. When he said 'Pleasanton' and he went to Amador I almost fell over," Thome continued.

"I pointed to Elyssa and said, 'She also went to Amador, as well as Alex, who was in the wedding party.'"

Pinho was a college friend of the bride's father.

"It turns out they had an upcoming trip planned to the West Coast, which would include a stop in San Francisco," Thome said. "We stayed in touch, and we invited him to join us in Pleasanton and asked if he would like to visit Amador. He was most enthusiastic about changing their plans and making the visit."

Prinicipal Jim Hansen put together a visit, said Thome, and Vice Principal Sebastian Bull led the tour for Pinho and his wife Gilza. Senior Andre Gallego, who is from the Sao Paulo area and recently moved to Pleasanton, went along to provide translation when needed.

In the library they found a 1975 yearbook, which included a photo of Mark Van Doran, whose family Pinho had stayed with in high school. He said he's lost touch with them, but he referred to Mrs. Van Doran as his "mother" while here and Mark as his "brother."

"During the campus tour he recognized the few original buildings as well as the gym, which remained the same," Thome reported. "The soccer field was basically the same except for the upgraded surface."

He also visited the classroom of English teacher Clark Fuller and remembered visiting the home of the Fullers, who were also hosting a Brazilian student at the time.

"We also toured around the city and he was surprised to see how familiar downtown looked," Thome said. "They took pictures of the Pleasanton sign, Christensen's and Dean's."

Since Andre Pinho played soccer while in Pleasanton, the group also visited the Sports Park and Val Vista Park.

"While here as a student, he was offered a chance to play professional soccer in the U.S. but decided it best to return home," Thome explained.

Pinho is now administrative manager of the State Department of Education in Pernambuco, Brazil, where he has administrative responsibility for 1 million students.

"Andre and Gilza both were very appreciative of the hospitality as well as the opportunity to reconnect," Thome said.

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