Remember when: An IASAS Love Story

ISKL Alumni Penny Olson (’86) and Joe Mannara (’85) reconnect 35 years after their odd IASAS housing arrangement.

In our celebration of the 40th Anniversary of IASAS, we asked: “What is your favorite IASAS memory?” Penny Olson Mannara (‘86) replied, “I remember when Joe Mannara (‘85) and I were the only boy and girl housed together when we traveled to Bangkok in the spring of 1983.” Penny and Joe barely knew each other and were sure their housing arrangement was a mistake, but it wasn’t. They eventually became great friends, but lost touch after leaving KL. Their story didn’t end there though. Here’s the story as told by Penny:

“I believe IASAS began the ’82-83 school year. I was a freshman and Joe was a sophomore that school year. Joe participated in many sports competitions, whether it was IASAS or school-related only, while attending ISKL. He played basketball, tennis, volleyball, softball, and badminton. Joe received the Scott Smith athlete of the year award in, ’83-84 and ’84-85, school years.

In the Spring of ’83, we went to Bangkok because we were in Band. This was not a typical competition for Joe, who says he felt like a fish out of water attending this particular event. We are not sure if this was officially recognized as an IASAS event at that time, but we know students from ISKL, ISB, SAS, and ISJ were there. I believe it was the first year ISKL offered Band. Mr. Beerman was the instructor. Joe played trumpet and I played flute. Each student attending played a solo piece for judges. I remember practicing with Mr. Beerman leading up to going to Bangkok. I was not the best, but somehow I was allowed to go to Bangkok! I know there were students from the choir that attended as well.

I remember we were taken to ISB from the airport where we were eventually called one by one, pairing us with our host families. We were not aware of where or with whom we would be staying prior to the trip. Some were housed individually and 2 girls or 2 boys were housed together. I remember Joe and I being the last ones left and then being called together. No one said anything other than, there is your host family and we said, ok. There were no questions asked, so no answers given. It was a different time I believe.

The family we stayed with had a son and daughter. Joe stayed in the son’s room and I stayed in the daughter’s room. Joe and I didn’t know each other except for knowing of each other prior to this trip. We hit it off as soon as we rode in the car with the host family. After the first evening at their home we never saw our host parents again, even at meals. They lived in a very nice high-rise apartment. We came and went as we pleased and no one said a word. It was an interesting situation, but we banded together and took care of when and where we needed to be!

Neither of us remember being nervous about the housing arrangement once we knew we were being housed together. I do remember thinking, this is odd and wondering if it was a mistake. But, no one seemed to be acting like it was so I just went with it! We would meet with other ISKL friends during our free time and explore some of Bangkok’s notable areas, riding tuk-tuks, eating out… we had a great time and we wish we had pictures! If we had smartphones then, we would have many fun pictures to look back on and some of them would further show my daughters just how privileged and free we were living overseas during that time period.”

Neither of us were judged well on our solo pieces, but the memories of the trip stayed with us for many years! Joe says his specific memory is sitting alone at the airport in Malaysia as we were waiting to board our plane and I walked up to him, said hello and sat next to him. I don’t remember this, but it was a precursor to what was to come.

Joe and I reconnected at an ISKL reunion in San Antonio, TX in August 2018. I went to the reunion with a couple of friends who are sisters, Cheryl and Cheri. Each of us live near San Antonio and we knew it would at least be a nice weekend on the San Antonio Riverwalk. We met several alumni at a pub on the Riverwalk and Joe arrived with his sister, Maria, and a few others a while later. I brought up that Bangkok trip with someone and mentioned how Joe and I were housed together. At that time he was called over to sit next to us. We had not seen each other or heard from one another in 35 years. I was so excited to finally see him again. I felt like I had my friend back. Joe says he felt the same way. We talked into the early hours of the next day reminiscing and catching up with each other. We had 35 years to cover! We have never let a day go by since, 8/11/18, that we haven’t spoken to each other.

At the time of the reunion I was living in Austin, TX, and Joe was living in Syracuse, NY. Joe visited Austin 2 weeks after the San Antonio reunion. We then began navigating a long-distance relationship for almost 4 years! We accrued many airline miles during that time, both traveling back and forth as often as we could. We always knew our relationship was worth the effort!

Joe retired, June 2022, after 33 years of teaching high school biology and earth science and coaching tennis, baseball and volleyball in Camillus, New York. I am a speech-language pathologist, providing home health services to the adult/elderly population. Joe moved to Texas following retirement this past summer and we were married on July 29th! Joe and I each have 2 kids, who all attend college at this time. We currently live in Kyle, TX, and are loving the fact that neither of us has to get on a plane to leave the other!

We are so thankful to have that behind us now and look forward to traveling together now! Joe and I are looking forward to traveling to Malaysia sometime in the future! Neither of us have been since the 90s.”

When we reached out to ask about your best IASAS memories we never thought we would get back a true ISKL love story 35 years in the making. Do you have a memory to share? Please let us know by writing to [email protected]

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