2/25/2005 - Returning to where his future was born
RAPID CITY — For an Ecuadorian psychologist, walking through Dakota Middle School halls was familiar territory.
Camilo Marquez, 57, stepped back 40 years into his high school days on a weekend visit to see his former host family, Donald and Doris Leck.
Marquez still affectionately refers to the Rapid City couple as “Mom” and “Dad.”
“After 40 years, it was like yesterday,” Marquez said of his reunion with the family.
Marquez said he quickly developed a special feeling for the South Dakota family. The connection has withstood the test of time, bringing the former Rapid City High School student back to his former hometown.
The Lecks’ son, Allen Leck, 57, returned to Rapid City to complete the reunion.
He and Marquez spent their final year in high school together. The opportunity to meet with Camilo was something that Allen didn’t want to miss.
Doris Leck, 81, said Allen had wanted the family to become involved with AFS, and host a foreign-exchange student.
The family agreed to open its doors, and Marquez arrived the following fall.
Doris Leck kept a Spanish and English dictionary to refer to when stumbling into communication problems.
“It was always on hand,” she said.
A full-time homemaker, Doris provided a listening ear for the Ecuadorian youth when he was troubled. She also noted that Marquez and Allen were very much like brothers.
“When they had arguments, I told Camilo to ignore Allen,” she said.
Don Leck, 84, said Marquez was game to try anything.
He accompanied Don Leck on two separate hunting trips. They traveled once to hunt deer in the Black Hills and went to the eastern side of the state for pheasant hunting.
“It was a lot of fun. We had a good time with him,” Leck said.
Now married with three daughters, Marquez found his “adopted” brother, Allen Leck, through an Internet search.
A continent away, Allen opened his e-mail in his Danville, Calif., home to find a note from the former exchange student.
“It was surprising. We had no idea where Camilo was,” Leck said.
On Saturday, the men walked through their old high school, then did a quick tour through the city’s streets, searching for old hangouts.
“We went to our old home and to the high school,” Allen Leck said.
The hub and landscape of their social lives has changed, they said. They noted that the YMCA and Elks Theater remained open but the Rex and State theaters are now memories. The Hole, a corner pool hall, also closed.
“It’s definitely a different city,” Marquez said. “You had to go downtown to go shopping.”
They drove down Eighth Street, “where everyone cruised in our day,” Allen Leck said.
“We use to park our cars at McDonald’s,” he said.
“That’s where we went for 15-cent hamburgers,” Marquez said.
Marquez said that when he arrived at the door of Rapid City High School, he was shy and without a lot of friends.
The year he spent with the Lecks in Rapid City impacted his personality, his future and his career, he said.
Marquez’s father worked for an oil company in Guayaquil, Ecuador. To advance in the company, his family wanted the youth to become a chemical engineer.
But a senior aptitude test taken at Rapid City High School found other strengths in the youth. With counseling by a high school teacher, Marquez explored a different direction for a career choice.
“I met with Earl Prunty, a counselor here. He said, ‘You should get into psychology,’” Marquez said.
Now a psychologist, he works as an administrator at a university in his home country. As part of his duties, he even promotes a student-exchange program.
“My life really changed here,” he said.
Forty years ago, Allen Leck was student body president of about 2,000 students attending Rapid City High School at that time. In their senior class of 644 students, half boys and half girls, he said that everyone knew Camilo.
“Because of Camilo, we perceived the world differently,” Leck said.
Reprinted with permission from the Rapid City Journal
By Jomay Steen, Journal Staff Writer