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Mexican Town Will Finally Have Its School

Times Staff Writer

John Pierce’s long-awaited journey to build a school in his wife’s remote home village in Mexico is finally about to begin.

On Monday, the San Juan Capistrano ceramics merchant loaded the sixth of seven trailer rigs that will transport the materials the 1,800 miles to San Miguel del Rio, which is near the Pacific Coast in the state of Michoacan.

“I’m just tickled to death to be finally leaving,” said Pierce as he and Pedro Arrechea loaded school desks and chairs at Capistrano Valley High School.

Pierce, who has been trying to begin his Mexican adventure for the past five months, said little delays each day, as his departure approaches, have made him uneasy. During the past week, Pierce and a handful of volunteers loaded five trailer rigs and sent them to the border checkpoint at Tecate. On Monday, the sixth trailer was due at noon, but Arrechea didn’t pull up to San Juan Capistrano until shortly past 5 p.m.

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“All these delays put knots in my stomach,” said an anxious Pierce.

Pierce’s dream of building the school in San Miguel del Rio, the tiny hamlet where his wife, Elda, was born, began last year when the Capistrano Unified School District decided to rid itself of several World War II Quonset huts it had used to store materials.

When the school district could not find anyone to demolish the structures, Pierce offered to dismantle them piece by piece and transport the materials to Mexico to build his school and other facilities in the small village.

However, bureaucratic maneuvering on both sides of the border stalled the operation until recently when the Mexican government gave the final approval for the 350,000 pounds of materials to be shipped duty-free into that country.

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Pierce also had to find a benefactor who would contribute $2,800 for special permits from the Department of Motor Vehicles in order for the Mexican rigs to cross the border and retrieve the materials.

By late today, the seventh and last rig should be loaded, and Pierce can finally head for Mexico. The seven-rig caravan will take about three days to reach San Miguel del Rio.

Once there, Pierce will have to move quickly. The rainy season is nearing in that area of Mexico and Pierce must construct a building to store the rest of the materials until drier weather allows him to continue the project. He said the school should be completed in about three months.

The entire project, which eventually will include a town square and street lights in San Miguel del Rio, could take up to five years to complete, Pierce said.

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Pierce, 51, does not plan to return to the United States.

“I’m going to try to live there the rest of my life,” he said.

If Pierce’s dream of turning the small village, actually called an ejido (community plot), into a bona fide small town succeeds, he hopes it will attract people to farm on the fertile area along the Coahueyana River.

“This experience has really been rewarding, but there’s still much work to do. This is really the happiest time of my life,” Pierce said.

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For Elda Pierce, it is a time to return home. She left San Miguel del Rio a decade ago and has not seen her family in almost four years. Months ago, she wrote to her family and told them of the plans to construct the school and other buildings. Since then, her family has waited patiently. She said the family will be surprised when the seven tractor trailers reach the village sometime this weekend.

“They know we’re coming, but they don’t know when,” she said. “I’m very happy to finally be going home.”


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