Metro Roundup: Former exchange student returns to Chelsea 50 years later

The Chelsea High School Class of 1971 held its 50th high school reunion recently, and a familiar face joined them from far away. 

Alba Lucia Pelaez came to Chelsea High School from Colombia as a foreign exchange student for 18 months thanks to a scholarship from the Civitan Club. 

When she first arrived, she spoke no English and spent time learning the language and culture, and in the fall of 1971 began taking her classes to graduate with a diploma. 

“It was a great experience,” Pelaez recalled. “When I went back to Colombia, I was proud to say that I graduated in the U.S. It was a very unique opportunity. This was my first trip back to Chelsea in 50 years. I haven’t been back since I graduated.”

Her daughter made the trip with her and was glad she did and was proud of what her mom did all those years ago. 

Although so much time had passed, Pelaez said she and her friends still love each other after 50 years and said several of the women were like sisters to her. 

“These ladies, I spent a lot of weekends in their houses,” she said. “It was a beautiful memory that I never lost.”

Ruth Hartley, a member of the class of 1971, said Pelaez came into their class a few months after she learned English. 

“She started in the fall of 1971 and graduated in 1972, but we claimed her,” Hartley said.  

Over the reunion weekend, some of the members of both classes met at Lloyd’s restaurant on Friday night for a surprise welcome party for Pelaez. On Saturday, May 29, the reunion was held at the Weldon Pavilion at the Chelsea Sports Complex. 

During her visit, Pelaez stayed with her former classmate Terry Foote. Several of the ladies got together there and had a cooking lesson on making her famous carrot cake. 

“Alba is very well known in Bogota for her carrot cake,” Hartley said. “It’s a recipe she took from here and perfected it in a Colombian sense. She taught us how to make it.” 

On June 1, Pelaez headed back to her home in Pereira, Colombia, but said her visit was a blessing. 

I’ve really appreciated [Chelsea] as one of the best places that I love,” she said. “I’m going to try to come back next year so we can make the celebration of the class of 1972.”

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