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San Pedro Pioneers Celi Nunez and John Greif

By Angel Nuñez

When Neil Armstrong made his first step on the moon he said that it was a small step for him but a giant step for mankind.  I know I can safely say that when John Greif II made is first landing in the lagoon of San Pedro right behind the Plaza de San Pedro, it was a small landing for John, but a giant landing for San Pedro.  This was indeed what initiated the tourism industry for San Pedro and for that matter for Belize as a country.

John Greif made his historic landing in San Pedro in a sea plane because there was no airstrip back then in 1957.  Oh, how great it is that he fell in love with San Pedro and with a native girl, Celi Nuñez.  He said he thought he had landed in Heaven and I am sure he saw this angelic woman in the person of Celi Nunez and he thought she was an Angel.  I was present at the soccer field when he landed and I can tell you that the entire village, some 300 persons strong, was there.  Everyone wanted to see a plane for the first time in their lives.  We just looked and looked at the plane in amazement.

John Greif brought the first Seaplane to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

John Greif brought the first Seaplane to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye 

Consequently to that visit, a romance commenced between these two celebrities.  John was a pilot who fought in a war.  And Celi was the first Sanpedrana girl to have graduated from a high school.  It seems like a natural connection and with those two heads together there came forth the commencement of the tourism industry.  John and Celi opened the doors to the first hotel in San Pedro in 1964 with George Price (+) cutting the ribbon.  They had faith that their efforts and investment would be fruitful, and just look at what we have today.

This couple did not stop there.  They had to open the doors of San Pedro to foreign visitors and they lobbied enthusiastically for an airstrip because John’s passion was in flying more so than in the hotel.  Once the land was identified, they soon received government’s green light to work on the airstrip.  All the older Sanpedranos can reminisce a crowd of Sanpedranos and Celi herself at the field cutting down coconut trees and bush with machetes and axes.  They were paid two dollars for cutting down a tree and they thought it was a bargain.  Everyone cooperated because Celi had convinced everyone that this would be good for San Pedro. By 1969 we had a grass airstrip and the commencement of commercial flights to San Pedro. Now just look at the airport we have today as a testament of Celi and John’s efforts and the people of San Pedro.

San Pedro's grassy airstrip in 1969

San Pedro’s grassy airstrip in 1969

Celi did not stop there.  While John continued with his dream airstrip, Celi was busy building the hotel industry and working with the Belize Hotel Association and the Caribbean Hotel Association.  She was busy promoting San Pedro and Belize abroad. Happy with her accomplishments, Celi went on to become a licensed pilot herself.

Celi Nunez McCorkle at the San Pedro Holiday Hotel and Restaurant

Celi Nunez McCorkle at the San Pedro Holiday Hotel and Restaurant

Obviously, that was not enough for a dynamic woman like Celi.  She started a restaurant business, trained her personnel and chefs, and opened up the doors of another service industry for the Island.  Now if you would have thought this was enough, you are wrong.  With a young girl ready for high school, Celi opted to take on the challenge of supporting secondary education in San Pedro to find a suitable place for her daughter Celi Jeanne Greif and for the teenagers of San Pedro in general.  She became the first chairperson of the Board of Directors and devoted, time, money, effort, patience and pride in uplifting secondary education in San Pedro.  What started as a small dream with 25 students has now blossomed into an over 500 institution that also offers an adult night program and a junior college.

John Greif II, Celi Nunez McCorkle with son John Greif III at the San Pedro Airstrip

John Greif II, Celi Nunez McCorkle with son John Greif III at the San Pedro Airstrip 

Okay, I have just touched the tip of the accomplishments of these remarkable persons.  Now John has been honored with his name given to the San Pedro Airport.  And my proposal is:  When will San Pedro honor Celi for her immense contributions to this Island.  Twenty Five Years Ago will not rest until I see this honor bestowed.  Absolutely nobody…nobody, deserves it more than Celi Nunez.

Related Articles: Inauguration of The John Greif II San Pedro Airport

25 Years Ago Books Can Be Purchased At:
-Ambergris Today -Lala’s Store -Chico’s Meat Shop -Pampered Paws -Ambergris Jade -San Pedro BTB Office -Aquarius Salon (Kim) -S.P. Town Library -Di Bush –Richie’s Stationery -San Pedrano’s Stationery -Rum, Coffee & Cigar House
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