Gifts Through the Bell Society
Dr. Fernando Milanes ’53
Dr. Fernando '53 and Nuria Milanes
Although Dr. Fernando Milanes ’53 has not been back to campus since graduation, his one year at Peddie left a lasting impression. Now, 65 years after graduating, he has joined the Bell Society to help honor a decades-old good deed that changed his life.
Fernando was attending Ruston Academy in Havana when former President Fulgencio Batista took power in a military coup, throwing his educational future into doubt. “My father wanted me to have a pathway to medical school in the U.S. in case the University of Havana closed due to the uncertain political situation. So, he suggested I attend an American boarding school.”
His father chose Peddie, given its proximity to the University of Pennsylvania, which he wanted Fernando to attend. “At first I was homesick at Peddie, but I was received very well by my classmates. I lived in a single downstairs room in Coleman, and three dorm mates asked to use my window to break curfew and go into town. I figured I couldn’t tell anyone – if I was caught, I would also be found guilty, so I joined the group. A few weeks later, we were indeed caught and received many demerits. That took my grades down from summa cum laude to cum laude!”
It was still strong enough for acceptance to Penn, but Fernando opted to attend the University of Havana, where his father was a prominent gastroenterologist. He began his medical studies there and later spent a year at Wake Forest, until his education was interrupted by the 1959 revolution in Cuba.
Leaving Cuba with his family in 1960, Fernando returned only once to take part in the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. It wasn’t until 1968, now married with three children, that he had saved enough money to re-start his medical studies at the University of Granada in Spain.
“They requested proof of high school graduation, and Cuba would not send it to me. When my wife contacted Peddie, the school responded very fast, sending all the paperwork needed. Without that, I would have needed to spend another year repeating my high school subjects. Peddie rescued me – and my donations to Peddie over the years were in gratitude for that.”
Fernando went on to be a professor of psychiatry and vice-chair of the department of mental health at the University of Miami. A desire to help veterans led him to serve as associate chief of staff for mental health at the VA Hospital in Miami, where his innovative programming was adopted by VA hospitals nationwide.
Over dinner in Miami last fall with former Director of Gift Planning Regina Ketting, Fernando and his wife, Nuria, expressed their gratitude for Peddie’s long-ago assistance by becoming members of the Bell Society. Mindful of the myriad educational challenges he faced, Fernando designated that their future bequest benefit Peddie’s financial aid program “because of a desire to help good students afford a superior education.”