Soaring to New Heights

December 26, 2016 Elizabeth M. San Nicolas

In a fitting culmination to a career that spans more than 30 years, John “JQ” Quinata was recently named Command Chief Master Sergeant for the Guam Air National Guard by Adjutant General Roderick Leon Guerrero. Quinata now holds the highest level of enlisted leadership in the local unit, which means he will be providing direction and representing the interests of more than 300 members of the enlisted corps.

Quinata’s appointment may be the crowning achievement in his long service, “reaching the pinnacle of my career,” as he said, but its relevance goes beyond that. “Most importantly, and more rewarding, is taking care of the enlisted corps—the most critical asset of the Guam Air Guard, and the backbone of any service organization.”

Like many young family men on Guam in the 1980s, JQ joined the Air Force for security and opportunity. While he went directly from active duty to the Guam Air Guard in the 1990s, his career in public service also took him down several other paths.  

He worked at the Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency, and was appointed director in 1995. He left the job in 2002 to launch a political career. The son of a former mayor of Talofofo, JQ said he kept hearing from people who encouraged him to run for senator. “I didn’t take it seriously in the beginning, then all of a sudden I got this movement, and when I saw the movement I just couldn’t let those people down…I started believing in myself that I could win, and I did.” The single-term senator’s lasting legacy was the consolidation of the judiciary into the court system we have today. “At that time I got flak for doing that, but… that was the right thing to do,” JQ mused.

But the accomplishment that might be closest to his heart is an annual Christmas Train Village his family started 24 years ago. What started as a small tabletop display in their Ipan home has grown to this year’s 9,000 square-foot extravaganza at the Agana Shopping Center.

It began when his then 12-year-old son Derrick asked JQ to buy the first miniature Christmas house at The Cookie Jar in Agana Heights. After sticker shock and clever haggling, JQ acquiesced. Derrick surprised his parents with a full table setup including a small battery-operated train.

From then on, JQ, his sister and sister-in-law were adding to and expanding their individual displays—visiting each others’ houses every Christmas. Gutting the living room, adding more houses and an electric Bachmann train set…each year more elaborate than the last. In 1994, family matriarch Mae suggested the siblings combine all three for everyone to enjoy at once. “It was my mom’s hidden agenda to keep our family together,” JQ noted.

In 2008, Father Eric Forbes suggested to the family to move the display to the St. Fidelis Friary in Agana Heights. With the increased exposure and central location, the train village became a holiday tradition for thousands of children. Eventually, it outgrew even the friary, moving to its current location at the Agana Shopping Center in 2015. With parishes and families taking turns serving refreshments, the atmosphere is always warm and friendly. The ever-changing scenery in miniature brings out the kid in everyone.

But what makes the work and expense of the display worth it every year? It’s a tribute to his beloved mother Mae and her “hidden agenda” for bringing people together.  

One of JQ’s favorite stories is of a man from Yigo. His kids had done all the yard chores to earn a trip to Ipan, but the man refused to get out of his truck, but eventually lured inside with a promise of homemade boñelos dagu. JQ laughed recalling the man’s reaction. “He thought he was going to see just a train on a table. He was in shock! That may have been his first night, but boy, it was not his last.”

JQ also recounted an instance when a single mom and her teenage daughter came to see the display in Ipan. He said when the girl saw the large Quinata clan gathered during the holidays it made her cry. JQ stood there as the daughter showed her mother a painful suicide note she had written. She had planned to kill herself after Christmas. In tears, the pair vowed to start over and heal their relationship. Quinata said it still warms his heart and gives him goose bumps when he remembers the women’s reconciliation. “I think I saved a life that day because of what we’ve done. I think it will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

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