A Saukville girl’s 15th birthday party was an elaborate celebration inspired by traditions of her mother’s homeland
Quinceañera — an elaborate ceremony marking a girl’s 15th birthday when she becomes a woman and dedicates her life to God — is a common event in Mexico and area communities with
large Hispanic populations, but it’s not a frequent occurrence in Ozaukee County.
In fact, Felicity Hope Rondeau, who turned 15 on Nov. 3 and is the daughter of Cindy Perez-Rondeau and Jim Rondeau of Saukville, had not attended one until she was the center of
attention at her ceremony Saturday afternoon at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Saukville.
Seeing her daughter dressed in a long, Spanish-influenced, ruffled, turquoise gown embellished with gold and silver and wearing a tiara as she walked down the aisle with her father
was a dream come true for Perez-Rondeau, who did not have her own quinceañera.
“It was customary in the past to wear white or pink. That’s changed. In my mind, I pictured her in a pink frilly dress, but that’s not Felicity,” she said.
“This dress is Felicity.”
Because local priests are not familiar with the ceremony and hesitated to conduct it, Father Carlos Zapata of St. Clement’s Parish in Sheboygan officiated the special Mass.
The ceremony traditionally is done in Spanish, but neither Felicity nor her mother are fluent in the language, so it was said in English, which the guests, most of whom had never been
to a quinceañera before, appreciated.
“Felicity doesn’t speak it at all. I can understand it, but I don’t speak it very well. I speak more of a Spanglish,” Perez-Rondeau said.
“When my parents moved to Belgium, my mother spoke to us in Spanish, but my father said she should speak English because that is what we needed to learn.”
In addition to marking the girl’s transition from a child to a woman, Perez-Rondeau said, the ceremony is also a thank you to God for the blessings bestowed on the girl and her family.
Those blessings have been many, Perez-Rondeau said.
Her parents grew up as migrant workers. Her mother Janie picked cotton and lived in tents in the South. Her father Vince was a mechanic for the former Krier Preserving Co. in Random
Lake and her mother worked on the food-processing line.
Perez-Rondeau and her siblings spent many summers at the migrant camp in Random Lake.
“We had a house not much bigger than this (indicating her kitchen) with two rooms. The kitchen was in one room, where the kids also slept, and our parents slept in the other room. It
was very close quarters,” she said.
“Back then, I didn’t feel like I lacked anything. I think that’s part of the reason we became such a close family.”
When the third child was born, her parents decided to stay in Belgium to provide stability for the family. There wasn’t money for fancy quinceañeras, but their three daughters and son
went to college.
“This is the first quinceañera in our family in 20 years,” Perez-Rondeau said.
The last one she went to was for a cousin, who is now 33.
Her siblings and their spouses — Vicky and Jerry Rentmeester, Rachel and Lawon Davis and Jackie and Willie Perez — Jim’s nine siblings and his parents Ann and Joe Rondeau of Port
Washington were among the padrinos, or sponsors, who provided Felicity’s dress, shoes, jewelry, flowers, invitations, food, music and decorations.
Felicity is an only child, their miracle child, her parents said.
Perez-Rondeau had open-heart surgery to correct a congenital heart defect that wasn’t discovered until she was 27.
When she was pregnant with Felicity, she experienced labor pains in July and spent 3-1/2 months on bed rest until Felicity was born Nov. 3, weighing 8 pounds, 14 ounces. Her name
Felicity didn’t dream of having a quinceañera like some girls. When her parents said she could have one, she wasn’t sure she wanted one, but her friends, especially those at Lake Shore
Dance in Port Washington, where she’s been taking classes since she was 18 months old, pushed her to do it.
Almost everyone at the studio attended the event and 10 of her 14 attendants were with the dance company. The other four were friends from Port Washington High School, where
Felicity is a freshman.
Felicity and her mother attended two-hour classes once a month in Sheboygan last summer to learn about the ceremony and the religious significance.
Her earrings are a reminder to listen to the words of God. Her godmother gave her a Bible and rosary to keep the word of God and prayer in her life. Her ring symbolizes the circle of
life, the passages she will go through and the contributions she will make. Her tiara is a symbol that she is a princess before God.
Felicity gave a favorite stuffed bunny to Kaleigh Coleman, her little sister in the dance company, to symbolize the passing of childish ways and so the bunny can bring joy and comfort
At a reception held at the Five Pillars Restaurant in Random Lake, Felicity and her court performed two dances. She and her dance teacher Lauralyn Voigt choreographed dances about
Disney princesses and villains.
Felicity then danced with her father and rarely left the dance floor the rest of the evening.
“It was so much fun. I’m sad it’s over,” Felicity said Sunday night.
“I’m so thankful that I was able to do this. It was definitely a special day for me and my family. Some drove up from Texas just to celebrate with me. It was an eye-opening experience
Her speech at the dinner reflected that.
“When I was 7, I used to dress up as a princess — poofy dress, sparkly shoes, tiara,” she said. “Now that I’m older, I realize that being a princess wasn’t about the makeup or the hair
or even that glittering tiara. It was about who I was as a person.
“I have my dress, my shoes and my tiara, but none of those are important. The most important thing I have is in this room — my friends, family, teachers, mentors.”
After thanking several people, Felicity brought tears to the eyes of her proud parents when she turned to them.
“The biggest thank you is to my parents,” she said. “You’ve shaped me into the person I am today, and for that I am grateful.”
Image information: Felicity Rondeau with her parents Cindy Perez-Rondeau and Jim Rondeau at Immaculate Conception Church in Saukville. Photo by Sam Arendt