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Former Miss Universe returns to her Highland Park school with encouragement and a $100,000 donation

Michelle Ontiveros, Franklin High School Student Body President, along with Miss Universe 1988, Porntip Nakhirunkanok, Franklin High Class of 86, and Ms. Regina Marquez-Martinez| Joe walker

Porntip Nakhirunkanok (center) sits between student body president Michelle Ontiveros (left) and principal Regina Marquez-Martinez (right) | Joe Walker

By JOE WALKER

HIGHLAND PARK —  When Porntip Nakhirunkanok, a 1986 graduate of Franklin High School, visited her mother in Thailand during her first year of college, she had no idea that she would soon be crowned Miss Universe.  She had entered a Miss Thailand contest at the urging of her mom, and a whirlwind of events followed, with her being named Miss Universe in 1988.  Earlier this week, Porntip was back at Franklin High to donate $100,000 to a school scholarship fund.

The former beauty queen has been heavily involved in charitable work since she wore the Miss Universe crown. She established her own foundation, Angels Wings, in 2002 with its mission to promote education as well as serve underprivileged children in Thailand.  Porntip, also known as Bui Simon, is married billionaire Herbert Simon, a former shopping mall builder and owner of the Indiana Pacers.

When Porntip’s former Franklin High classmate Regina Marquez-Martinez (Franklin HS Class of ’85) was named principal of the school this past summer, the two were reunited. Porntip then pledged  $100,000 in honor of Jack Wright, the president of the Franklin Education Foundation, and the school’s 100 year anniversary.

On Tuesday,  Porntip returned to her alma mater,  where she met with students and Associated Student Body President Michelle Ontiveros. During her visit, she stressed the importance of education, believing in one’s unique talents and never being afraid to take a chance to pursue one’s dreams. She credited Wright and other important mentors in her life for believing in her and giving her the courage to walk through a door she wouldn’t have dared to open had it not been for their encouragement.

At the end of the afternoon,  Porntip credited education for giving her the fortitude to fulfill her dreams. She asked the attentive students how many of them were planning to attend college. Every hand in the room went up.

Joe Walker, a 1978 Graduate of Eagle Rock High School, grew up in Highland Park and has written for many years about the history of Northeast Los Angeles. He can be reached at [email protected]

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