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Brother Named Guardian of Five Orphaned Brothers and Sisters

July 22, 1988 GMT

HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) _ At age 24, Frank Montenegro Jr. felt he was just starting adulthood, working at his first teaching job in San Diego.

But he willingly surrendered his bachelor life and went to court to become the father of five younger siblings, who faced being split up and sent to foster homes after their parents died within three months of each other.

Montenegro says he was determined to keep the family together.

″All of a sudden, you go from raising yourself to taking care of five others,″ he said.

Montenegro, who left his job and moved back to Northern California to become head of the grieving household, was named legal guardian Wednesday of three brothers and two sisters.

The only condition the judge attached to the decision was that Montenegro post a $25,000 security bond to protect the family in case of his death.

″Who won? Who won?″ asked 8-year-old Jaime Montenegro, tugging at his brother’s trousers after a brief hearing in Alameda County Superior Court.

″We won,″ said Montengro, the oldest of a family of eight children orphaned earlier this year through the deaths of their parents.

Genevieve Montenegro, 42, died in March from a blood clot after giving birth to a daughter. In May, Frank Montenegro Sr., 46, died when he lost control of his van and crashed on a freeway off-ramp near the family’s home in Hayward, across the bay from San Francisco.

The couple’s five dependent children could have been declared wards of the court and placed in foster homes, but Montengro went to court seeking guardianship.

″It has to be that way,″ he said. ″You have to have a family.″

Montenegro shrugged his shoulders when asked if he had any regrets about assuming responsibility - on a teacher’s salary - for Philip, 16; Jaime, 8; Joaquin, 6; Genevieve, 5; and 4-month-old Nicole, who has Down’s syndrome.

″There’s obviously going to be problems but you have to raise your family,″ he said.

The new family man runs the household with the help of three aunts. Two younger brothers on their own - Peter, 22, and Manuel, 19 - also help from time to time.

The community also has helped the Montenegros, raising money to help pay for the parents’ funerals and medical expenses for a two-day hospital stay for Nicole, who caught pneumonia in May. A trust fund at a Hayward bank had reached more than $8,600 as of Wednesday.

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Montenegro is teaching summer school at an Oakland church, but the family’s finances will improve this fall, when he begins a $23,000-a-year job as a bilingual teacher at an elementary school in Fremont.

Montenegro, while relieved at Wednesday’s ruling, knows the family’s problems aren’t over. ″That’s one step toward raising them up. We’re just starting down that road,″ he said.

His lawyer, Adele Fenstermacher, who volunteered her services, is confident the Montengros will succeed.

″If there’s anyone capable of doing it,″ she said, ″it’s Frank.″