Garden Grove

Mr. Nguyen followed that dream

ROBERT NGUYEN sings Elvis and teaches at Garden Grove High (Jill Lloyd photo),

By Jill Lloyd/Special to The Tribune 

There’s a famous quote by Elvis Presley that states  “Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”a

And while 46 -year-old Robert Nguyen of Santa Ana, never considered his path in life or ambition was influenced by the King of Rock and Roll, Presley’s quote simply implies that if you want your dreams to go anywhere, you’ve got to rev them up yourself.   

And that is how Nguyen’s “road trip” through life has been fueled.  Not always knowing what’s next, his desire to fulfill his life has led him to being a personal assistant to singer Bette Midler and filmmaker Bonnie Bruckheimer; teaching math, French and Vietnamese at Garden Grove High School, where he now is the activities director; becoming involved with the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling (who use GLOW as their trade name and is a women’s professional wrestling group which started as a Netflix series in the  1980’s and has continued in various forms after the series left television) and serving as a pastor every Sunday at Christ Chapel Orange County in Lake Forest to a congregation currently of nine.

He always wanted to be a film director, majored in communications/media production at UC San Diego but then after a change of heart decided to pursue teaching, and obtained his credentials at California State University, Long Beach to teach math, French and Vietnamese.

Growing up Catholic he attended private schools and grades were of utmost importance.  

“It’s just part of our Vietnamese culture: to study and get good grades, especially straight A’s. My parents were Vietnamese immigrants and came to California in 1975, first living at the Camp Pendleton Refugee Camp, before getting sponsored and moving to San Clemente. “

“My mom always talked about Elvis.  That’s what she thought America was all about.  Being free. That’s what Elvis represented to her.  It wasn’t really about his music.  But I certainly like his music, his songs, but I never thought of myself as a singer.  The nuns at Catholic school would ask me to sing songs like ‘Hallelujah’ but I would always listen to Elvis on the radio.   I would also buy Elvis cassettes and listen to them over and over.” 

Around the same time, in the early 2000s, he started singing in public at a few spots including the Silver Fox and Forbidden City in Long Beach, the latter came about when one of Midler’s backup singers needed someone to fill in for her.

Faced with a family crisis: his father became ill, had a quadruple bypass, and his mom had a work injury. So he chose family over working for Bette and Bonnie, and the singing, and stayed home to care for his parents. 

He started taking night classes  to obtain his teaching credential, while looking after his parents during the day. His father died in 2005.

“I always had a desire to teach math.  I loved it, especially algebra,” Nguyen said.  He had also taken four years of French in high school, so he decided to get a teaching credential for that, as well as Vietnamese and English Language Development.

He landed his first job teaching at Mayfair High School in Lakewood, before moving to the Garden Grove Unified School District and taught math at Pacifica High. He then applied for a transfer at Garden Grove High  to teach three subjects: math, French and Vietnamese.  He could satisfy all of the qualifications and was hired.  

 After five years, he became the activities director, which he has done for the past 10 years while also continuing to teach Vietnamese.

And simultaneously he pursued a masters degree in Theological Studies at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa and became an associate pastor in April 2018 before becoming the only pastor for the Christ Chapel Orange County in Lake Forest, which he continues to do every Sunday. 

For his activities director job at GGHS he coordinates campus events as well as helps with fundraising, which includes the Teacher’s Talent Show and allows him to draw on his production and singing skills. He  produces it and sings in it.

Though he has in the past, he didn’t sing an Elvis song in this year’s talent show, but several teachers dropped by karaoke night afterwards at the nearby Azteca Restaurant, an Elvis-themed Mexican restaurant on Main Street, Garden Grove, and Nguyen sang Elvis’s “The Wonder of You.”  Azteca owner Jennifer Stewart heard him sing and said “Hey you’ve got a great voice.  We need to have you sing at Elvis Festival this year.”

Nguyen will be doing just that as a special guest at the 22nd Annual Elvis Festival , which takes place on Historic Main Street in Garden Grove on Sunday, Oct. 9 and runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  He will sing “The Wonder of You” and also plans to sing an Elvis song in Vietnamese.  

Several of the GLOW women will be there to support him.  As far as his set time, it is still being determined, but  it will definitely be after church as he would not want to miss a Sunday service.

Leave a Reply