BY CHAD PATA
LONG BEFORE Kristen Kawakami Dean ’68 went on to work in management at PACCAR, one of the largest trucking manufacturers in the world, she was a 13-year-old Kaua’i keiki having her eyes opened by the teaching staff at Mid-Pacific. “They planted in me the bug of continuous learning and not being satisfied with just passing some courses and getting a degree, but rather, going back and revisiting the things I learned. So here I am 59 years later going to visit the place I became fascinated with at age 13,” says Dean as she prepared to leave for a National Geographic cruise to visit the ruins of Greece and the labyrinths of Crete. “Mid-Pacific allowed me to develop a sense of independence from living in the dorms, the college prep focus and the kind of teachers that we had back then like Bob Fearrien, Eileen Wagoner, and Richard Gross, to name just a few, brought an interesting and different perspective.”
She also cites the influence of her math teacher Carl Wheeler who inspired her to look to the East Coast to further her education. He had a connection at a small school in upstate New York and she applied to it sight unseen and earned a scholarship. To call it a world away is no hyperbole for a Hawai‘i kid moving to a city that averages 100 inches of snow a year, but this very change of scenery informed the rest of her life. “When I announced the endowment I wanted Carl Wheeler to be present so I could thank him, not because he was a great math teacher, though he was, but because he advised me to apply to the University of Rochester. Not only did I get a very good education but I also met the man who would become my husband and we are the result of what I consider to be the purpose of college, to create a diversified campus.”
This is the reason she made a contingency on her recent $100,000 endowed scholarship: it must be awarded to a Mid-Pacific student who attends a school east of the Mississippi River. “I am a firm believer that the kids on the East Coast campuses and the Mid-Pacific students receiving the scholarship will learn from one another, so I want to promote that mix. I love Hawai‘i for its nurturing environment, but kids benefit from being exposed to a little more competition and different things that make you a better person because you are not so laid back,” says Dean, also noting the larger travel expenses and need for a much warmer wardrobe coming from the islands.
She waited to create this scholarship until this year so she could use the Required Minimum Distribution from her IRA to completely endow the gift. “I set it up so when I turned 72, I could endow it all at once rather than a little bit at a time. My challenge would be to others however you can do it, you should do it, because an education is something important, and these days there are not as many opportunities to get scholarships, especially in the humanities.”