By Julie Funasaki Yuen
Everything that is special about Mid-Pacific Institute lives in the heart and mind of alumna Eleanor (Takahashi) Oxley ’40. During a recent conversation, Oxley recounted her fondest moments at Mid-Pacific as a dedicated alum and shared cherished memories about her time spent at the school as a scholarship boarding student, editor of the Ka Anuenue school newspaper, and student council leader.
“Of the fondest memories of my life, I would put MPI at the top,” shares Oxley. “I lived in Kawaiaha‘o – from my window I saw the valley and part of UH from my room. The boarding school made it so unique and a place that I cherish so much. It’s not just the academics, although that was also high. 100% of the students went on to college.”
“There were five intramural groups. You were selected for each group and became forever part of that family,” says Oxley. “I was a member of the Damon-Lyceum group. Our colors were red and white.”
Oxley graduated in 1940, a year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces in December 1941. “I was 18 when the war started,” recalls Oxley. “All of my classmates went to war. The Japanese boys joined the 442nd. Others joined the Navy.”
Following graduation from Mid-Pacific, she completed her RN at St. Francis Nursing School. She then worked as an operating room nurse at Kuakini Hospital.
During the war, Oxley met and married the love of her life, James Joseph Oxley from Camden, New Jersey. The couple were married for 64 years and had three children – Michael, Mary and James. Oxley pursued a master’s degree in public health at the University of Hawaiʻi to stay in the medical field while also working hours that allowed her to spend time at home with her three young children.
Mid-Pacific continues to hold a special place in her heart as she has continued her connection with the school through her family. Oxley’s nephews, Ray ’60 and Brian ’64 Itagaki, as well as niece Shelley Itagaki ’92 continued the family Mid-Pacific legacy.
She shared that her years at Mid-Pacific Institute were truly formative and she is grateful for the opportunity of being exposed to a variety of different nationalities and experiences that helped her grow as a person and scholar.
“Every Easter break, the whole school rode the bus, went out to Iwilei and took the train around Waianae and Kaena Point,” recalls Oxley. “All of the girls went to Camp Erdman and the boys went to a different camp. That was so fun because five girls stayed in a cabin. Our dietician cooked a big pot of stew. We swam and we rode the waves, we went hiking and we learned hula, ukulele and Hawaiian crafts.”
As part of her scholarship responsibilities, Oxley helped in the dining hall. “My working scholarship paid for half of my tuition. At 5 o’clock, all the ‘dining room girls’ went down to Wilcox and helped set the tables three times a day,” shares Oxley. “Everything had to be in order. We learned all about the different dining table implements. It was very formal. We had to learn what to eat with what fork.”
Oxley recalls that she was fortunate because her family lived in Waipahu while many of her classmates came from the neighbor islands with family farther away.
“My mother and my brother, every chance they had, they would come to Honolulu,” shares Oxley. “My mother made a lot of rice balls. She prepared nishime and takuan, and they would bring them to me. They would drop it off at the school office. Then I would spread the food out and sit on the floor and eat with my classmates. They were so happy to eat the food from home.”
Oxley looks back fondly at her time at Mid-Pacific and sees it as a true home. “The friendships, my classmates – we were close, we were a family.”