By Stacy Yuen
In his 33 years as a teacher in Hawaiiʻ’s public schools, Michael Maeda ’79, would often tell his elementary school students as they headed off to middle school, “don’t feel that because you’re leaving our school that you’re not welcome here anymore. You’ll always be ours.” It’s a sentiment instilled in him while a student at Mid-Pacific and it’s something he has taken to heart by returning to his alma mater and giving freely of his time and talent.
Maeda, a classically trained pianist, was on a roll with an 11-year volunteer run performing at Central Union Church for Mid-Pacific’s annual Baccalaureate for graduating seniors until the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on the time-honored tradition last year.“Back in 2009, (Director of Student Activities) Bill Wheeler ‘78, who plans the Baccalaureate, knew I played piano and asked me if I was willing to play for the ceremony,” Maeda recalls. Wheeler was well aware that Maeda could do the job since the last time Maeda had shared his musical gift at the baccalaureate was in 1978 when Wheeler himself graduated from Mid-Pacific and Maeda was a high school junior. Playing at the Baccalaureate is one of many things Maeda, a Kauai native who attended Mid-Pacific from the ninth grade, contributes to the school since stepping foot back on campus after graduating from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, almost 40 years ago.
“I came back to say ‘hi’ to my teachers and Momi Kometani, who was the alumni director at the time, told me, ‘You have a reunion coming up, do you want to plan it?’” laughs Maeda. “I was senior class treasurer and active in high school, so I said,‘why not?’ and helped plan the five-year reunion with some of my classmates.” Volunteering for reunion planning was the first step toward maintaining a strong connection to Mid-Pacific for Maeda, including serving on the Alumni Association’s board of directors and scholarship committee, playing piano at the Baccalaureate, and most recently working with classmate Tomiko (Koco) Conner ’79, on a project to organize the school’s archives.
“Mid-Pacific provided me everything I needed to prepare me for life. Coming from Kauai and living in the dormitory taught me independence. It made being away at college and far from home so much easier,” says Maeda. “Many of my teachers gave up their personal time to help students. I also borrowed a lot of their teaching values and incorporated them into my own teaching. I appreciate everything Mid-Pacific did for me.”
More than a decade after Maeda graduated from Mid-Pacific, Patrick Kobayashi ’91, had a similar experience when he came home to the islands with a degree from Georgetown University. “Shortly after I returned in 1995, (then Vice President for Institutional Advancement) Nancy Barry asked me to be a part of the Alumni Association Board,” explains Kobayashi, president and CEO of Kobayashi Group, a real estate development firm. Kobayashi, who was one of the younger members on the board at the time, eventually became Alumni Board president. He now serves on Mid-Pacific’s Board of Trustees.
Along with giving freely of his time, Kobayashi and his wife Kris (Okutani) Kobayashi ’91, along with Kobayashi family members, generously stepped up in 2018 to seed a fund to identify, assess and help diverse learners succeed in school life with a $500,000 gift to the school. The Kobayashi Family Endowment Fund for Diverse Learners was one of the largest gifts in school history.
“Mid-Pacific has given us so much, it gave us each other for one,” says Patrick, who grew up in Moanalua Valley but moved to Mānoa – right behind Kawaiaha‘o Hall – in the sixth grade. Kris, who grew up in Aiea, met Patrick when both started in the seventh grade as day students. She went on to Loyola Marymount University earning a management degree. Throughout college, the two hung out with the same circle of Hawai‘i friends, meeting up on the west coast for spring break at Disneyland and eventually Las Vegas. They began dating upon returning to Hawai‘i after college and maintained a close connection to the same group of friends and will be celebrating their 30th class reunion this year. The Kobayashis have two children, Adam, a ninth grader at Mid-Pacific and Alex, a fourth grader at Hanahauoli School. The couple recently received the 2021 Outstanding Philanthropists Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Aloha Chapter, for National Philanthropy Day and were “surprised, honored and a little embarrassed at the same time,” says Kris, who as a stay-at-home mom, looks forward to joining fellow parent volunteers at events such as Middle School Field Day and Ho‘olaule‘a once again.
Kobayashi says they are proud to support the Mid-Pacific Fund. “Mid-Pacific is a great steward of funds and they deploy it successfully. Despite the fact we’ve made many quantum leaps forward with education and student life, athletics and arts, it remains a humble and child-centered place of learning. I find that very reassuring,” says Patrick.“The support that helps a child through a tough time is also there to challenge a child when they’re in full stride – encouraging competition, challenging them to learn how to find success,”says Patrick.
Giving to the Mid-Pacific Fund is a longtime tradition for a 24-year employee of Mid-Pacific’s Facilities and Maintenance Department. For the past 21 years, Supervisor for Grounds and Labor Antero Geonzon and his wife, Susana, have not missed a year in contributing to the Mid-Pacific Fund. Geonzon, who takes pride in keeping the campus beautiful since 1997 says he never thinks twice about giving because he believes in Mid-Pacific and the good it is doing. “It’s my way of giving back and to help in any way I can,” he says. “We’re like family here.”
Both of Geonzon’s children, Stephanie Nable ’02 and Dylan Kyle Geonzon ’14 graduated from Mid-Pacific. As a groundskeeper, Geonzon has had a front row seat to the growth on campus.“When I started working here, we still had dormitories, but now there’s the elementary school. And what’s now the gym and parking lot were swamplands,” he recalls. “I know that my contributions to the Mid-Pacific Fund, even though it’s not a lot, goes to improving our school. And that’s a great cause.”
Employees like Geonzon, take their commitment to Mid-Pacific a step further by giving way beyond what is expected of an employee. One could say that High School Language Arts Teacher Kathy Wheeler ’81 has dedicated her life to Mid-Pacific. Wheeler will be entering her 32nd year next month but she was practically born and raised on campus.
“My Dad (retired Mid-Pacific faculty member, Carl Wheeler), taught here for most of his career and we lived on campus,” she explains. “My mom actually went into labor with me at Kawaiaha‘o Hall.” Carl Wheeler retired as math department chair in 1997, but the family connection remains strong. At one point, Wheeler says she, her father and her two brothers were working at Mid-Pacific at the same time. Her older brother, Bill, is currently the director of student activities.
Kathy Wheeler’s two sons, Chad ’01 and Nathan’17 are alumna and she said at times it was difficult differentiating her volunteer duties as a teacher, parent and alumna. “When I volunteer to do things for the school, I don’t know how to separate or label it,” she says.” “For me, Mid-Pacific is everything. It’s my home and it’s my family. And when your family puts out a call for help, you don’t think about which hat you’re wearing, you just answer the call.” From volunteering for school events to spearheading a chapter for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation to working at the huli-huli chicken sale or donating items for Ho‘olaule‘a, Wheeler said the volunteer work she finds most fulfilling is the idea of advancing the school. “For me, it’s more than just answering the call for help,” she explains.
“It’s promoting our school, not in the PR (public relations) kind of way, but in an elevating way to make it the best it can be. I’m proud of Mid-Pacific and I want others to be proud, as well.” Wheeler says volunteering has a deeper meaning for her –it’s connecting with classmates, some of which she has not seen in 40 years, and the entire Mid-Pacific community. This deep, genuine pride is a common denominator with Mid-Pacific’s supporters and for good reason. “There’s a lot of quiet good going on here,” she says. “It’s a great school and it’s the right place for so many kids.”
It was definitely the “right place” for Kiana Otsuka ’10. Now a transportation planner, Otsuka was the beneficiary of the Mid-Pacific Alumni Association Scholarship, which at the time was a character-and merit-based scholarship which covered her tuition for four years. “I feel very lucky to have been able to attend Mid-Pacific,” says Otsuka, a first-generation college student. “The level of academia, teachers and classmates challenged me and prepared me for college.” In her four years at Mid-Pacific, Otsuka made the most of her time. She was involved in student government, various clubs, volleyball and paddling. She was selected as the school’s top outrigger canoe paddler in her senior year. Otsuka went on to attend Loyola MarymountUniversity on a full four-year scholarship and earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, Urban Studies, and Environmental Studies. That was followed by a master’s degree in Regional & Urban Planning Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science while working as a research assistant. Otsuka returned home to work for the O‘ahu Metropolitan Planning Organization coordinating distribution of federal funds to government agencies and planning for O‘ahu’s transportation future, with the hope of providing easier and safer modes of transportation for all. She has never forgotten her roots at Mid-Pacific where she is now an active member of the Alumni Board of Directors and has served as a volunteer at many school events.
“I feel extremely grateful,” she adds. “Without Mid-Pacific I don’t think I would have gotten into such a good college on a full ride and eventually this job that I really love.” Otsuka encourages other alumni to get involved. “If you can’t donate money, there are lots of other opportunities to donate time. I’m sometimes the youngest alumnus there so we would love to get the younger ones to come out, too.”
Extra time is in short supply for Scott Morishige ’97 who leads a busy life serving as the governor’s coordinator on homelessness. Morishige serves as a point person for the state administration on homelessness helping to guide policy and work with other state departments, the four counties, private sector and service providers to lift people out of homelessness. “Homelessness is an issue that touches many different parts of our community,” he explains. “We work with other offices and develop strong partnerships with other organizations and entities to tackle the issue together.” Hailing from a family committed to social services –his mother, an employee with the Department of Human Services for more than 35 years and his father, an attorney and Boy Scouts scoutmaster, Morishige is always looking for ways to give back. He sees it as part of his professional role to educate others including the younger members of our community. “My classmate Cyrus Oh-Young ’97 who also teaches middle school social studies at Mid-Pacific reached out to me about five years ago to be a guest speaker,”says Morishige. “It’s part of my job to help people understand the very complex issue of homelessness and I find it fulfilling to talk with students.”
Morishige, who has presented to Mid-Pacific’s elementary, middle and high school classes, explains to students what the state is doing to address homelessness and discusses what they can do as community members to help. He also gives freely of his time and expertise by serving as are source for students working on special projects involving homelessness.
“I find that Mid-Pacific students are very well-informed about the issue and they ask good questions,” he says. “They ask how they can give back. Mid-Pacific instills that empathy in its students which was a value that was instilled in me while I was a student, as well.”
Mid-Pacific’s community of loyal, dedicated parents are quick to answer the call for help and often go way beyond the call. Whether it’s volunteering for an event, helping in the classroom or serving on committees, parents find many ways to lend their support. The mission of Nā ‘Ohana Pueo Parent Association is to create a culture that perpetuates active engagement among parents, students and faculty at all levels to produce lifelong, memorable experiences and proud Owls. Heather Salonga, vice president of Nā ‘Ohana Pueo, became involved with the group eight years ago when her son, eighth grader Gabriel ’26, started kindergarten.
“I attended meetings at first, then a year later started becoming really involved,” explains Salonga. “I enjoyed working on the May Day program – making costumes and props – and coordinating about a hundred parent volunteers.” Salonga now sits on Nā‘Ohana Pueo’s education sub-committee as one of the parent representatives for the upcoming WASC accreditation. She says Mid-Pacific parents are quick to step up to lend a hand and are very generous with their time.
Five years ago, Jamie and Danny Kim were looking for the right school for their son Josh ’30 who was entering kindergarten and recall being impressed after their first meeting with Elementary School Principal Dr. Edna Hussey as she explained the concept of inquiry-based learning.“I felt that the whole idea of teaching kids how to think and not just memorizing things would be a great learning style,” says Danny, owner and president of Koha Foods. “We wanted our younger son, Luke ’31, to experience that type of learning, too. With Josh now in fourth grade and Luke in third grade, they are thriving – and multi-age learning has been very beneficial for them both.” It’s a strong belief in Mid-Pacific that Danny, a graduate of Saint Louis School and Jamie, a Pearl City High School graduate led them to serve as co-chairs of this year’s Mid-Pacific Fund campaign.“There’s a sense of obligation when you see your kids blossom like this,” says Danny. “I’m so proud of who and what my sons are and a lot of credit goes to Mid-Pacific.”Adds Jamie, “even though they have different personalities, they have the ability to grow here and are thriving at Mid-Pacific. We are really happy with our choice.”
Fostering the Spirit of Giving
It’s apparent that Mid-Pacific’s core values of ‘ohana and caring are personified by the benevolent actions of alumni, parents and staff. This spirit of community and giving from the heart is also fostered early in the classrooms at Mid-Pacific. Fourth-grader Emily Kawamura ’30 has been inspired to give back to her community and help others after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in March 2021. “One day I felt a little cold and my throat was really sore and I threw up in my mom’s bed,” recalls Emily. “My mom took me to the hospital and I was diagnosed. I was really sad and couldn’t believe it.” Emily quickly learned how to take care of herself, reading food labels and monitoring her blood glucose levels. She takes an insulin shot with every meal as Type 1 diabetics produce little to no insulin on their own.
“I can’t eat snacks like normal, no cookies or tons of fruit without being dosed,” she explains.“I enjoy teaching people about the symptoms of diabetes to help them see if their loved ones or friends have it. I’m also raising money to find a cure.”
With help from her parents, Maile and Toby, Emily was the top fundraiser in the nation for the Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes raising well over $10,000 for the cause. She says she learned about giving back to the community starting in her first/second grade multi-age class with her teacher Liane (Jitchaku) Angaran ’94.
“Mrs. A taught us about being helpful to others and it made me want to help and do good things,” says Emily. Emily, who aspires to be an artist, says her family and her Mid-Pacific ‘ohana including her friends, school nurse Mai-LyFee, and teachers are her support system. “My teacher Ms. (Arlene) Holzman takes care of me, checks up on me, reminds me to drink water and always sees if I need anything,” she says.