Life is rife with fabulous and unexpected surprises.
Yesterday my brother, Robbie, sister Roberta and I were invited by my mother to attend a party at Arcadia Retirement Residence marking the 80th reunion of the Punahou class of 1932. My father was in the class of ’32; my mother is six years younger than he was. Now there are only four living members of the class of ’32 (do the math – they’re in their mid- to late-’90s) so the spouses and family members were invited to make it a party.
The reunion was the idea of Len Withington, the last living male member of the class, and his daughter Toni.
The class of ’32 was particularly close, perhaps because it was the depths of the depression and times were really, really tough on everyone. The class of ’32 originated the Punahou Carnival because they did not have funding for a yearbook. The Carnival raised $430, enabling them to publish the yearbook, a copy of which we enjoyed at the reunion.
Punahou generously supported the party, providing a photographer, copies of photos of the 50th class reunion, lei for the honorees and even buff and blue balloons and crepe paper. It was festive and fun.
But what was truly special were the conversations and reminiscences.
Len Withington, shown speaking in the photo above, is an amazing man. He became blind very early in life, then became deaf. But he is still eloquent in his public speaking and incredibly intelligent. His daughter told me he reads twelve newspapers a day through a service that reads to the blind on the phone. He is up on world affairs, politics, and seemingly everything that goes on around him. Although he lost his wife and caregiver a few years ago, he never missed a step. An inspiring man to everyone at Arcadia.
What a delight to sit and talk with Kay Afong Kramer! her family’s Hawaii roots go back to the early 1800s, even before Punahou, which opened in 1841 as Oahu College. Kay’s father was a sheriff who worked for Duke Kahanamoku. She told a wonderful story about Duke’s kindness and love for the keiki.
One day Duke asked her father to get hold of a bus so they could take the children of the neighborhood (she didn’t specify which neighborhood) to the Pali Lookout. They had never been to the Pali Lookout. Duke said he never got to the Pali until he was an adult and wanted the keiki to see it before they were grown. The outing was so successful that Duke arranged an outing to Waikiki, as well as lunch in the jail house, for the excited keiki. Kay said Duke’s generosity was legendary. My sister, who is the administrative director of the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation, loved every minute of it.
You can learn more about Kay’s fascinating family in Bob Dye’s book, “Merchant Prince of the Sandalwood Mountains,” about Chun Afong, who I believe was Kay’s grandfather and the first Chinese millionaire in Hawaii.
It was fascinating to hear where each person was on December 7, 1941.
An added and unexpected treat was a reunion with one of my own Puanhou classmates, Scott Gier. Scott is Kay’s neighbor in Ewa Beach and gave her a ride to the party. Scott and I tried to catch up on more than 40 years of personal history. He was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis when I was at Goucher College, also located in Maryland. I remember attending tea dances (their version of mixers) at Annapolis. He then became a Naval aviator, a profession he speaks passionately about. After his service in the Navy he moved to Silicon Valley and worked in computer manufacturing, then project management. He said he worked mainly for start-up companies. In 2003 he came home to Hawaii.
Scott is the writer of a series of science fiction novels that have a devoted following. He has created a fictional planet called Genellan where the five novels take place. (He’s now working on the sixth.) If you love science fiction, go to www.genellan:planetfall.com
In addition, Scott has a hobby called Wreck Chasing, hiking to places where he might find wrecked planes. Just last month he and a buddy discovered a wrecked plane from WW II in a remote area of Oahu. It actually had the pilot’s body in it, which was deeply appreciated by the Hickam AFB operation that identifies veterans’ bodies. And oh what a relief it must be to the family of the fallen pilot to finally learn how and where his life ended.
You just never know what you might discover at a reunion. It always pays to grab every opportunity for meeting new people and learning new things.
- Paula Rath