Kapeliela (Gabriel) I, a Kaua’i educator and living treasure, died May 1 at his Kaimuki residence in Honolulu. I was 93.
Born in Hanalei, Kaua’i, in 1909, I lived in Nawiliwili for most of his life. He dedicated his life to public education, serving as a teacher, counselor, vice-principal and principal in various Kaua’i schools.
His family and close friends called him Uncle Gabriel or Uncle Peli.
I’s family said though I was a lifelong bachelor and had no children, as the last member of his kupuna generation, he accepted all of his siblings’ progeny as if they were his own direct ‘ohana, and they in turn regarded him as their hulu makua, or respected elder, and haku, or family leader.
He graduated from Lihue School in 1924, and from Kauai High School in 1928. I received a diploma in elementary education in 1930 from the Territorial Normal School, and a B.A. from Colorado State College of Education in 1947. He also attained a number of post-graduate education certificates.
At one point in his career, I was asked to assume the role of Acting Postmaster of Lihue Post Office, which he did. Despite being elected as president of the Hawai’i Postmasters Association, he missed his students and returned to teaching.
I retired in 1972 after 42 years of service in the public school system, his last post being principal of Kaumakani School. However, I’s love for teaching, and the growing interest in learning the Hawaiian language and culture, led him to becoming a part-time instructor in those areas at Kaua’i Community College. He used this position to offer free public presentations on Hawaiian folklore and herbal medicine.
Retirement did not mean slowing down for I. He advised the Kaua’i school district’s kupuna program and helped as a cultural resource. As a member of the Kaua’i Hawaiian Civic Club, Uncle Gabriel served in various roles, including president and choral director. His musical talent and strong Christian faith also led him to directing church choirs in Lihu’e.
I was dedicated to serving all people, as demonstrated by his membership in the Wilcox Hospital Foundation, Kaua’i Historical Society, Kaua’i Museum, Koke’e Museum, Wai’oli Corporation, and American Association of Retired Persons. His membership in the Kaua’i, state, and national levels of the Retired Teachers Association included serving two terms as president of the State of Hawai’i chapter. He also contributed his knowledge, talents and time to many other organizations, including Alu Like and Kamehameha Schools.
Over the decades, I’s dedication to excellence, willingness to share his knowledge, and his commitment to public service earned him many accolades. The first came when he was accepted into Phi Delta Kappa upon his graduation from Colorado State College of Education in 1947. In 1980 the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Honolulu named him as a Living Treasure of Hawai’i. The Kaua’i Museum followed suit, honoring him as a Living Treasure of Kaua’i in 1988. Three years later, the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs recognized I with a resolution of congratulations for his achievements. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs expressed its appreciation for I’s excellence in Hawaiian education, selecting him for its Ke Kukui Malamalama award in 1997. More recently, in 2000, Papa Ola Lokahai bestowed the Ka’onohi Award on Uncle Gabriel “for long-standing contributions to improving the health and well-being of all who call Hawai’i home.”
A sampling of other awards earned by Uncle Gabriel include the Outstanding Volunteer Service Award from the National Retired Teachers Association, the Volunteer Service Award from the Hawai’i Educational Association, and induction into the Program for Recognizing Academic Interest and Student Excellence (PRAISE).
Despite all the recognition he received from organizations and the thousands of individuals whose lives he enriched, I was proudest of a little known event. In 1966 the Kaua’i School District Superintendent assigned him to be the coordinator of a project to upgrade the tiny public school on Ni’ihau. After working with the community for a year, he initiated a program in which he would escort small groups of students and parents to visit O’ahu, most traveling off Ni’ihau for the very first time. I said he would never forget the look of awe etched upon the faces of his new Ni’ihau ‘ohana, nor the equally astonished responses of their O’ahu hosts upon hearing the fluent Hawaiian spoken by the children.
I is survived by niece and caregiver Gabriella I Kam; four other nieces and three nephews; many grandnieces and grandnephews; great-grandnieces and great-grandnephews; and great-great-grandnieces.
Visitation is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 15, at Kawaiaha’o Church in Honolulu; service will follow at 11 a.m. The family asks that no flowers be offered, and recommends the wearing of aloha attire.
A memorial on Kaua’i will take place at Lihue United Church on Saturday, May 18, with visitation at 9 a.m. and service at 10 a.m. The family again asks that no flowers be offered and recommends aloha attire. His ashes will be scattered at Hanalei Bay following the service.