LIHUE — It was much more than a class assignment that prompted Jimar Domingo, 10, to join forces with his sister, Ann Marie Domingo, 15, to weave and tie 100 ti-leaf lei.
Sure, he did it because his Wilcox Elementary School fourth-grade homeroom teacher, Russell “Mr. O” Onuma, asked him to do it.
But he also did it because he knew the lei would be placed on the graves of veterans Memorial Day weekend on Oahu and Kauai, many of whom died fighting wars to “give us freedom,” he said.
This year, Wilcox students continued the tradition of bringing lei to school to adorn graves at both National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl on Oahu, and Kauai Veteran’s Cemetery at Hanapepe.
But these students take the tradition to extremes, winning for the past three school years Apple computers given away by the City and County of Honolulu to the school providing the most lei for the Punchbowl ceremonies.
Last year, the school produced over 3,000 lei. This year, they boxed 2,401, the most of any Kauai school, according to figures just released by the state Office of Veterans Services.
“The amount depends on how motivated the students get, and how much parents help,” said Onuma, who has his own reasons for orchestrating the managed chaos that is the student collection of lei from each classroom on campus.
“My brother-in-law, father, and good friends were all in the service, and I had many good friends in the Vietnam war,” he said. “So I took it upon myself to find a way to contribute.”
Collection morning, he barked out orders in a way that would make a five-star general proud, dispatching teams to various classrooms to collect boxes of lei, get accurate counts, and label and secure each box before a County of Kauai employee in a pickup truck collected the boxes.
Onuma’s goal was for his homeroom was to make 1,000 lei, a goal he expected to miss by only a few.
Parent volunteers helped with the collection in the school cafeteria, where cafeteria staff was preparing to serve nearly 1,000 lunches.
One volunteer mother, who asked not to be identified, said she showed up to help because it was Memorial Day.
“It’s important to honor those who served,” she said, adding that when the lei are placed in the older part of the Hanapepe cemetery where those buried no longer have any relatives to take care of the graves, they look so beautiful, she said.
Students in 18 Kauai schools donated a total of 6,395 lei for the memorial services. Of those lei, 2,500 decorated graves at Kauai Veterans Cemetery. The balance was sent to Punchbowl. Aloha Airlines once again flew the boxes of lei to Honolulu free of charge
Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:email@example.com or 245-3681 (ext. 224).
Memorial Day Lei Count 2003
- Hanalei 110
- Island 51
- Kauai High 178
- Koloa 80
- St. Theresa’s 65
- Kilauea 174
- King Kaumualii 115
- Kalaheo 202
- Waimea Canyon 284
- Waimea High 1171
- Kekaha School 124
- Wilcox El. 2401
- Kapaa High 21
- Kapaa El. 446
- Eleele 646
- St. Catherine’s 50
- Kapaa Middle 87
- Chiefess Kamakahelei 190
* Count courtesy state Office of Veterans’ Services.