Lihu’e Airport continues tree-trimming tradition

LIHU’E — “Kaua’i is the only one,” Lihu’e Airport District Manager Roy Sakata told the children Tuesday.

Lihu’e is one of 15 state Department of Transportation Airports Division airports in the state, and is the only one whose leaders continue the tradition of letting the island’s schoolchildren decorate Christmas trees that line the terminal building.

Sakata said, “This is a real homegrown event, and is made possible only through the generosity of the sponsorships of the airport tenants, the airlines, and community businesses. It’s all for the kids, and I truly enjoy this.”

Sakata was addressing the group of students who represented all of Kaua’i’s schools, elementary, middle and high. The children, teachers and parent chaperones had gathered in one of the airport’s holding rooms following their task of decorating Christmas trees in the morning.

Tim Skinner, Lihu’e Airport assistant manager, enjoyed the task of reading off the names of the 18 participating schools and told the students to take a moment to thank the sponsors whenever they passed through the airport.

One of the donors, the operators of Ornaments to Remember, had enough of their hand-blown ornaments for each of the students as well as the chaperones, said Denise Forsen, the event project coordinator.

Lunch was provided by Lynn Hiranaka and the staff of HMS Host, which runs the restaurant in the airport. “They were really generous,” Sakata pointed out. “‘Whatever we need,’ they said.”

The decorators were treated to a meal of chili dogs, chips and cookies, with juice provided by representatives of various airlines. Members of the crew from Island Air, including station managers Elena Gaspar and Leina Matthews, oversaw the distribution of bubble drinks and packages of party mix.

“We’re going to be ringing bells for The Salvation Army all day at Wal-Mart on (Monday) December 19th,” Gaspar noted. “It’s all part of giving back to the community.”

“Even McDonald’s gave certificates for the students,” Sakata said. “They just told us to let them know how many we need, and we had to pick up the certificates that are packed in the goodie bags.”

Each student was presented one of these treat-filled bags following their morning of decorating the trees, each one marked with a distinctive label bearing the school it represented.

Decorations were usually made by students in different grades at each school, with student representatives usually selected based on their good conduct and performance in school.

Such was the case for Brigg Kupo-Perreira, Nikki Vea, and Annalissa Hartsell of Kekaha School, who were selected based on doing a good job in class, they said.

During the decorating, the groups of students were visited by Santa, who donned his bag of goodies and distributed them to the decorators.

Rylan Rivera-Alesna, a kindergartner from Kapa’a Elementary School, was one of these students, and he ended up in a dialog with as well as receiving a gift from the man in red.

Keeping his distance, Rivera-Alesna wanted the backpack that Santa offered, but was trying to figure out a way to get the backpack without having to get too close to Santa. This went on for several minutes as Santa would coax Rivera-Alesna, much to the amusement of passengers passing by.

Finally, inch by inch, Rivera-Alesna approached Santa, and with arms stretched as far as he could, he snatched up the offering, thanking the jolly one as he retreated to the safety of his teacher.

Forsen of the airport’s administration office served as the event coordinator, as she’s done for the past three years.

“She does a wonderful job,” one of the sponsors said. “She’s organized, gets the paperwork to all the right people, and everything moves smoothly.”

In addition to Hiranaka and the HMS Host crew, Skinner noted that some of the other sponsors for the event included Debra Mata and Aloha Airlines, Les Fujii and Hawaiian Airlines, and Kyle Aihara and the Lihu’e Airport Newsstand, who provided the chips and candies for the goodie bags.

Mary Matters of Tiare Enterprises, Janie Whitehead and the staff of Wal-Mart, Danny Abreu and the crew from McDonald’s Restaurants, Gaspar and her staff from Island Air, and Jeff Schumacher of Mitsunaga & Associates added to the children’s enjoyment.

Clyde Nada of Thrifty Mart provided a full-sheet cake, and Craig Obina of Travel Traders offered up more treats for the children to enjoy.

Crews from the airport, the airport crash fire unit, and several of the airport tenants, helped serve the large group of students, teachers and chaperones.

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