Mr. Fuertes goes to Washington

Basilio “Bunga” Fuertes is a former athletic director, basketball coach, track coach and football coach for Waimea High School, and the current recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service for the state of Hawai‘i.

The Jefferson Award is given to “unsung heroes” of the public who volunteer their time to do extraordinary things in the name of community service.

Fuertes was one of five nominated in this category in Hawai‘i.

It was announced at a luncheon on O‘ahu last week that Fuertes is the state recipient of the award, and will be traveling to Washington, D.C. in June to receive his official award.

There, he and his wife Millie will have the opportunity to meet members of Congress and roughly 200 of his fellow Jefferson Award recipients.

Fuertes didn’t even know his name was in the running until he got a letter in the mail.

“I got a letter saying that I was nominated,” he said. “I was nominated by (state) Representative (Bertha) Kawakami (D-West Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau). I was astonished at first. I just go when they need help.” Fuertes retired from teaching and coaching more than 10 years ago, but continues to volunteer his time to various causes at the school, and in the community and churches.

Fuertes was instrumental in establishing Waimea High School’s farming program, along with other officials at the school, where he and students cultivate all sorts of fruits and vegetables.

Part of the inspiration for that goes back to when he helped his father in their garden.

“I used to help him all the time,” he said.

But being a humble man, Fuertes said he doesn’t want to take all the credit for the volunteer work. He said there are many who helped him get in position to receive this award.

“I don’t want to take the credit,” he says as he names friends and volunteers of the Koloa Union Church and his classmates from 1960.

“Bobby Tanita, Fred Okubo, Gordon Harada, Jackson Hamamura, Aaron Uyeda, Don Nitta, Kalani Kapuniai, Paul Barba and Jeff Emoto are always helping me,” he said, “anytime we do cooking and everything.” Fuertes then went on to name-drop Rodney Martin, Clifton Hashimoto, Scott Rita, and classmates Alice Brown, Gwen and Richard Teragawa, Betty Santiago, Larry Muragame, and his wife Millie and son Kareem.

“They’ve always been really supportive of what I do,” Fuertes said.

• Lanaly Cabalo, lifestyle writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or lcabalo@kauaipubco.com.

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