Waimea Senior Center turns 40

“Without the courage and energy of these charter members, the Waimea Senior Center would not have had its beginnings,” said Mistress of Ceremonies Emily Minei as she introduced a historical perspective given by Jane Matsukawa at the 40th anniversary celebration at the Waimea Neighborhood Center on Saturday.

Mayor Bryan Baptiste and his wife and Community Assistance Director Bernard Carvalho joined Mr. and Mrs. Baker Taniguchi and Mr. and Mrs. Basilio Fuertes on the list of recognized special guests for the evening.

“This is an awesome celebration . . . to have, for 40 years, a place to gather and identify with as well as a place to receive services and participate in programs,” Carvalho said.

Carvalho started the evening’s program by leading the participants who packed the center in singing “God Bless America” and “Hawai‘i Pono‘i”.

Nobue Watanabe and James Okada planned and organized the celebration. Watanabe has been a senior center member for about 17 years. She said it is easy to work with the members.

“Everyone cooperates. Everyone gives input and output,” Watanabe said.

Okada, besides running the PowerPoint presentation, the sound system and singing a duet with Naoko Ho during the entertainment portion of the evening, created a picture board that greeted guests at the door.

Matsukawa was the perfect choice to tell the story of the Waimea senior center, since she had a hand in creating it.

She served as the Kaua‘i County Information Referral Aide from 1966 to 1973 and was based in Waimea.

Advised by Margaret Fayé, who was the Kaua‘i County Director of the Committee on Aging, Matsukawa began a pilot senior center.

The center they began in 1969, Hui ‘O Piloaloha, served as a model for other senior centers. They began with about 20 charter members.

“Many seniors worked hard and never experienced leisure-time activities. It took courage to come out,” Matsukawa said.

Tsurue Tanita was the first senior activities manager. Currently, Helen Kauanui is the ninth SAM.

Kazuso Miyake served as the first president for the center that included Kekaha and Waimea residents. Kekaha separated in 1972. Sui Kabazawa was the first president of the Waimea-only center.

Katsumi “Gutsy” Oyama is the current president. The center has 52 registered members from Kaumakani to Kekaha.

The minimum age is 55 years and a member can join only one senior center on the island.

Oyama said he leads a very “talkative” group.

“Sometimes you gotta put your foot down,” he said.

He returned to Kaua‘i after being overseas for 22 years and was recruited by Okada.

“My mother was a member,” Oyama said. “I took over her place.”

Other officers include Naoka Ho, vice president; Mary Kessler, secretary; Janet Reis, corresponding secretary; Mildred Kakuda, treasurer; Emily Minei, sergeant-at-arms.

Senior center activities include Japanese dancing, Hawaiian quilting, hula, crafts, ‘ukulele and sewing.

Josephine Dela Torre, who learned to sew when she was eight years old, has been teaching the sewing class for ten years.

Carol Espino leads the ‘ukulele group, “Strumming Strings.” They provided the welcoming and dinner music for the anniversary celebration.

Aiko Nakaya’s Japanese dance class meets every Monday at 9:00 a.m. The group presented “Okinawa Ondo” during the entertainment portion of the evening. Nakaya did a solo performance entitled “Yuki Tsubaki.”

Mayor Baptiste led the group in the singing of “Hawai‘i Aloha,” which closed the formal program.

Dennis Okihara of Obsessions Cafe in Waimea prepared the dinner. Okihara’s mother, Ruth, served as a SAM and president of the center.

Matsukawa said Ruth Okihara introduced computer and sewing classes.

“It was fun reminiscing about the past,” said Watanabe.

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