Lifelong Kaua‘i public servant dies

For some, holding elected office is about politics. For others, such as Lihu‘e resident George Toyofuku, it was a way to serve the public.

Toyofuku, 78, died Saturday after a lifetime devoted to community service spanning county and state government and more than 50 years with Lions Club International at the local and Hawai‘i levels.

“He really was a man of the community,” Norman Akita, East Kaua‘i Lions Club member and friend, said. “He wanted to make things happen in a positive and productive way.”

Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday ordered state flags at all state and county buildings to be flown at half-staff from sunrise until sunset on Sunday in Toyofuku’s honor.

“Throughout his life, Mr. Toyofuku worked hard to make a difference, and he did so without ever losing sight of his deeply held convictions,” states the governor’s proclamation. “He touched the lives of the people he knew and, on a grand scale, helped shape life in Hawai‘i today.”

Born in Hanapepe, Toyofuku began his career of public service as a county supervisor from 1959 to 1964.

The next year he moved to the state Legislature, serving a four-year term. Toyofuku was then elected to the Hawai‘i Senate in 1971 and served until 1982.

Also a businessman, Toyofuku owned and managed Mokihana Insurance Agency, a company that continues to operate today in Lihu‘e.

Those who remember his time in office say Toyofuku served during an important period in Kaua‘i history. Along with fellow Kaua‘i legislators Tony Kunimura, Richard Kawakami and Dennis Yamada, he was responsible for bringing millions of dollars in capital improvement projects and programs to the island.

Among his greatest accomplishments as a state representative was the establishment of a system of neighborhood centers on Kaua‘i. During his tenure as state senator, Toyofuku played a pivotal role in Kaua‘i Community College’s transformation from a few buildings next to Kaua‘i High School to its current campus today in Puhi.

Roy Nishida, former Kaua‘i County anti-drug coordinator and a Lions Club member, said his friend was a “forceful” leader who was very in-tune with community needs. His leadership style, according to Nishida, was to talk story, formalize a plan and resolve conflict.

“He’s the kind of leader that makes things happen,” Nishida said.

County Councilman Ron Kochi agreed, noting that Toyofuku was able to work behind the scenes and unite people.

“He was able to effect change and bring together effective coalitions,” Kochi said.

But Toyofuku’s passion for public service was not limited to government. For more than five decades he was a volunteer with the Lions Club, an international network of local chapters that bridge gaps within their communities.

“He knew that government can’t provide everything,” Nishida said. “Community also needs to come and be a partner.”

Toyofuku served at just about every level of the club’s statewide organization, including district governor from 1999 to 2000, representing the 163 Hawai‘i clubs with nearly 2,000 members. In that role he saw the Lions Club International annual convention of 30,000 attendees held on O‘ahu.

Toyofuku was a two-time Melvin Jones fellow, the club’s highest honor, which recognizes a commitment to humanitarian work and qualities such as generosity, compassion and concern for the less fortunate. He was also named Lion of the Year three times by the East Kaua‘i club.

Son Dean Toyofuku said his father felt it was a responsibility to contribute to Kaua‘i.

“He taught us a lesson that if you want good things for the community and your family, then you need to step up to the plate and give back,” Dean Toyofuku said.

As recently as this year, Toyofuku was the East Kaua‘i Lions Club’s treasurer. Even with failing health, he was committed to finishing his term, which he did on June 30.

“He exemplified our Lions motto, ‘We serve,’” Nishida said. “That was George. He served.”

Toyofuku is survived by wife Elsie, sons Guy and Dean, daughters Amy Toyofuku and Lisa Taketa, eight grandchildren, brothers Thomas and Charles, and sister Naoe Fukuda.

Visitation will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Lihu‘e Hongwanji Mission; a service will follow at 3 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.

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