Chicken, quilts help define Outstanding Older Americans’ giving spirit

PO‘IPU — Chicken and quilts were added to the huge pot of volunteerism marking the Male and Female Outstanding Older Americans, Thursday at the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort and Spa in Po‘ipu.

Sponsored by the County of Kaua‘i Office of the Mayor and the Agency on Elderly Affairs, eight nominees were applauded for their contributions to the community during the 45th Annual Older Americans Award Recognition Ceremony.

JoAnn Yukimura, vice chair of the Kaua‘i County Council, said the theme of Older Americans Month 2011 — “Connecting the Community” — is appropriate.

“You do connect the community through volunteerism,” Yukimura said. “And you have fun, wisdom and show us courage when we need it.”

Lola Cruz, nominated by Katherine Martin of the Kekaha Senior Center, was named the Outstanding Female Kaua‘i Older American and Basilio Fuertes, Jr., nominated by Kay Hill of the Waimea Senior Center, accepted accolades as the Outstanding Male Kaua‘i Older American.

“I just moved here to Kaua‘i and I love the people,” Cruz said. “This is such an honor for me.”

Fuertes, affectionately known as Bunga, had his normally booming voice silenced by emotion as he quietly thanked his nominator, family, and friends who showered him with lei and congratulations.

Fuertes was nominated for his volunteer work to help a variety of community organizations, more recently, leading the Waimea High School football team in helping at the St. Theresa carnival with setting up, tearing down and offering the well-known “Bunga’s Chicken” during the two-day event last week.

The chicken has also graced coffers of the Lions Club, the Waimea High School athletic program and the Waimea Higashi Hongwanji.

Fuertes volunteers as the head coach for the Waimea High School Cross Country team and is active with the Waimea Senior Center.

He serves as the First Counselor in the High Priest Group Quorum for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Kekaha Ward, where he is a member.

Cruz is also involved with a number of community organizations including the Kekaha Senior Center, Na Kupuna Council and St. Theresa Church.

She was the Kekaha Senior Center president for the past four years and has served in other leadership positions, as well.

At St. Theresa, Cruz shares her talent of quilting at the St. Theresa Church Afterschool program, which she helped start, teaching the children about quilt design, basket-making and purses.

Her quilts are not limited to the church as she makes quilts and donates them to organizations like the YWCA Family Violence Center, Child and Family Service, and to Kaua‘i’s military personnel stationed overseas.

Both Cruz and Fuertes share the trait of being willing to help those in need.

Francisca Cachero, nominated by Momi Machado of Nana’s House, Mildred Fuertes, Basilio’s wife and nominated by Naoko Ho of the Waimea Senior Center, Jim Jung, nominated by Stella Miyoshi of the Kapa‘a Senior Center, Rogerlyn Kaneali‘i, nominated by Anne Miyamoto of the Foster Grandparent Program, Perlita Mararagan, nominated by John McDermott, Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, Executive Office on Aging, and Vernon Paler, nominated by Jennie Yukimura of AARP-Chapter No. 654, made up the field of Kaua‘i Older American nominees.

The event is supported with funding from the County of Kaua‘i and the Federal Administration on Aging, through the State Executive Office on Aging, Title III funds.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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