Kilauea Seniors celebrate legacy

NUKOLI‘I — Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said he was just 10 years old when the Kilauea Senior Center started.

Forty years later, the Kilauea Senior Center, under the leadership of Joyce Akagi-Nagata, looks at “dwindling numbers in membership,” but has a lot of achievements of which to be proud.

Nukoli‘i is a distance from Kilauea Neighborhood Center, the normal meeting place for the Kilauea Seniors, but is not as far as some of the places visited by the Kilauea Seniors ‘Ukulele Class and Outreach Group who travel regularly on its tour of service by singing and performing at many of the care facilities on the island.

Joining Carvalho, the Kaua‘i County Council took a special lunch recess to join the mayor in congratulating the seniors. They were joined by Lady Ipo Kahaunaele-Ferreira accompanying the Kilauea Seniors ‘Ukulele Class and Outreach Group.

The Senior Center Program, falling under the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, was visited by Ian Costa, deputy director, Cindy Duterte, executive on recreation, Aaron Uyeda, East Complex coordinator, Melanie Okamoto, senior specialist, and Braxton Bargayo, the Kilauea site manager.

“Some of the things we are thankful for are the charter members who had the foresight and laid the groundwork for all that we enjoy today,” said Nagata. “We are appreciative of the continued support from the county for the Senior Center Program, the caring services provided by the Agency on Elderly Affairs, the Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity Elderly Nutrition Program, the Kaua‘i Bus Paratransit bus service, the generous donations of fruit from Jenny and John Conley, the nutritious loaves of bread and treats from Tom Pickett, the sharing of knowledge and musical talents of David Sproat, the ‘taking care of everything that needs fixing’ from our basketball coach Bill Troutman, the generous donations of craft and baked goods we receive from Lianne and Hazel Kobayashi, Jean Takemoto and Clorinda Nakashima’s other two nieces for the annual Senior Craft and Food Fair, and the loving care and respect we receive from the community.”

The community is what the Kilauea Senior Center is about, as it has continuously worked toward improving it since the program was started by Elsa Holtwick, the executive director of the Kaua‘i Senior Centers on June 6, 1972.

Under the guidance of Fernando Dizol, president, Juan Dato, vice president, Francisco Conception and treasurer Tony Castro, the group met at the Kilauea Dispensary building. The membership grew to 133 members with more than 60 attending the meetings.

A year later, the group moved to the Kilauea Gym, holding meetings on the stage.

Following four years of “sustained lobbying” from a core of members, the state and county provided funds to construct the Kilauea Neighborhood Center at a cost of $259,000 with Kenneth Shioi as the contractor.

The Kilauea Neighborhood Center was dedicated on Sept. 17, 1977, with Tokumatsu Gushiken handling the microphone and music provided by the Kilauea String Band including leader Catalino Etol, Daniel Baclayon, Dato, Segundo Largusa, Estaban Largusa, George Ka‘eo, Pedro Mamalias, Tetoe Mamalias, Manoy Inyong and Ventural Banquel.

Membership began to dwindle by November 1980, when enrollment was at 117 members and the center was hosting programs of educational and social events.

Jane Ah Wan Goo led the instruction in song and dance, winning awards for the song and dance competitions held in Kona. Additional activities included weaving coconut hats and baskets, yarn lei making, ti-leaf lei making, ‘ukulele instruction, art, bunka, dancing and singing.

Sporting activities including horse shoe, lawn bowling, gateball, bowling and baseball, the Kilauea Seniors earning top honors in the “B” division of the Gateball Friendship Tournament hosted on Maui in September 1996.

But it was not just education and fun as the group has supported the community’s events and concerns from the start of the program.

In 1979, Dr. Jeff Goodman presented a plan for a medical clinic which was rejected by the county planners.

“The Seniors wholeheartedly supported the proposed clinic and conducted a petition campaign which demonstrated the support of the community,” Nagata said. “Dr. Goodman was able to build his clinic which has provided and continues to provide an immeasurable service to the entire North Shore.”

When the Kilauea Elementary School was in danger of closing due to a proposed merger of the Kilauea and Hanalei elementary schools to Princeville, the Kilauea Seniors raised their voice along with the community in opposing the merger, going formally on record Dec. 5, 1984.

Outside of the political arena, the Kilauea Senior Center continues its heritage of volunteerism, participating in the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, volunteering at the senior center teaching ‘ukulele, making craft items in the “kokua craft” class, preparing craft materials and decorations for the Christmas Festival of Lights, distributing food for the Kaua‘i Food Bank, serving congregate meals for the KEO Elderly Nutrition Program and entertaining once a month at nursing homes from Kapa‘a to Waimea.

During its Silver Anniversary, membership held firm at 117 members, but on Thursday, at its 40th anniversary, membership had dropped to 55 members who travel from Hanalei to Lihu‘e.

“Although the membership is dwindling, our members are enjoying the weekly Wednesday assemblies when we learn new things from guest speakers, hear warnings from the Kaua‘i Police Department, and receive announcements from AEA and AARP, do Tai Chi with Alton Kanter, play mind stimulating games, learn Japanese folk dances, have celebrations and even watch movies,” Nagata said.

“On other days, we learn to play ‘ukulele and sing Hawaiian songs, exercise with Debbie Lankford in the AEA-sponsored Enhance Fitness class, do crafts, go on fun and educational excursions, do various volunteer work, perform at the Kilauea Community Christmas program and at the Senior Craft and Food Fair.”

Nagata said she hopes the Kilauea Senior Center program continues for many more years so the seniors can “enjoy their sunset years to the fullest.”

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