Kauai a better place thanks to 3 remarkable women

Three women from very different backgrounds and distinct walks of life share three things in common and will always have a place in Kauai’s history.

Sweetie Lopez, Mary Kenison and Gladys Tashiro all have held Kauai and its people close to their hearts. All have been wonderful role models for the families they loved. And all share the same birthday: Sept. 16.

This year, their joint birthday week began with Grandparent’s Day, so it seems only fitting that the first woman we profile is considered the perfect grandmother by her family and friends.

A feisty, fascinating person, Sweetie Lopez met her future husband, Patrick, in a chance encounter at Kapaa’s Pono Theater. It was love at first sight for Pat, who often said he knew the moment he saw her that he was going to marry her someday.

Sweetie resisted, however. (She did not like men with mustaches) so Pat immediately shaved his off before he saw her again and their fairy tale romance began.

The couple was married for 53 years until Pat died three years ago. Together they raised a close-knit family of five children, and did their best to help them as much as they could. Both worked hard to provide for their children. Pat worked at Lihue Plantation Co and Sweetie, who has never been afraid of hard work, held jobs that spanned three industries: Hawaiian Fruit Packers, Coco Palms Hotel and Kauai Sands hotel where she was in charge of food operations. During her 25 years at Kauai Sands, Sweetie became an unofficial Ambassador of Aloha making numerous friends among the hotel’s guests, some of whom remain close to her family today.

She also became a fixture in Safeway’s bakery department until she retired several years ago.

Always thinking of their family, the couple built a home on a large parcel of land with room for several homes so their children could be near them.

An excellent baseball player, sports was one of Sweetie’s passions. She was also a wonderful cook, renowned for many of her ethnic dishes and an extraordinary baker. Her creations have been featured at many parties and luaus for countless friends and family.

Pat and Sweetie were blessed with 20 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren. “Tutu Sweetie,” as the keiki call her, adores them all and many end up at her house while their parents are at work. She conducts what she calls “Tutu’s School.” The kids love to be there, they get nutritious meals, enjoy lots of activities and exercise with Tutu and best of all get to spend time with their very favorite person.

With so much love showered on each one, hopefully someday they will become the next generation that believes families matter and keiki and kupuna should always be treated with the kindness, respect and love they deserve.

Our second outstanding woman only lived on Kauai for 10 years but spent her time here trying always to do something positive for the island she forever considered her home.

She was my mother, Mary Kenison. A brilliant woman of Norwegian-Hawaiian descent, she skipped two grades in school and always believed that reading was essential to a good education.

She never stopped encouraging my passion for books and was largely responsible for the lifelong love affair with words that paved my path to The Garden Island.

Profanity was unacceptable to her.

“If you have to swear,” she often said, “you don’t know enough words and should go read a book.”

Her life revolved around music and her roots were buried deep in the Hawaiian culture.

When our family moved to Kauai she immediately fell in love with the island. She held a handful of jobs in the community and, in time, became the director of several choirs. (Many won awards under her direction.)

Eventually, she and my father, Fred Kenison, were asked to take charge of Kauai’s annual observation of the statewide Aloha Week cultural celebration, (now called Aloha Festivals.) It was a big thing back then, taken very seriously by everyone involved.

For several years, our family was immersed in all the aspects of staging the elaborate pageants that depicted each year’s theme. Finding costumes, decorations and people needed to make them come alive became a constant priority. (My mother was adamant that her scripts and pageants be factually and historically accurate.) It was her desire to raise the standard of excellence for Aloha Week on Kauai and she did.

After 10 years here my parents reluctantly moved back to Oahu, when my father was promoted by Hawaiian Tel. My mother also entered the corporate world there and eventually became the personnel director for one of Hawaii’s Big Five corporations. They lived there until they retired but always considered Kauai their home.

On Nov. 29, 1994, my mom died after a long battle with cancer, leaving a void in our lives that has never been filled.

Gladys Tashiro is our last outstanding woman. She came from a generation of wives accustomed to staying in the shadows cast by their prominent husbands. But Gladys was different. Married to the eminent Judge Benjamin Tashiro, in her gentle, refined way, Gladys forged her own path, caring for the couples’ five daughters, teaching them practical life skills like sewing and cooking while encouraging and supporting their efforts to excel in school.

She also maintained a part-time career at The Garden Island newspaper, where she served as Food and Ohana (society) editor for many years.

Another big segment of her life was devoted to volunteer work for many nonprofit organizations, including the 4-H program. She received many awards for her work with 4-H and her stellar efforts were greatly respected and appreciated.

She was also a longtime member of the Zonta Club of Kauai and an active participant in its charitable events and services.

In 1992, Gladys’ lifetime of contributions received the ultimate recognition when the Kauai Museum honored her as one of the year’s Living Treasures, a prestigious award the museum reserves for deserving people who have “dedicated their lives to helping their community.” It was an honor that meant a lot to Gladys.

Because of the family life they had and the values instilled in them, the Tashiro girls all went to college and achieved success in their chosen fields.

On July 31, 2008, Kauai lost this gentle soul but her generosity and numerous accomplishments still live on in the hearts and memories of all who knew her and remain as her legacy to the island of Kauai.

It is amazing to me that three such different women contributed so much to this tiny island we call home.

I have no doubt that Kauai is a far better place because of the years they shared their spirit, grace and presence with our community. Aloha.

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Rita De Silva is a Kapaa resident and former editor of The Garden Island newspaper.

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