KAPAA — Flo Tazaki, a bon dance regular, said Friday night’s bon dance at Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital was the “last, last one.”
But Josie Pablo, Mahelona’s recreation director, was hoping that isn’t the case as she watched hundreds of people mingle through the hospital’s walkways and courtyard which was full of people talking story and patronizing the hospital’s offering of bon dance foodstuffs.
“We’re here for a Celebration of Life,” said Rachelle Ponce of San Francisco. “Aunty Margie Ponce is a resident here so we came to celebrate with her.”
Peter Klune, the Hawaii Health System Corporation CEO, was swallowed up by the crowd, visiting with dignitaries including Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.; Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar, an avid bon dance attendee; Lisa Arin, his opponent in this year’s elections; and a large number of political hopefuls that mingled through the crowd, milking final votes before Saturday’s primary election.
“This is more fun than the Koloa Plantation Days,” Klune said. “They have food here. When they called me after the parade and told me The Clinic at Poipu had won an award, I couldn’t believe it. I told them, ‘What? They only had two floats in the parade.’”
Arnold Leong of “The Fah Inn,” missed during Kauai Hospice’s Concert in the Sky, had his entourage of helpers cranking out flying saucers for a waiting line of people that snaked through the ongoing construction of the hospital’s dining area and social hall.
“We had to come pay first,” said Daphne McClure. “We pay first, then we go wait in the line.”
Pablo said there were a group of first-timers, including her bunch of Divas and Dudes who sported bright bon dance towels courtesy of an election candidate.
“This is not bad at all,” said Lisa Ledesma, a longtime running sister of Pablo’s and one of the key organizers to the Kauai Police Activities League inaugural Lihue sprint triathlon. “It’s easy to follow along. What have we been missing? We should have come a long time ago.”
Elaine Morita, a 25-year employee with Mahelona Hospital, was also in the audience, accepting the audience’s well wishes after being made an honorary team captain by Kapaa High School during its 2016 football debut.
“We have been doing bon dance for nearly 20 years for those residents who are not capable of physically attending bon dance in the community,” Pablo said. “Elaine, who was forced to retire by cancer, started this to bring the bon dance to our residents who can’t make it into the community. Like all of our events, this is not a one-person show. We get a lot of support from the hospital staff, and especially the Mahelona Hospital Auxiliary and other community volunteers.”
Mama Rose Morimoto said she brought her “granddaughter” to visit with William Villanueva, a resident at the hospital.
“I raised her and she comes with me every time I come to visit Papa,” Morimoto said. “She reminds him of his own granddaughters and he even calls her ‘granddaughter.’”
Pablo said she hopes this bon dance won’t be the last for the hospital but they have received word from the new hospital administrator to reduce activities in order to cut expenses.
“We’ve already lost events,” said Wilma Chandler, a regular volunteer at Mahelona. “We didn’t go to the Kapaa Hongwanji Mission bon dance where they had a section set aside for our residents. We didn’t go to the Heiva I Kauai where we were scheduled to visit.”
Pablo said there is a directive to limit their summer beach visits to just one a year. The hospital’s next beach outing to Lydgate Park is scheduled for later this summer, coinciding with the two-week visit from Okinawa Christian College of Nursing who spend the day working alongside hospital staff. The second beach outing allows the Kauai Community College’s Nursing Department to provide its students with a similar learning and volunteering experience.
“In the past, we even switched our bon dance dates to accommodate these Okinawa students,” Pablo said. “We don’t want them to only work — they need fun stuff, too. This year, we couldn’t do that.”
Klune agreed. “They need to experience this,” he said.
Tazaki, meanwhile, rose to her feet, joining the throng of dancers who filled the ring to capacity.
“I have to come,” she said. “This is the last, last bon dance — until next year.”