The Waimea High School Class of ‘52, said Norman Akita, learned early it was important to be part of a community.
He knows because he was there.
“My parents, when we got something, we shared, and our neighbors shared with us,” he said.
His classmates, Akita said, were plantation kids. They worked, they showed respect, they learned from their ohana about being generous with what they had, whether it was a little or a lot.
“Giving back to the community was an important matter,” he said. “It was a kind of life that got us to where we are now.”
And where they are now, 65 years later, is still giving. Still sharing. Still being part of the community they came to love and cherish.
About 10 of those WHS grads of the Class of ‘52 recently met at Pietro’s Pizza Kauai to present a $3,000 scholarship to 2017 WHS graduate Sharay Rapozo, daughter of Roy and Shasta Rapozo.
Sharay, headed to the University of Washington in Seattle, said she is the first generation of her family to go to college.
“I’m very fortunate and grateful,” she said. “I’m so happy to be part of this.”
The scholarship is even more special because it came from her alma mater.
“It’s cool to see our community supporting each other even though we go our separate ways,” said Sharay, who leaves for UW this month. “But we come back to our roots.”
The WHS Class of ‘52 has been presenting scholarships since 2011.
Millie Wellington, a member of that class, recalled when several grads talked story about a way to help WHS seniors pursue higher education.
“The idea of our class awarding annual scholarships came to fruition rapidly when we discovered back in 2010 that there were limited scholarship funding resources on Kauai available to the increasing numbers of high-achieving Waimea High School graduates,” she wrote.
Within a year’s time after sending letters to classmates about the problem of having more outstanding WHS students than available funding resources, she said they received the contributions, $25,000, needed to create an endowment with the Hawaii Community Foundation.
“It caught on like wildfire,” Millie said.
“We all felt we would want to do this,” Akita added.
The endowment has done well. Seven students have received scholarships. It started with $1,000, grew to $2,000 last year, and grew again this year.
“It’s just incredible,” Wellington said.
Her class, she said, was not one of wealth. But it was one of hard-working and humble students who went on to successful careers both on Kauai and the Mainland. Many became educators, knowing well the value of a life of learning.
How did a small WHS class of friends graduating back in 1952 manage to stay strongly united and create such a wonderful legacy supporting youth still today?
Wellington said it was a close class that lived through World War II as children. They played together, cheered together, went to movies together and cried together.
“We felt a connection. We just felt the cohesiveness,” she said.
“I think this is true for a lot of the classes that come from the Westside,” Wellington said. “We support each other.”
That WHS Class of ’52 still holds reunions and its members still see each other around the community.
“It’s just this camaraderie is so thick, we come together for any good reason,” she said.
Through the fund, Wellington said, “We want to fuel islandwide efforts to bring invaluable support for our most competent, young and bright students who will be the civic-minded humanitarians and compassionate role-modeling leaders of future generations.”
Darcie Yukimura is with HCF, which last year celebrated its 100th birthday and is the second-oldest community foundation in the nation.
HCF works with more than 1,000 donors, partners and organizations that translates into more than $600 million in assets. In 2016, more than $47 million was distributed to the community, with about 1,300 college students receiving about $5 million in scholarship funds.
She said the WHS Class of ‘52 endowment fund has done well.
“It’s one of our favorites,” Yukimura said
She has heard the stories about that class, what they did as students and what they went on to achieve. They grew up in the plantation era on Kauai and were close with ohana.
“Each one has a story why they want to contribute to something like this,” she said. “They wanted to perpetuate those kind of hometown values as well as let the students know they care about them.”
HCF helped arrange the meeting of Sharay Rapozo and the Class of ‘52 for the scholarship presentation.
“Our job is just to facilitate that gathering and that gift,” Yukimura said.
Akita said that 65 years ago, there was a bond between WHS seniors.
That bond remains.
“In the years we were there together, we held dear to our culture, to our way of thinking, to our way of life,” he said.
By creating the endowment fund and presenting scholarships, he said they hope to encourage more giving, which will lead to more learning and more opportunities for Waimea youth.
Generations will benefit.
“I feel so blessed to be able to do this,” Akita said.