Remembering Aunty T

  • Photo courtesy Westy Kessler

    In this May 2017 photo, Teresa Morita, left, stops for a photo with her grandson James Kessler during May Day at Kapaa Middle School.

  • Photo courtesy Westy Kessler

    From left: Anthony Morita, Keegan Kessler, Westy Kessler and Teresa Morita stop for a photo during Kapaa High School’s homecoming at the Bernice Hundley Gym in Oct. 2018.

  • Manuel S. Henriques / Contributed photo

    In this Aug. 31, 2016 photo, Teresa Morita officiates during a Kauai Interscholastic Federation girls volleyball match at the Bernice Hundley Gym at Kapaa High School.

  • Photo courtesy Emily Fabro

    Teresa Morita

When Teresa Morita passed away suddenly, the outpour of condolences from those who knew her was more than expected.

“I think she knew and touched more people than me and (my brother Anthony) can imagine,” said Westy Kessler, Morita’s daughter. “We know her close circle. We know the (Kauai Interscholastic Federation) officials that she spent so much time with. We know her friends that she went to sewing classes and stuff. But I think she touched so many more people than we knew, and it’s evident in the way they reached out to us.

“We didn’t even know how to share the information that she passed at first because it really took us off-guard. The calls, the text messages, the hugs in public has been so graciously received but so overwhelming at the same time. It’s confirmation she’s leaving a big hole in a lot of hearts.”

Morita died Jan. 13 from a heart attack following complications from pneumonia. She was 62 — just more than a week before what would have been her 63rd birthday.

“It was a shock,” Kessler said. “We spent the day with her, and then we said goodbye. She kind of shooed us out of the hospital and told us to go. The nurses came in to clean up, and she was like, ‘I’ll see you guys tomorrow.’ We didn’t.”

Morita was a Kauai High School graduate in 1974. During her prep years, she participated in basketball and track and field.

Long-time friend Bo Fabro said she was a member of Kauai High’s first girls basketball team.

“She loved basketball. That was the thing she wanted to do,” Fabro said. “She also helped coach basketball because she loved the game. People thought that because she’s female, she must not know a lot. But she does know basketball. We would go just to go watch basketball. We converse on what the kids and coaches were doing. We were regular fans.”

Morita passed down her love of sports to her grandchildren.

“I know she loved her grandchildren so very much. I think her love of sports is a lot of the reason why the kids played sports,” Kessler said. “When she’s at these games, she was there not just cheering on our kids, but all the kids. Her older grandchildren, my kids and my brother’s kids, all played sports. It was her way of being present around them, and you knew she loved it. She loved being there.”

For years, Morita worked for what was previously called the Garden Island Community Federal Credit Union in Lihue. Most recently, she worked at American Job Center Hawaii.

As a mother, Kessler said, “she really wanted the best for us.”

“She really gave a lot of herself, the same way she did a lot of things,” Kessler said. “She was the one who brought me to hula. She’s the one that brought (Anthony) to football practice. We both sang in choir, so she was the one waiting in the parking lot. As any mom would, she did the best that she could.”

Morita had a tough upbringing, Fabro said.

“Teresa, as a young girl, she had a hard life. They raised livestock,” he said. “Before they go school, they had to take care of the livestock. They had to get up really early in the morning, get the livestock taken care of, do all the feeding, go back home and change, have their breakfast and then get to school. (She had to) get on the bus, and that’s what? 6:30? … She was really tough person – mentally and physically tough, but a heart of gold.”

That toughness Morita had was put to the test in 2014 when she was forced to amputate a leg.

“She was caring for her mom. Her mom was getting up in her years, so she moved in with her mom in Koloa. Her mom has several cats, and a cat bit or scratched her leg above the ankle,” said fellow KIF official Emily Fabro, who is Bo Fabro’s wife. “She was too busy caring for grandma, so she’d just clean it up and cover it up. It was to the point where she finally sought medical help.”

She added: “They put a vacuum pump to get all the abscess out. By the time they did all of that, they found out the bacteria had gone down to the bone and it started gangrene.”

Emily Fabro said her faith in God helped her through the tough times. She even found humor in it with the help of one of her friend’s grandchildren.

“I was thinking of our grandson. ‘Auntie, where’s your leg?’ She goes, ‘I don’t know. Can you help Aunty T find it?’” Emily Fabro said. “And then when she got her prosthetic, she goes, ‘Look, Auntie is a Transformer now.’”

And even with the disability, she was as independent as she always was.

“Sometimes, I would try to push her wheelchair. She goes, ‘I get ‘em. I get it myself,’” Bo Fabro said.

Wherever she went, Morita always made sure she arrived on time — even if it meant getting there much earlier than needed.

“She was so strong, she didn’t let that stop her from showing up,” Kessler said. “If that meant getting there early to wait for everybody, she still showed up. And she didn’t want to ask for help or burden anybody.”

Morita was a long-time KIF scoring official. While she mainly worked KIF volleyball matches and wrestling meets, she at some capacity was also involved with KIF baseball, softball and track and field.

While not sure specifically, a handful of her fellow KIF officials said she must have been an official for at least 20 years.

Morita was also the scorekeeper for Aloha Kia Lihue A’s of the Kauai Senior Softball League.

The Fabros became KIF officials because of Morita about 15 years ago.

“She goes ‘I need your help. What are you doing Wednesday night?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ She goes, ‘Good. Meet me at Kauai High School gym.’ I go, ‘How come? Your car stuck?’ She says, ‘No. Just meet me at Kauai High School gym,’” Bo Fabro said. “So, we get there. We find out there’s a game going on. We go, ‘How come we’re here?’ We walk in, and the kids are practicing and warming up for a game. She goes, ‘You want to help officiate a game tonight?’ We go, ‘Oh. OK.’ That’s how it started.”

That weekend she was at the hospital was the first weekend of the KIF wrestling season.

“She went in for pneumonia on Friday. Saturday, she looked great,” Kessler said. “She texted (KIF official) Wayne Doliente because it was the first wrestling match of the season and she was supposed to be there. She said she’ll be there next week. If she could have signed herself out that day, I think she would have went straight to the gym to be at the wrestling match.”

As an official, she was very adamant on getting things right.

“She was very, very professional, I would say,” Doliente said. “She wanted to get it right. She wanted to make sure everything was on the up-and-up and fair. We usually joke, ‘OK. She’s the rulebook. Watch out.’”

But although she had a strict attitude about abiding by the rules, she had a loving demeanor and was admired by her contemporaries.

“She was affectionately known as ‘aunty’ from the players and the rest of the officials,” Doliente said. “She’s going to be missed by volleyball (officials) and all the rest of the officials.”

Outside of her love of sports, Morita had a love for crafts.

The Fabros said Morita made costumes for local halau and dresses for contestants in Miss Kauai Filipina. She even made the covers for the scorers’ tables the officials use during KIF games, they said.

“She was always at the craft fairs. She was a good seamstress. She even sewed clothes for our dogs. She sewed dresses for our first shih tzu,” Emily Fabro said.

Morita also devoted a lot of time at church. She was a parishioner St. Raphael Church in Koloa, where she lived, and for a time was a parishioner at New Hope Kauai in Kapaa.

“At New Hope, she would help set up and help clean up. She was always present,” Kessler said. “And I know at Saint Raphael’s, she would do that as well. She was there every Saturday. In fact, when we went down to the mortuary the Monday after she passed, they told us to go down to Saint Raphael’s. They were going to call.

“We went down there, and both the office manager and Father Arlan (Intal) were in tears. They had noticed she wasn’t there on Saturday. ‘We just saw her last week, and we noticed she wasn’t here. We can’t believe it.’ I’m like, ‘I know. It was a shock.’ She would always just show up, and she would help if she could in any way.”

Services will be held on 10 a.m. Feb. 16 at Saint Raphael Church.

•••

Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or ncelario@thegardenisland.com.

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