Talk Story: Jean Dobashi

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    Jean Dobashi at her RSVP desk at the State Building.

The National Education Association-Retired is available to meet the needs of retired education employees, and Jean Dobashi of Lihue sits on its board as the national vice president for a special term that started in September and will be effective until August.

“I got elected to be the NEA-Retired national vice president in June 2018 during the 35th annual NEA-Retired meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota,” Dobashi said. “This special election was held because the currently serving vice president resigned in the spring of 2018 because of health reasons. Because there was one year remaining in his term, a special election was held to have someone complete his term. On a side note, this is the same position I ran for in June of 2016 and lost by five votes. This made me stay out on the national level until I got elected this past June in the special election.”

Although retired education professionals had long been served by the NEA, in 1983 the NEA-Retired was established to create a membership category for retirees who had been active NEA members for at least five years prior to retirement.

“How this is all connected is because as a member of the HSTA (Hawaii State Teachers Association) here on Kauai, we are a local member,” Dobashi said. “Then, HSTA Kauai Chapter comes under the state level of HSTA, our state affiliate. Now, we retired people are members of HSTA-Retired, Kauai District. Those who are still employed are members of HSTA. HSTA, our state affiliate, comes under the umbrella of our national organization, the NEA, and we who are of the retired ranks are now members under the umbrella of our national organization, the NEA-Retired.”

NEA-Retired membership is more than 275,000, and it continues to lead the way in public education, and on critical issues such as Social Security and Medicare, health care, and pension protection, and other retirement security concerns, she said.

What other positions and responsibilities do you do in addition to being the national vice president?

Not much really…. I just try to go to my RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) job on Tuesdays at the State Building.

It’s not a job, but I try to keep my schedule.

Oh, yeah! I do sit on the Alliance for Retired Americans National Board of Directors as a CAN member.

I was first elected four years ago because my friend pushed me to stand-up and that was it! Became a candidate and got elected. This past November in Las Vegas, I got re-elected for another four years.

We monitor all senior issues like Social Security, Medicare and pension issues and cost of drugs.

And I guess, finally, go to the YMCA for my water therapy. I used to go twice a day until people thought it was too much. Now it’s just too cold so I only walk in the hot tub if I’m there alone. Come join us!

We meet really nice people.

How did you get into teaching?

I was given the name of “Jean” because my maternal grandmother, Satoyo Furuto, was the maid for Mary E. White, and she had a nice daughter named Jean who she really admired and told my mother to name this baby girl Jean.

I come from a family of eight children, three girls and five brothers. We graduated from Kahuku High School and all graduated from college within four years, as we were told to do. We all got married and started families and each own a home. So we all helped to fulfill my parent’s dream.

I had to attend the Church College of Hawaii out in Laie because I had to live and stay at home to help run the family business and also help with my three younger brothers.

Attending The Church College was OK, but I really wanted to go to the mainland. In a few years I did get to go because following my Freshman year, I got baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormon Church.

Being a new convert was difficult to be living in a Buddhist family home. The one thing that really bothered my mom was paying the 10 percent tithing to the church. So to ease the pain I thought was to pay a matching 10 percent to my mom. But, if it wasn’t one thing about the church, it was another issue. So finally, at the end of my second year of college, she did do it!

She kicked me out and off I went to BYU-Provo, Utah, to finish my college education.

When I finally had to leave, my oldest brother Alvin bought me a one-way ticket to Utah and said to be a good Mormon. I promised him that one day in the future when I am rich and famous, I would pay him back for that college one-way ticket. He knows that I have paid him back over and beyond he can imagine. The sacrifice he made for me to go to Utah was bigger than anyone could imagine. I knew he was not doing that good, but he loved me that much and wanted me to be happy in Utah.

Then things just got better, one day at a time. I was able to get a cashier job at the BYU bookstore because of my experience as a theater cashier at my dad’s theater, my bakery job and also my PCC (Polynesian Cultural Center) snack bar experiences. I would sign up for any and all possible shifts that I could to make more money.

Then my professor called me in and dropped the bomb that if I continued on my schedule, I would graduate in three and a half years. That was good news, but to him knowing my financial situation, it was not. He told me that graduating in the winter is not good because he could not promise me a teaching job. That was scary.

He then told me about their new pilot project teaching program that they wanted to try and needed volunteers to do it. So I did it! It was taking a full year as your student teaching job instead of just one semester, but the good thing is, we as student teachers would get paid!

That was music to my years. Yes, we would be making five-eighths the beginning teacher’s pay from Weber County School District in Ogden, Utah. That sounded great to me. So I moved from Provo to go up north a ways into the city of Ogden.

That year of teaching 5th grade was just awesome and a wonderful opportunity to learn firsthand a lot of things that I had concerns about my career.

My biggest desire was to just simply find out, was I really cut-out to be a teacher? I mean be a really good teacher. That’s all I really wanted to know. Well that year teaching at Mar-Lon Hills School, grade five, gave me the answers. We had lots of workshops and lectures and everything that a beginner teacher would need to know. We took a lot of tests and one came out saying that I will be a good teacher. That was it! I was sold! That’s all that I really needed to know. I was satisfied and very happy.

My fifth-grade class was the best any teacher could ask for a first-year teaching job. There were 2 girls with the same name. “Jill,” and just the best, miss perfect student, any teacher would die to have. So I named my daughter Jill after these two wonderful girls.

My first year of teaching in Hawaii made me a little nervous, but because it was the same curriculum as fifth grade in Utah, it was a breeze.

My beginning teacher supervisor was so impressed that by the first half of the first quarter, she told my principal that Miss Togo in fifth grade does not need my assistance so I’m dropping her off my list. That was a relief, and so I had a wonderful time at Laie School until my principal made me be the JPO (Junior Police Officer) adviser.

I live among the farthest from all the teachers, but he asks me to come in early and supervise the morning JPO activities. At the end of the year, we have a JPO picnic at Ala Moana Park with a marching unit competition. We worked hard to look sharp and also looking snappy.

That’s how I got to be assigned as the JPO adviser for my second and last year of teaching at Laie, as I was now getting married in June of 1971 and moving to live on the island of Kauai.

How was teaching and living on Kauai?

In 1979, after teaching for eight years at Koloa, it was time to move closer to home to save money and gas.

So Roberta “Bobbie” Agena transferred to Kekaha School, which is where she lives, and I transferred to Kauai Intermediate School in Lihue, teaching grades seventh and eighth English and reading for the next 20 years.

That only left Mrs. Josephine Villanueva at Koloa, but she lives there.

We three decided that it was time to move on and spread our wings. It was a change for Mrs. V. because she always taught 7-8 math with me in that grade level up in the portables, and now she had to teach elementary level.

It was always known that Mrs. V. would boss me around because I loved her so much.

Mother taught me well to respect my elders was my constant reply to her! She was always looking after me and taught me how to really, really eat Filipino food. I already knew that from living in the camps in Kahuku, but she was a better example. Why? Because her father would periodically bring our lunch. Yes, Filipino home-cooked meal. Those were the good ole days.

When she passed away, her sister Flo Sina called and told me that sister “Josie” said that Mrs. D is giving the eulogy. Me? No way! She said that yeah, she told me!

No way! I have never ever given a eulogy! Sister Flo just said thank you and see you, OK?

Days following were stressful as I had to prepare and I had left Koloa School several years earlier already. So when you need help, teachers, who do you go to?

Yes, that’s correct, the school secretary, who knows everything. So I called my former Koloa School secretary, Mrs. Chiyoko Kaneshige, and she was most helpful and even directed me to others for info about Josie.

Long story short, I did it. It was 27 minutes long and I received an applause. I did say that even though my dear friend Mrs. Villanueva has passed and lying so peacefully in the coffin, dog gone it, she still can boss me around! Rest In Peace, Mrs V.

How did you get involved in volunteering and advocacy work?

Sometimes, I still cannot believe that this really happened! But when I’m working real hard on something, I know it’s true!

My retirement in December 2003 was the best thing possible, thanks to my husband Myron and my three children and my three grandsons! For years at the start of my marriage, it was all about and all around my husband’s work, the Hawaii Air National Guard.

Everything was for the guard, then his car and then it was me. (family joke) I did not really mind because I made it fun for me, too!

Then when the children came around, it was babysitters, nursery school, Japanese school, Scouting, church, early seminary classes, sports, and more sports. Ask Earl Miyao about T-ball at Lihue BB field. You’ll get a good laugh.

Finally, I thought about it and my life was always around my husband first, then the three children, and I thought what about me? When do I get in?

I really started to do what Jean wanted to do and now I do what I want to do, to a limit, though.

My three grandchildren take up a huge bulk of my time. Try flying to Florida six times in one year to babysit? The best part was, the heated pool is only four houses away. Don’t have to cook cause Jill loves to cook, only healthy! Fitz is a very helpful husband. All the work is divided between the both of them. Awesome set-up!

Not complaining but life goes on. Do what you do in moderation and keep peace. Thank you to my family for being independent people who were taught early how to be a survivor under any condition or situation. There’s always somebody worse off than you, so stop complaining.

One more thing finally, and I mean it…I substitute only at Elsie Wilcox Elementary School. It’s great to keep connected to my profession, and I love to just walk to work and get to see all the levels from pre-K, grades K through 5th. This I do, like the rest of the retired teachers who substitute…it’s for our travel kitty. I love to travel!

  1. James Kuroiwa, Jr. March 3, 2019 9:10 am Reply

    Jean, thanks for sharing and for being a wonderful friend. Go For Broke

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