By P. Coochie Tanodra

This year’s annual Lana’i Connection aka LACA Las Vegas luncheon reunion was held on Saturday, September 24, 2016 at the California Hotel’s Ohana Room.  Almost 80 Lanai alumni, family and friends converged at the 21st luncheon with a festive theme of “Lana’i Sparkles.”  Lana’i folks came from all points in between from Maryland and California as well from the shining islands of Hawaii nei.  Notably the Sanches Ohana was present; as they have been yearly since 1995 to reunite at the Lana’i Connection.  Aloha nui loa to Tony Sanches and his wife, and to Susanna Sanches Kincaid (a LACA Director and early Lanai Connection organizer) and her ohana for keeping this family tradition!

The sparkling theme was further reflected in the ‘Oli Kanehoalani, a welcome chant that spoke of Kane’s manifestation in the starry Milky Way that looks upon Planet Earth and especially upon our precious home island of Lana’i shining in the middle of the Pacific.  The chant also acknowledges “time” and how ancestral wisdom takes time.  We honor that wisdom which we all have benefited from by the many wise kupuna (elders) of Lana’i seen and unseen; to the many kupuna who live in our memories and took the time to show us an enduring “work ethic” in the pineapple fields with a sense of community by sharing with and helping one’s neighbors.  That is the essence of Lana’i folks who malama (care for) our island home, Lana’i and its people then, now and for the future generations.

An invocation for the gathering written by LACA director Monica Cockett was read aloud by Ruth Nakasone, LACA Treasurer.  It was followed by a few moments of silence to remember those loved ones who have transitioned from this earthly plane.  A bountiful buffet with three entrees, many side dishes and desserts was provided for the luncheon.

Melodious Hawaiian music for the lunch period was performed by professional Hawaiian musician Kevin Brown of Maui.  Kevin plays several times a week at both hotel resorts on Lana’i.  He graciously played the songs of Lana’i at least twice upon request.  The gathering was treated to a graceful hula performed by an unnamed guest and a heartfelt song dedicated to all Lanaians by Mrs. Linda Perez (wife of Ted Perez).

The Talk Story program started with Dr. Bob Wilkinson sharing his memories of growing up on Lana’i as the son of Dr. Wilkinson.  Bob noted that his father probably delivered almost everyone present at the luncheon which generated much laughter and smiles.  They lived on Lana’i from 1941 through 1953.  He recalls leaving when he was in the sixth grade and happily reunited at the luncheon with some former classmates from the Class of 1959.  Bob said that after Lana’i, they moved to Wahiawa where his father practiced family medicine well into his 80s.  Presently, Dr. Bob Wilkinson is semi-retired as a pediatrician specializing in Hematology.  He asked folks to please say a prayer for his ailing brother, Dr. Bill Wilkinson who has attended many past LACA reunions.  Bob shared that his brother especially enjoyed last year’s 20th LACA luncheon.  Dr. Bob plans to attend next year and share more memories.

Robert Viduya shared his mana’o in fluent Japanese and then with a translated summary of his appreciation and gratitude of growing up on Lana’i, of being indebted to family and the community for the benefit of shared values of respect, hard work and helping others.  He also attended an enjoyable reunion that weekend with his classmates and other Lanaians.

Michael Lopez grew up on Mana Street, Block 35, Down Camp, and gave a summary of his life after graduation.  He joined the U.S. Marines and saw the world; then upon retirement moved his family back to Lana’i.  Michael has served on the Lana’i Planning Commission as well as other community efforts to malama Lana’i and to keep the island’s character and personality intact which he expressed “…as the people have plenty aloha …even  in the island’s changing times and owners.”  Michael is the #3 son of “Dong” and “Goring” Lopez.  He noted his mom planned to attend this year, but stayed home for health reasons.  Michael and his wife, Brenda are first-time attendees and enjoyed the nostalgia and seeing old friends.

Janet Ambe Otani of the Class of 1959 was in attendance with two tables of her classmates and friends.  She shared that they were celebrating their 75th birthdays together and enjoying the Vegas life!  Janet recalled working in the pineapple fields at age 15 and following the “boom” on the picking machine and learning to pick pine.  For her, it was mostly a “grand time” growing up on Lana’i.

Sue Damian, Class of 1952 shared that after high school she had passed the test to join the Marines, but didn’t go as she was employed on Maui.  Sue worked many years in the pineapple fields and said it was “…very hard work.” She said growing up on Lana’i was a feeling of ohana, “… a closeness with the community as well as being together with classmates from elementary grades.”  She feels that sense of community is what makes Lana’i special.  Sue has organized the Silent Auction at the LACA event for many years with all of the profits going to the Lana’i High scholarships and to the Athletic program.  Mahalo Sue for your kokua to support our ‘opio!

Ruth Nakasone shared with folks that she always supported her late husband Hideki who is actually the one from Lana’i.  She told a story that a long time ago, her husband got into a bit of trouble in his youth as he was very kolohe.  One day he was told to report to the police station for some youthful infraction.  Hideki was instructed to sit in one of the tiny jail cells for a day or so.  When it was time for dinner, the police officer told him to go home, eat his dinner and then return to the cell.  Everyone was laughing as they could visualize the former Lana’i jail which remains in its original form — a tiny shed composed of two tiny rooms and a bench inside each cell for the unlucky person(s).  Today that tiny jail is one of the many historic buildings for the Lana’i City Historic District.

Terry Mitsunaga Chan cheerfully shared how excited she and her friends were when they became of age to work in the fields.  She noted how they worked hard to pick pine and then on the first day had a big question – “How do we go bathroom?”  Terry and her good friend, Lynette would walk almost a mile away to find a ditch in another field with each person standing guard for the other.  One day Terry said a truck was driving by and the truck driver could surely see them; they couldn’t hide!  So Lynette told her “cover your face.”  Another memory folks could relate to with lots of laughter!  Terry added that growing up included fun times like going up to Lanaihale, playing at the paper bark forest and finding mountain naupaka.  Terry is the daughter of Sylvia (deceased), a former school librarian and Tamo Mitsunaga who worked for Dole Company.  She added that her father (93 years young) sent his aloha to all while he is recuperating from an unfortunate fall and could not be at LACA this year as planned.

Doris Ambe shared that she and her classmates celebrated their 70th birthdays last year.  She recalled the beautiful well-kept garden in the back of their house known as the Ito Garden.  One day , a long time ago, her two rascal boys chopped a cactus plant in the garden and that caused her some grief for weeks from the Ito family and a visit by the Lana’i police.  Doris added that currently several of her classmates meet weekly on Wednesday mornings to bowl at the Aiea Bowl.  She invited everyone to come by to bowl a game or two or to talk story!

Frank Pagay Jr., Class of 1968, also grew up on Mana Lane, Block 35 as he added a memory of playing in the tall California grass pasture with a whole bunch of neighborhood kids above the Ito Gardens.  He remembers getting covered in the sticky molasses grass and getting lickin’ when he got home!  Several others laughed and said they did the same and got lickin’ too!  Frank and his wife reside in the “9th Island” and enjoy attending the LACA Vegas reunions.

Ricky “Tama” Tamashiro, Class of 1971 shared that for several of his high school years there were three Tamashiro cousins playing basketball.  Then one year in the 80’s, tiny Lana’i was victorious in placing second place for the State Division II basketball tournament.  Ricky proudly stated that the Pine Lads played hard to attain this win and noted teammate Douglas Daguay won the tournament’s MVP trophy.  He imitated the radio announcer making the play by play “…pass by Tamashiro to Tamashiro and pass to Tamashiro and back to Tamashiro…”  Ricky’s parents are David and Thelma Tamashiro, who worked at the Richard’s store and at the old bowling alley respectively.  Ricky appreciates all the Lana’i families who grew up together, and learning good values and caring for each other.  He noted that “we all got along…which we need now today with aloha…”  Ricky is also a part of the annual Lana’i golf tournament that raises funds for the LHES scholarship.  Mahalo Ricky for kokua!

Frank Soriano attended for the first time and later wrote in a Facebook post in the Lanai High School Alumni Hui group “…I’ll be there 09/23/17…at LACA lunch sat next to Frankie Pagay and he is my mother’s g/son, which I did not know – what a surprise for me.  I also met Val Kincaid and ohana.  LACA is the place to be.”  Mahalo Frank for your sparkling review!

Na kupuna (80+ years young) in attendance were recognized with a special lei.  They were Solidad Obado, Marilyn Fernandez, Norante Fernandez, Sue Damian, Susanna Kincaid,  Ted Perez, and Donna Tanodra Willingham.

The sparkling centerpieces depicted a wooden island shape of Lana’i with a pine tree holding shiny earrings, bracelets, flower adornments, and keychains as makana (gift) for each attendee.  These were hand crafted and donated by LACA director Monica Cockett and her two sons, Jason Perry and Lloyd Perry.  Also, at each setting, there was a useful bright green & yellow flower luggage tag and a pineapple decorated post-it notepad handcrafted and lovingly donated by Terri Pascua and Ruth Nakasone respectively.  Mahalo nui loa ladies for your creative gifts and aloha for Lana’i.

Pedring Dugay returned this year with another of his handcrafted ukulele to raffle at the luncheon.  The winning ticket holder was an overjoyed Jason Perry who said he has to learn how to play the instrument.  Mahalo nui loa Pedring for your kokua to Lana’i High!

A wooden pineapple clock award was presented to Jeff Whaley for his excellent photography work with the annual LACA reunions for the past twenty-one years.  This mahalo award was also bestowed on Mr. David Lebbey, VP & GM of the California Hotel & Casino for his years of kokua for the LACA reunion and a third award to Mrs. Susanna Kincaid, LACA director on Lana’i for her years of kokua and as one of the first organizing directors of the Lana’i Connection.

This year’s grand prize winner of the California Hotel’s five day stay was Kawailani Pelayo and the winner of the $100 dinner certificate was Ms. Karoline Sweet.

Mahalo to the California Hotel for their generous prizes!

Mahalo to Sue Damian for initiating and managing the Silent Auction.  Brand name items had a friendly bidding contest.  Later items were raffled off to lucky attendees.  All proceeds go directly to the LACA Scholarship Fund for Lana’i High School.  Scholarships are awarded at the annual May school assembly by the school administration.

Mahalo nunui to the Lana’i Invitational Golf Tournament alumni and friends for their generous donation to the scholarship fund.  All proceeds are mailed to the Lanai High School administration.

The luncheon ended with a group picture of all the attendees and a rousing rendition of the Lana’i Alma Mater.  Folks left with a smile and new memories with plans to attend next year with family, with classmates and with a story to share!

Mark your calendar for next year’s LACA Las Vegas luncheon scheduled for September 23, 2017, Saturday at the California Hotel.  The registration form is in this issue.  We note that prices have gone up accordingly with the hotel’s renovations and staff changes.  Start saving now and plan to be there.  Guarantee a memorable time with good food, good folks, good music and talk story!

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