Abraham Akaka

Rev. Akaka
dies at 80

The retired pastor of Kawaiahao
Church collpased Tuesday

By Star-Bulletin staff

The Rev. Abraham Kahikina Akaka, retired pastor of historic Kawaiahao Church and Hawaii's most widely known clergyman, died last night. He was 80.

Akaka, the brother of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, collapsed Tuesday afternoon after conducting a service at Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery in Kaneohe.

He was taken to the emergency room at Castle Medical Center, then later moved to Queen's Hospital. He was listed in critical condition yesterday in the intensive care unit. He died at 10:04 p.m. from complications of a dissecting aortic aneurysm -- a condition often mistaken for a heart attack, a spokesman for the family said.

Funeral services are pending. In lieu of flowers the family is asking that donations be made to the Rev. Abrahama K. Akaka Ministries Foundation, 2825 S. King St., Suite 3401; Honolulu, HI, 96826; or a charity of their choice.

State flags are expected to fly at half staff on the day Akaka will be buried, according to the governor's office.

Speaking for the Catholic Church, The Very Rev. Joseph Bukoski III, judicial vicar for the Diocese of Honolulu, called him an "extraordinary and great man ... (with) deep spirituality and faith, which was solidly and firmly connected to his Hawaiian roots.

"He perpetuated the aloha of God -- the love of God. We admire his gentle and gentleman ways. He truly blessed many lives, but most importantly as a cleric he brought the love of God in a tangible way to many people. There's a dignity of who he was and what he did. It is with fond memory we bid him aloha oe."

Danny Kaleikini gives Rev. Abraham Akaka a kiss
during Akaka's 75th birthday party at the
Hilton Hawaiian Village in 1992.

Since 1957, Akaka has been the kahu (shepherd) of Kawaiahao Church, often referred to as Hawaii's Westminster Abbey. He retired in 1984 but remained active, presiding over frequent blessings of construction projects and other enterprises.

The soft-spoken, velvet-voiced, ukulele-strumming Congregational minister was a dedicated Christian.

A 17-hour workday was routine for him. That rigorous schedule sent him to the hospital with his first heart attack on May 28, 1964.

The son of a Hawaiian-Chinese father and a pure Hawaiian mother, Akaka had been described as Hawaii's most influential and widely known Hawaiian since Kamehameha the Great.

Newsweek magazine described him as having the "charm of a beachboy and the force of a Billy Graham." The Saturday Evening Post called him, "Hawaii's hustling shepherd."

Akaka rubbed shoulders with Hawaii's political figures, business executives, labor officials, educators, professional men, the poor and the beachboys.

Spread the aloha spirit

He was much in demand as a speaker both in the islands as well as on the mainland, where in March 1964, he addressed 17,000 people at the famed Hollywood Bowl's Easter Sunrise Service.

He was the most-sought-after minister to officiate at dedications, groundbreaking and grand-opening ceremonies.

Wherever he went, he spread the message of aloha, strumming his uke to emphasize his point, and greeting all visitors with a cheek-to-cheek salutation.

"The great need today is for a 'new kind of godly man' -- the man of aloha," he often said.

He worked untiringly to uplift the Hawaiian people and preserve the Hawaiian way of life, not caring whose toes he stepped on to achieve these objectives.

With him, it was: "God first, others second, yourself third."

"My kind of ministry may be out of joint with some of the old concepts," he said. "But I believe we must unhook our minds from the past and look to the future.

"We must choose between the conventional church of yesterday and the new church of today that serves the whole community.

"The church should help prepare people to live creatively. Hawaii is a laboratory proving what can be done."

Nixon attended his service

Many dignitaries attended his church services.

President Richard M. Nixon and Mrs. Nixon attended services at Kawaiahao to give thanks for the safe return of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission in April 1970.

In his sermon that Sunday morning, Dr. Akaka compared the people of the Earth, black, white, brown and yellow, to the strings of a ukulele and demonstrated with his uke how beautifully they can work together in harmony -- and how dissonant they can be when harmony is lost.

Nixon called it one of the most moving and meaningful religious services he had ever attended.

A year earlier in June, 1969, Mrs. Nixon and her daughter, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, were among Kawaiahao's congregation.

That day he preached, "Harmony presupposes diversity of tones -- but it is a diversity that is tuned to a great Tuner. Strings that make gods of themselves and reject the God who made them, make peace impossible, for by rejecting their maker and tuner -- they create dissonances that make earth-sized headaches and crippling strokes."

Worked for civil rights

He and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. developed a close fellowship when the latter came here to participate in a Civil Rights Week symposium at the University of Hawaii in 1964.

As the first chairman of the Hawaii Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, he and two other Islanders went to Washington to lobby for the passage of a strong civil rights bill in 1964.

Attempts by the state government to desegregate Kamehameha Schools and force the institution to hire non-Protestant teachers came under his attack.

He also fought against passage of Hawaii's land reform law, which he feared would break up the large land holdings of Bishop Estate, whose income supports the Kamehameha Schools.

Akaka urged the Hawaiian people to uplift themselves, saying it is important that they develop competence in the economic, political, technological and scientific spheres. "This is essential to the survival of any people today," he said.

During the 1962 gubernatorial campaign, former Republican Gov. William F. Quinn and his opponent, Democrat John A. Burns, wanted him as their running mate for lieutenant governor. He rejected both offers.

When a senator once asked him which party he preferred, the minister replied: "You ask God what he is and that's what I am. Meantime I'm a bridge between the Republicans and Democrats."

Religious upbringing

Akaka was born on Feb. 21, 1917 in a home among the taro patches of Pauoa Valley and reared in a strong Christian family.

Each day in the Akaka home began and ended with a prayer and singing of hymns.

In his youth, he sold newspapers, shined shoes, worked in taro patches and in the pineapple cannery to help the family meet expenses.

He also worked his way through McKinley High School and the University of Hawaii, finishing his senior year at Illinois Wesleyan University where he majored in sociology and music.

A scholarship put him into the University of Chicago Theological Seminary, where he later was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

Ordained a minister in 1944, his first church assignment was on Kauai, where he spent two years, then Maui where he served three churches for nine years and the Haili Church on the Big Island for three years, before accepting the Kawaiahao Church call in 1957.

He had turned down Kawaiahao's first call because he had just started to minister to the congregation at Hilo's Haili Church. Three years later, he accepted Kawaiahao's second call.

His life's calling

An event in 1939 was to decide his life's "calling" -- when he was chosen as Hawaii's delegate to a World Conference of Christian Youth in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

There were 2,000 young people from 72 countries at that gathering.

"Suddenly everything came into focus," he recalled in an interview. "Here was a gathering of many nationals united by love of God and man. There was no common language, but they understood each other.

"Faith cut through all language and racial barriers and unified them. For the first time, I saw the Christian faith in a new light.

"It dawned upon me that the ministry was my life."

On Dec. 7, 1966, 25 years after the Pearl Harbor attack, he had a memorable meeting here with the man who led the surprise Japanese attack on the naval base. Mitsuo Fuchida, whose plane led the attack that Sunday morning, returned to Hawaii as a Christian convert.

Gave statehood address

One of Akaka's proudest moments came when he was chosen to give the address at the formal Hawaii statehood service of dedication March 13, 1959. The address was reprinted in anthologies and in 30,000 leaflets.

Akaka was active in many Hawaiian civic groups, including the Friends of Kamehameha Schools, which he founded.

He served as a University of Hawaii regent in 1960-61 and in 1969 was elected a corporate member of the United Church Board of World Ministries, the overseas arm of the 2 million-member United Church of Christ, and president of the Hawaii Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Recognitions bestowed upon him include: Father of the Year in religion, 1958; Citizen of the Year, 1962, and Salesman of the Year, 1963.

The Honolulu chapter, National Society of Arts and Letters presented him an award for outstanding contributions to the Hawaiian way of life in 1965 and the Kamehameha Schools, the Ke Alii Pauahi Award in 1963. His widow is the former Mary Louise Jeffrey of Denver, whom he met at a summer camp on the Mainland.

They were married July 22, 1944.

The five children include four daughters, Mrs. George (Fenner-Marie) Shupe, Pualani Suzanne, Sarah Elizabeth Kahikina and Sandra Phoebe Komohana Akaka, and a son, Jeffrey Lee Alohilani.

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