Erika Engle

Sunday, May 1, 2005

For Faith Nakano,
retirement doesn’t compute

Faith Nakano once thought of retiring, after 43 years with Shriners Hospital for Children. But that was two decades ago, and she's overcome any such notions.

"I hate the word retirement," Nakano said. "I have no such word in the vocabulary."

With her 63 years on the job with the same company, Nakano is the winner of the Star-Bulletin's Longest Worker Contest, earning her $100 in gift certificates to Ruth's Chris Steak House. We asked for nominations of workers who have longest served with the same employer. Owners and the self-employed weren't eligible.

Nakano joined Shriners Hospital for Children as a licensed practical nurse in February 1942 and has worked there ever since -- 63 years, 2 months.

Faith Nakano has worked at Shriners Hospital for Children for the past 63 years, making her the winner of the Star-Bulletin's Longest Worker Contest.

Her nursing career started a year earlier at Fort Shafter, where she helped treat wartime casualties.

"We were assigned to the midnight shift and the guard would pick me up from the quarters, then I would get the morphine ready and administer it to the patients," she said.

Those were days that lights were turned off early for security, of air raid siren drills and gas masks that were carried as a typical accessory.

Nakano's Shriners career started in the wards where children with orthopedic problems were treated. She and other nurses lived in on-campus quarters and would eat in a separate area because they were held in a certain esteem, said Miki Morris, director of general services at Shriners.

Nakano then became an operating-room nurse and spent nonsurgical hours in the clinic. Nakano spent 38 years as a nurse in the OR and is credited with mentoring well more than 100 orthopedic surgeons through their residency.

"The staff doctors would say, 'Did you do your homework?' and try to embarrass (the residents) in front of me, so I decided to help," Nakano said.

She would take them aside to explain instruments and techniques, "so the doctors wouldn't scold them ... they'd be much relieved. I wanted them to be happy. I sort of spoiled them. Being Oriental too (I) sort of spoiled them."

Many of them wrote letters to be read at a celebration marking Nakano's 60th anniversary with the hospital. "These guys are all now top dogs in their field," Morris said. "Some have already retired and she's still here."

She remembers the doctors and "she remembers her patients, too," said Morris.

"We still have people who come to see her ... they say, 'Oh we brought this to her, she used to be my nurse.'" There are younger visitors, older visitors and visitors from Japan. Morris has even heard, "My grandmother was a patient here and (Nakano) was her nurse."

Colleagues know Nakano's touch can be as effective as a hammer if they're having trouble obtaining doctors' required signatures. Nakano is the "heavy guns" sent to take care of such tasks, Morris said.

Now 83, Nakano doesn't seek attention, but gets it regularly. She was the Hawaii winner of the 2003 Prime Time Awards for Outstanding Older Workers, recognized by the national nonprofit Experience Works organization. The group also made her a calendar girl, featuring her on its 2004 calendar cover and the month of May as well.

Her husband, Steve, avoids the limelight completely, but is also still employed.

They go out together once a week and spend weekends crossing off chores on to-do lists. The Nakanos have also traveled, visiting Europe, the South Pacific, Japan and they've taken an Alaska cruise.

"Enough already," she said.

The two don't have children -- and neither is eager to retire.

It wasn't always that way. After 43 years at the hospital she learned the ropes of medical record-keeping.

"Yes, I was preparing to retire," she said. People would tell her at the time, "Why don't you retire," but bosses aren't allowed to say such things now, which suits Nakano just fine.

Had she chosen a different career, "I would love to be a home economist," because of her interest in nutrition and in helping families eat right.

Her spirit is far younger than her 83 years. "For my age I think I feel young because I work with young people," she said. They tell her, "You act so much younger than my mom!"

Shriners is not in any hurry for Nakano to retire, either. "Oh no," Morris said.

Her ability to speak Japanese helps with visiting groups, and "she's got that can-do attitude she models. That attitude inspires others."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: eengle@starbulletin.com

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