Celine Balthazar-Suda, left, and grandmother Virginia Freitas are two of three generations of postmasters at Makawao.
Family delivers in postal service
Three generations of the Balthazar family have been postmasters at Makawao
MAKAWAO, Maui » Doing good work in the community, especially as part of the U.S. Postal Service, has been a tradition for Balthazar family members in Upcountry Maui.
Three generations have served as postmasters at the Makawao Post Office -- the latest being Celine Balthazar-Suda, who was named Hawaii's Postmaster of the Year in 2005.
She filled the job once occupied by her late father, Emil "Bill" Balthazar.
"I have been inspired by my dad to carry on the family tradition of helping people. It gives me a sense of fulfillment."
In rural Makawao and surrounding areas, where a number of roads lack signs, postal delivery requires more than dropping a letter into a mailbox along a paved street. It helps to have worked and lived there for a while.
Among postmasters, Balthazar-Suda had a 94 percent approval rating -- the highest in the Honolulu district, which includes Saipan, Guam and Rota.
The Balthazars are known for going beyond the normal confines of their work duties in serving the community.
Balthazar-Suda's grandmother Virginia Freitas served as acting postmaster in Makawao during World War II, and her postmaster father, Bill, was so loved by residents of the town that a county bridge was named in his honor.
Bill Balthazar, who died in 1988 after being the Makawao postmaster for about 39 years, was the type of manager who would stay at the post office late into the night on the final day of tax filing to date-stamp the mail of residents who were late filers.
He'd work on Christmas if it meant delivering a gift to a neighborhood family.
His wife, Agnes, who also worked as a postal employee for 46 years, said many people in Makawao sought out Bill's advice on a variety of matters, including taxes.
Agnes said her husband wanted to help the rural poor and working people in his community who came from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
"They felt comfortable coming to him," Agnes said. "They trusted him."
Bill Balthazar served on the first charter commission to establish Maui County and was a board member of the Kula Community Federal Credit Union with former Mayor Elmer Cravalho.
"He was extremely intelligent and competent and had a good rapport with the people of Makawao. He was tops," Cravalho said.
The family traces part of their lineage back to Jacintho Balthazar, Bill Balthazar's immigrant German-Portuguese grandfather who came to Hawaii from Austria and helped build the stonewall irrigation ditches in east Maui for the sugar industry.
Jacintho married Philamina DeLima, who raised Celine's paternal grandfather, Joseph Balthazar, who later married Mary Benetiz, an immigrant from Spain.
Agnes Balthazar said that, like her husband Bill, her six children acquired a streak of independence and a strong work ethic.
Daughter Leona Balthazar-Edwards is president of her own business, Island Presentations, a keepsake gift-box business, and with her husband, John Edwards, owns Honey Glazed Hams of Hawaii on Oahu.
Agnes' son Brendan Balthazar, a firefighter and board chairman of the Maui Roping Club, is a cattle rancher and has organized the annual Makawao Rodeo on the Fourth of July.
One of Bill's late sons, Air Force Lt. Col. Arnold W. Balthazar, a retired top-gun pilot, died in 2001 while working as a flight-training consultant in Peru, helping in the government's battle against drug traffickers.
Elaine Balthazar-Chang owns Scoops Icecream in Aina Haina on Oahu, and Miriam Balthazar-Chang is a psychotherapist in Los Angeles.
Celine's late grandfather Frank P. Freitas ran his own tour-guide business, making more than 1,000 trips into Haleakala crater.
Celine Balthazar-Suda said the Makawao Post Office felt like a family operation as she grew up with her father and mother employed there.
She married Calvin, a postal service worker for 27 years, and has a daughter, Calene.
Balthazar-Suda said she was happy when she was appointed postmaster at Makawao in 1998, after working 29 years at various other post offices on Maui, including a carrier in Lahaina, supervisor in Kihei and postmaster in Haiku.
"I felt like I was coming home," she said.
Balthazar-Suda said when she entered the office formerly occupied by her late father, she was handed an envelope by postal worker Bernadette Boteilho.
Boteilho had found it tucked away in a small safe.
It was handwritten by her father and addressed to "Postmaster Makawao," apparently in anticipation of a change in management, but no one had found it until her promotion.
"It took me a couple of days before I opened it after a very busy day at work. Sitting in my dad's office, I was alone as I held a personal message from my dad in my hand. As I opened the envelope, enclosed was a 3x5 card with typed instructions to open the safe with these numbers -- 88, 15, 55.
"My dad passed away in 1988, I became postmaster of Makawao on Aug. 15, and I was born in 1955. I was touched by an angel. I felt my Dad's love surround me."