Lab School alumni gather amid the ashes
Tearful memories return with graduates as they hope to rebuild after a $6.5 million fire
Five years ago, when Lanning Lee organized an alumni association, his goal was to have the group support a school on the verge of a shutdown, not lift it from the ashes.
But that's exactly where the association found itself yesterday, when hundreds of former students gathered at an annual alumni reunion of the University of Hawaii Laboratory School.
There were mixed emotions with the joy of seeing old friends tempered by a sense of sadness and a determination to help rebuild after a June 13 fire in a wooden building that used to house the school's athletic, music and drama departments. Arson is suspected and damage from the fire is estimated at $6.5 million.
"We needed one chance a year for people to come and renew old friendships," said Lee, a 1972 graduate. "This year, obviously because of the fire, it's going to be 500 or 600 people by the end of the night."
"I haven't seen a lot of these people," said alumni association president Danny Alvarez, from the class of '88. "They want to give back."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The annual alumni dinner was held yesterday in the cafeteria to raise money to rebuild the burned-down University of Hawaii Laboratory School. Paula Imada, Jeffrey Soranaka (front, with cap), Tyson Nam, John-Carl Ada, Scot Robertson, Everett Ohta and Sean Uwaine, all 2001 graduates, posed for a group photo as they waited in line to eat. They wanted to attend to help out and show their support.
Shawn McDonald decided to came to his first association dinner after visiting what was left of the school with his daughter.
"I sat there, and tears were rolling down my eyes, a lot of good memories," McDonald, a 1987 graduate, said as he stood with friend Grant Rivera, who graduated in 1991. "It brought us together more."
Laureen Takeuchi, a 1994 graduate visiting from the mainland, said she ran down from her mother's Manoa home to take pictures of the fire. She is keeping the photos in a box, next to yearbooks and other memorabilia.
"It was a tragedy for us," said Takeuchi, who postponed her trip back to Idaho to attend the fundraiser. "We lost so many memories."
Memories of the fire are so fresh for Chris Chok, who graduated last month, that he said it's still hard to understand what happened.
"Everything in our lives is going on so fast now. It hasn't struck me yet," Chok, 17, said while eating dinner with a group of friends, all 2006 graduates who attended their last class on May 11. "It's kind of surreal. You can see that the school is gone, but you don't want to believe it."
Before yesterday's dinner, the association had already received $42,655 in donations, Alvarez said. Graduates will also hold a fundraising golf tournament July 20 at the Ala Wai Golf Course.
Alvarez acknowledged that money raised by the group alone won't be enough for a new school building, but said it could "get the ball rolling" so that others, including the state, can contribute.
"If there's any silver lining, we can get a newer, up-to-date facility," said Alvarez, noting that the school was in dire need of repairs. Then he looked toward the school rubble and said: "I used to have practice inside that room. It was a special place."