COURTESY PHOTO BY GEORGE SMITH PHOTOGRAPHY
The Oliveira daughters benefited from scholarships during their college studies and are now helping others. Pictured are Laurie Loa, left, Julie Oliveira, mother Hazel Oliveira, Judy Oliveira, Momi Oliveira-Tomaszek and Lisa Oliveira-Tua.
Scholars in service
Hazel Oliveira sees five daughters through college with the desire that they aid others
Judy Oliveira recalls her eldest sister coming home to Kahului from the University of Hawaii at Manoa unsure whether the family could afford to allow her to continue her education.
But by the time it was Judy Oliveira's turn in 1988, their mother had figured out that scholarships could assist her daughters through college. "College was not a choice -- it was expected of us," said Oliveira, the fourth of five girls born to Lawrence Robert Oliveira and Hazel Oliveira, originally of Hana.
By the time second daughter Momi started college, Hazel Oliveira had navigated through enough scholarship applications to know what was required. All five daughters benefited from scholarships during their undergraduate and graduate studies, here and at mainland universities. All are now working in the civic or service sectors.
"We would not have graduated without it," said Judy Oliveira, 36, who credits her mother's sacrifice and the scholarships they received for influencing their future careers.
"We chose career paths that either benefited others and the larger community," Oliveira said. "My mom was such a caregiver to others that through her example, we ventured into roles of service."
Today, Oliveira, who earned her bachelor's and professional diploma in elementary education from UH-Manoa, a master's in education from Gonzaga University and her doctorate in education from the University of Southern California, oversees the $3.4 million scholarship program at the Hawaii Community Foundation, the second largest private post-secondary scholarship provider in the state. (Kamehameha Schools is the largest scholarship provider at $15 million.)
Her twin, Julie Oliveira, received a full ride from the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship and is giving back to the community as executive director of a nonprofit organization on Maui.
Eldest sister Lisa Oliveira-Tua is a social worker who works with the elderly on Maui. Momi Oliveira-Tomaszek, of Washington State, the second eldest, is a flight attendant who is going into nursing. The youngest, Laurie Loa, is a nurse in Las Vegas.
While college may not be for everyone, "for our family, it was the only path Mom knew we would have to pursue in order to be sure that we would each be able to care for ourselves and our children," said Judy Oliveira.
Hazel Oliveira's husband died in 1974 at age 29 of a war-related injury, leaving the young mother to care for their five girls, ranging from 2 months to 9 years old.
But she never complained, and she made sure their education wasn't neglected.
With money tight and only her husband's benefits to support them, Hazel Oliveira, then 26, worked as a secretary to make ends meet. While relatives were willing to take the girls into their homes, she insisted on keeping them together.
There was no shortage of love in the Oliveira household and their mother made sure of it, opening her kitchen and heart to other people's children, Judy Oliveira said. And she imparted a strong work ethic that drives her daughters today.
"She was a very, very strong woman. ... She was such a good role model."
When their mother couldn't pay for cheerleader uniforms for the twins, "She instilled in us, 'We gotta work for it because she couldn't afford it,'" Oliveira said.
To assist their mother, the girls worked a variety of jobs while in high school, from babysitting to working at the mall.
When Lisa attended UH-Manoa, their mother would say she would always figure it out, but with much faith.
Lisa, in turn, believed that if she and her siblings didn't obtain their degrees, it would be a bigger burden on their mother to support them.
Their mother's sacrifices made them even more committed to succeed and not take years to obtain their degrees, Judy Oliveira said.
"We knew that we had to do well -- get good grades, go to school, no partying and having hangovers because she was making a sacrifice -- so we needed to as well," she said.
As a beneficiary of 10 Hawaii Community Foundation scholarships, as well as from Kamehameha Schools, Oliveira knows firsthand how even the smallest scholarship can mean to the recipients.
"For me, this is why I do what I do ... work with people to establish scholarships and promote philanthropy," she said.
"It always fascinated me how a donor may not see the fruits of their legacy while they are alive, yet their generosity lives on in perpetuity."