PHOTO COURTESY LAURIE K. / LAURIEK@MAC.COM
Dede Awana, UH athletic director Jim Donovan, his son Josh, daughter Jackie, wife Tracy Orillo-Donovan and Jackie Brown attended Donovan's press conference yesterday.
Awanas taught Donovan what Hawaii is made of
Dede Awana knew exactly what her late husband, John, would say to Jim Donovan yesterday.
" 'I knew you would make it. I always knew,' " Awana said. "My husband had every confidence in the world. He would be the proudest man here today. The only thing that makes me sad about today is he passed away four and a half months ago."
Donovan's parents, Jim Jr. and Mary, flew in from Anaheim, Calif., for the announcement that their eldest of four children had attained his dream job, University of Hawaii athletic director. His wife, Tracy, and children, Joshua and Jacqueline, were present alongside Dede, his 76-year-old hanai mom, who helped guide and shape Donovan over the past 28 years.
Donovan has achieved success building a life in the islands, aided by an affinity for relating to people locally and on the mainland. It wasn't so easy for him in the early going.
In 1980, 20-year-old Jim Donovan III arrived on Oahu to prepare for his first season of Division I football as an offensive lineman for the Rainbows, coming out of Santa Ana (Calif.) College. He was known as a popular and outgoing person back home, but the new culture and lifestyle he was thrust into was somewhat daunting. That's when the Awanas, who had helped other UH athletes acclimate to the islands by "adopting" them, entered the picture.
Dede approached him at a team practice before the season began. She had heard that he had no family in the islands. She and John offered to host him on Sundays at their Kailua home -- a proposition that caught Donovan completely by surprise.
"I would have never seen it coming," he said, grinning. "I went over there and had some of the best cornbread of my life, and bacon and eggs, and just got to be in a family environment. You can't put a price on how valuable that was to me."
It was John Awana who shuttled Donovan to and from the Manoa dorms, and spoke to the youth about the challenges of life and whatever else he had on his mind -- "a man of few words (who) when he talked, he said a lot." The football player spent hours with the Awanas' young grandchildren and quickly became a full-fledged family member.
It definitely wasn't what he expected, but became something he embraced.
"The reality is, looking back now after 20 years in Hawaii, it doesn't surprise me, because I think that's how people in Hawaii are," Donovan said. "They really reach out and they want to help, and as long as you're respectful and humble and honest, then it's easy, and the relationships just come."
His parents realize the benefit of the hanai ties and are deeply grateful for it. Jim Jr. and Mary had met with the Awanas several times, both in Hawaii and on the mainland.
"When he first came here he was very lonely," said Jim Jr., who gestured at Dede. "They did a lot for him, introduced him to people. He broadened himself and knows a lot more people. I came from a small (population) state (Oklahoma) and I understand that things are a little different in a small population. It's people, that do things. And he understands that."
Mary knew something had fundamentally changed during one of her son's visits back to the mainland. He was still a student at Manoa then, but already viewed Hawaii in a different light.
"He said 'I got a plane to catch at 9:30, I gotta go home,'" she said with a smile.
Dede beams at what Donovan accomplished after a stint as manager of Rainbow Stadium, followed by tenures as UH sports marketing director, assistant and associate athletic director and executive director of the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
"My husband made a comment many years ago, when we knew him for about three or four years: 'Whatever he sets his mind to, he'll be a success at,'" she said. "Jim is not afraid of the work. He never was. I think it's long coming."
Donovan feels that despite John's death in October, his hanai father is aware of his success.
"I know he's here today somehow," he said. "It's the circle of life, and things happen -- you don't always understand them, and you move on. He was a great influence, and their whole family was a great influence on my life."