WINONA DESHA BEAMER ~ 1923-2008
Educator’s letter to high court sped removal of school trustees
A champion for Hawaiian culture and education, the late Winona Beamer was the spark that led to the downfall of five Bishop Estate trustees nearly a decade ago, those who knew her said yesterday.
In May 1997, Beamer, a former Kamehameha Schools teacher and alumna, wrote a letter to the state Supreme Court asking justices to remove Trustee Lokelani Lindsey to fix what she called a "demoralized state of affairs."
The letter was followed by numerous protests and a state investigation into the then $6 billion charitable trust that funds the private school system created under the 1883 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.
Beamer's chief complaint was that trustees were bypassing school administrators and trying to micromanage instruction, said Roy Benham, a past president of the Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association.
"She was really eager to get something going and getting something done," said Benham, who was Beamer's senior prom date in 1941. "We were concerned that the trustees were getting down into the classroom, bothering teachers and telling them what to do."
The controversy ended in 1999 with the resignation of the last of five trustees accused of taking excessive compensation and neglecting the estate's core mission to educate native Hawaiians.
Jan Dill, who joined hundreds of Kamehameha teachers, alumni and students in a protest march to Kawaiahao Plaza on May 15, 1997, said Beamer "stands in my mind as a woman of courage."
"She was the one who was willing to write to the chief justice, willing to put things on paper and bring it to a point to which others could make decisions whether they wanted to get involved," said Dill, a 1961 Kamehameha graduate. "She was obviously one of the important catalysts."
In a statement, Dee Jay Mailer, chief executive officer of Kamehameha Schools, called Beamer a "true champion."
"Aunty Nona is a reminder to us all of the importance of standing up for our culture and for our language," she said.
By voicing her concerns, Beamer showed her colleagues that it was important to scrutinize trustees to ensure they were complying with Pauahi's vision for the school, said Randy Roth, a University of Hawaii law professor who co-wrote "Broken Trust," an essay published in the Star-Bulletin in August 1997 which harshly criticized the trustees.
"She was very instrumental in turning the tide when she publicly expressed her concerns with what was going on, especially on the campus. It made a big difference," he recalled. "What it signaled, I think to the Hawaiian community generally and especially the Kamehameha ohana, was that it's OK to criticize a trustee."