FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Burt Heilbron, a high school classmate of Barack Obama, says Obama "was not outspoken, but always a very well-liked person at Punahou." Here, Heilbron, vice president of Hawaiian Agents Inc., located in Campbell Industrial Park, poses inside the company warehouse.
Classmates share glow
Obama's Punahou pals give interviews to the media and praise their old friend
Tom Boyle is producing an Internet video about him. Bart DaSilva has endorsed him on the radio. Alan Lum has had countless media interviews about his former basketball teammate.
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A number of high school classmates of Sen. Barack Obama, most of whom have not seen him or kept in touch for nearly 30 years, are finding themselves playing small parts in his bid for the White House.
Ever since Obama entered the presidential race early last year, graduates of Punahou School's class of 1979 have been barraged with calls from reporters hoping to get a glimpse into Obama's past.
For some -- like Lum, who graduated a year later but played guard on Punahou's basketball team with Obama -- media inquiries began as early as July 2004, when Obama was vying for an Illinois U.S. Senate seat he would later win. Interest intensified later that summer after he delivered an explosive keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in support of Sen. John Kerry.
"Then we started getting calls -- every day," said Larry Tavares, a '79 Punahou graduate and an estate planner at First Hawaiian Bank.
But nearly three decades have passed since they left Punahou, and for many, memories of Obama have faded to images of a friendly kid who juggled books and basketball. There is no mention of a vocal student determined to change the world, just a basketball-obsessed boy who was back on the court the day after winning the state championships with his senior year team.
"The Barry you saw back then, he was a little bit different ... not out in the limelight," said Burt Heilbron, another classmate, who is vice president of Hawaiian Agents Inc., a product warehousing and distribution company. "He was not outspoken, but always a very well-liked person at Punahou."
Darin Maurer and Sen. Barack Obama, classmates from the Punahou School class of 1979, met for the first time since they graduated during a private fundraiser for Obama held last month in Houston.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Bart DaSilva speaks about attending Punahou Schools with Barack Obama in a recording studio at Salem Media of Hawaii. DaSilva works for Oldies 107.9 as a senior account executive and afternoon drive on-air talent.
DARIN MAURER, who would often take Obama in his cream-and-brown Volkswagen van to pickup games at the University of Hawaii's Klum Gym, said he and Obama were teased "for being so much" into the sport.
COURTESY OF OBAMA FOR AMERICA
Barack Obama's 1979 Punahou School yearbook picture.
Maurer, who later joined Stanford University's basketball team, saw Obama last month for the first time since Punahou during a private fundraiser in Texas, where he lives and works as a pastor. His first question came naturally.
"I said, 'Do you want to play ball later tonight?'" Maurer laughed. "It was like he and I were the only ones in the room and we were immediately transported back to our Punahou days and talking story," he wrote in an e-mail.
Lum, who has taught second-graders at Punahou for 23 years, said he has agreed to give numerous interviews mostly to clear up misinformation about Obama, such as rumors that he is Muslim.
"I think he wants to win the right way," Lum continued. "You want it done the right way. Whether he wins or loses, he wants all the cards on the table."
For Boyle, who met Obama in seventh grade, he said questions about Obama's patriotism led him to plan a Web video documenting Obama's high school life. Boyle, who owns Eye Spy Productions, also has been interested in adapting Obama's autobiography, "Dreams from My Father," into a television miniseries that he described as "a modern-day 'Roots.'"
He said the online video is intended to clear up misinformation about Obama and will be released "when the time is right."
"A lot of people regard him as sort of this exotic creature that grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia, and I think that scares some people. They like to think of him from Chicago, in the heartland," said Boyle. "But within a three-block range, there's the hospital he was born in, the apartment that he grew up in and the school that he went to, and then also the church where our senior-year class was blessed. All of that is on the same street. It's a small-town kind of story."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Alan Lum was Barack Obama's high school teammate when they won the basketball state championships. Here, the Punahou second-grade teacher and coach shoots baskets with his son, Jared, 11, and daughter, Jade, 14, who are on the team he coaches.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tom Boyle, a local filmmaker who was Barack Obama's classmate, is producing an Internet video about him. Boyle, shown at his Round Top Drive residence, owns Eye Spy Productions and also has been interested in adapting Obama's autobiography, "Dreams from My Father," into a television miniseries.
OBAMA's candidacy also has worked as link for informal reunions.
"I hung out with people, but I wasn't into the whole 'Let's perpetuate high school for the next 50 years,'" said Bart DaSilva, who graduated from Punahou in '79 and works as the afternoon-drive host on Oldies 107.9 FM. "But what's happened with Barack is that he's kind of been a catalyst for a lot of people like me to reconnect with classmates."
DaSilva, who used to trade rock 'n' roll records with friends at Punahou, joked that he was destined to graduate with Obama after repeating sixth grade.
"I have endorsed him on the radio, in very subtle ways," he added. "I've just been amazed at the whole process and the fact that they still don't have any real mud to sling at him. That should elect him right there. It's just been very surreal."
Last year, '79 Punahou alumni Robyn Tanaka, Lenny Andrew, Kelli Furushima and Cathie Richardson gathered at Bernice Bower's home in Kailua to catch up and view a DVD about Obama.
Furushima, who has been interviewed twice by CNN as well as by media from Japan to Italy, said the spotlight on Obama could draw more people to the class's 30-year reunion next summer.
"I think it will be really good because we've just had so much more contact with each other over the past year and a half," said Furushima, general manager of Executive Chef, a kitchen accessory shop. An invitation to the reunion has been sent to Obama, who is on a list of more than 400 alumni, according to Furushima.
"The reunion will be next June," she said, "so by then he will have been inaugurated, hopefully."