Marion Saunders workedBy Mary Anne Raywid
tirelessly to improve
education in Hawaii
Editor's note: Among her many other accomplishments, Star-Bulletin readers knew Marion Saunders as a longtime contributor to the letters page. Her last letter, printed June 9, offered advice to the state Board of Education on choosing a new schools superindendent.
Marion Saunders died last week at 89, leaving a legacy of more than 50 years of community service to Hawaii. From the time of her arrival in 1946 until literally the night of her death, she made herself available to those who sought or needed help. And she assumed leadership in pointing to things that needed fixing, and in organizing people to set them right.
Marion and her husband Allan -- a legendary professor and dean on the UH campus -- contributed a great deal to the democratizing of Hawaii. And then they strove to make it work, helping to develop the organizations and institutions and traditions that would sustain a genuinely democratic society.
Together they launched the League of Women Voters here, and a Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Marion died a member of Hawaii's advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and of her church's social action committee.
But for the past 25 years, much of her ceaseless energy was brought to bear on education. It was not a new concern for her. As a WAVE officer during World War II she had been assigned to teaching officer candidates about weekly war developments. Later, in Hawaii, she had served as a principal of the territory's first adult continuing education school.
She had been in charge of helping Micronesian students for the East-West Center, and she had launched a continuing education program for women at the university -- the precursor to today's women's studies program.
In 1974 Marion ran successfully for a seat on the school board. Although she was there for only six years, her contribution was sufficiently memorable that for the next 18, people would stop her on the street to ask, "Aren't you Marion Saunders of the school board?"
Leaving the Board of Education did not mean leaving education, however. In fact, Marion discovered that from outside the system there were things that could be said and done for school reform that could not easily be heard within it.
She activated a League of Women Voters Education Committee which held conferences, testified at legislative hearings, and in multiple other ways tried to educate the public about school problems and needs and what ought to be done to address them.
She never quit. During the last two years of her life she proposed, and then helped found, the university's Academy of Lifelong Learning, and she led a discussion group seeking to plot a new course for the East-West Center. Literally until the day she died she made herself available to help schools and teachers and parents.
Her contributions did not go unrecognized. She has been recognized for community service by the Hawaii Federation of Teachers, has been singled out as the outstanding member of the year by the League of Women Voters, and several years ago was named a Living Treasure of Hawaii by the Hongwanji Temple.
Yet with all of her drive and determination, Marion Saunders was also a gentle, extraordinarily kind and gracious lady. She was a crusader who fought tenaciously for schools that could make a difference in the lives of children and in the life of the community.
But she was also a loving friend with a puckish sense of humor and a delightful style all her own. She will be missed enormously by those who knew her. But the work she continued to do will also be missed by the many others whose lives she touched and strove so hard to enhance.
Mary Anne Raywid is a member of the graduate affiliate faculty of the College of Education, University of Hawaii-Manoa. She is professor emerita at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., and a nationally known expert on education policy and reform. The Raywid and Saunders families are "hanai" families living in an enlarged home in Honolulu.