5 in isles named Living Treasures


POSTED: Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Five people have been named Living Treasures of Hawaii for their contributions to Hawaii's distinctive cultural and artistic heritage.

A Feb. 13 banquet at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel will honor Nalani Olds, Puanani Sonoda Burgess, Amy Agbayani, Sister Joan Chatfield and Bert N. Nishimura.

Their names will be added to the list of more than 100 Living Treasures selected since the program was started 33 years ago by Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. The recognition program was modeled on Japan's Living National Treasures program.

Friday is the deadline for banquet reservations. Individual tickets are $80 and table sponsorship is available. For reservations, call Dianne at 522-9200.

The honorees have devoted years of their lives to education, community service and advocacy:

  ; » Agbayani, 65, is founding director of the Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity program at University of Hawaii. Her work for civil rights and social justice spans nearly four decades. She has been on the board of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, the Hawaii Women's Caucus and the Inter-Agency Council for Immigrant Services. She was founder of Operation Manong, providing tutors for immigrant children in public schools, and regional vice chairwoman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations. She is a member of the 2009 Electoral College and was chairwoman of the Judicial Selection Commission.

;  » Burgess, 61, is executive director of the Waianae Coast Community Alternative Development Corp. She has worked to bring people with diverse interests together for the common good and to promote values-based economic development. She founded the Hawaii Community Based Economic Development Agency within the state government and helped organize the Legal Services for Children and the Pua Foundation to benefit Hawaiians. She has lectured at the United Nations on the place of humanism in global economy, has been an instructor in the UH Department of Urban and Regional Planning, and a poet and storyteller in schools and public gatherings.

  ; » Chatfield, 76, is executive director of the Institute for Religion and Social Change, which promotes interfaith activities. She was an initial organizer of what is now Pacific Health Ministries. She was a founder of Project Respect, which organized volunteers to help frail homebound seniors, a predecessor of Project Dana. A Maryknoll nun since 1950, she has worked in Hawaii since 1956. She taught in Catholic schools for 36 years and was formerly Chaminade University dean of humanities and fine arts and former ecumenical officer for the Honolulu Catholic Diocese.

;  » Nishimura, 90, retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel, the first nisei to reach that rank. His Army career began on Kauai before Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. After serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II, he remained on active duty through the Korean and Vietnam wars. He chaired a committee that organized the establishment of the Hale Koa Hotel. He was a teacher in California for several years before returning to Hawaii. He has served as a historian of the contributions of Japanese-American soldiers and, until recently, was active in the 442nd Veterans Club.

  ; » Olds, 71, has contributed to Hawaiian culture for decades as an entertainer, dancing, singing and lecturing in venues around the world, and through educational and social service organizations and programs. She founded the annual Prince Lot Hula Festival in 1978. She was executive director of He Ala Kulaiwi: Ancestral Pathway program on Hawaiian spirituality. She has served as kupuna and counselor with Alu Like's Substance Abuse Prevention Program for former inmates and at the Hoomau Ke Ola treatment center. She was a culture and arts instructor with UH and Kamehameha Schools continuing-education programs.